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20:35 2nd February 2011

Late Leveller

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Notts County were cruelly denied three points by a late equaliser at Meadow Lane this evening.

The first half saw chances created by both Notts and Walsall, though neither were able to nudge themselves in front. It wasn't until the 64th minute that a goal finally came, when Lee Hughes headed Notts in front.

It looked like County were going to see out the rest of the game and claim three points but that wasn't to be. With just two minutes left on the clock, Alex Nicholls tucked away a late leveller to earn his team a share of the spoils.

In comparison to the FA Cup game against Manchester City, the build-up seemed insignificant. However, with three points up for grab, Manager Paul Ince would argue that this fixture held much more importance, as Notts looked to pull away from the League 1 drop zone.

Only one change was made from Sunday's cup clash, with Karl Hawley replacing Alan Gow. This allowed the club's two highest scorers, Craig Westcarr (10) and Hughes (11), to line up in attack.

It proved to be a slow opening 15 minutes at Meadow Lane, as both sides struggled to carve out any chances. The visitors came closest, when Ricky Ravenhill almost turned Andy Butler's header into his own net, only to hack the ball clear at the last possible moment.

Neal Bishop, who grabbed his first goal of the season at the weekend, could have added his second on two occasions. Connecting with David Martin's corner kick, he headed into the stands and then came close to converting Westcarr's low cross, but Butler nipped in first to clear the danger.

On 26 minutes, Hughes was presented with a fantastic opportunity, following a quick breakaway down the left wing, involving Westcarr and Hawley. Hawley's pass eventually found Hughes unmarked at the back-post but his mishit trickled wide.

For the Saddlers, Matt Richards managed to split the Notts backline, allowing Julian Gray to surge into the box from the left wing. The wideman's hit looked destined to find the far bottom corner but skimmed past the outside of the post instead.

The Magpies' next opening came as a result of Martin's lofted pass over the Walsall rearguard. Westcarr took the ball into his stride and forced goalkeeper Jimmy Walker into a reaction stop.

Despite the early sluggishness, the game had evolved into an entertaining affair and more opportunities emerged in the build-up to half time. Stuart Nelson had to be alert to hold on to Matthew Gill's low strike and, at the other end, Walker stretched to tip away Martin's corner, which nearly crept under the bar.

Within minutes of the restart, Martin almost found a black and white shirt with a teasing centre but Butler got his head in the way once more. Bishop also came close from Hawley's corner, flicking the ball wide at the near post.

From another Notts corner, Walsall almost countered successfully. Jason Price looked to have fed in Richards but Krystian Pearce recovered well to rob him of possession.

It was on 64 minutes that the deadlock was finally broken, with Hughes netting his 12th of the season. Martin had drilled a corner towards the near post and County's top-scorer met it perfectly to direct the ball past Walker with his head.

The lead could have been short-lived, had Oliver Lancashire's hopeful attempt been successful. Collecting a clearance 30 yards out, the defender came agonisingly close to finding the corner of the net with an authoritative strike.

Alan Gow came off the bench with 10 minutes to spare and immediately set up a chance. Ravenhill drove his lay-off towards the bottom corner but Walker gathered low to his right.

His next stop was even better, as Hughes was given room to manoeuvre outside the box. Opening up his body, he aimed for the top corner and would have scored, had Walker not clawed the ball on to the roof of his net with his fingertips.

And, the importance of the save became clear moments later, when Nicholls scored a surprising equaliser. Walsall had looked out of the game but the midfielder's shot from the corner of the area crept under Nelson and into the corner.

It was a late blow for Notts, who would have climbed to 14th in the table. Now a trip to Tranmere awaits, where a victory would be greatly welcomed following two points dropped.


Attendance: 4,714 (371 Walsall supporters)

Carlsberg Man of the Match: Krystian Pearce

    Data provided by Press Association


    For the first 50 years of their existence, England played their home matches all around the country.