A battling Notts County climbed out of the relegation zone this evening with a 1-0 win over Tranmere Rovers.
Despite Tranmere having the better of the opening exchanges, the Magpies went in at half time ahead. Craig Westcarr found the bottom corner with his 42nd minute penalty after Jon Harley was sent tumbling in the area.
An intense second 45 followed but Notts stood up well to Tranmere's advances. There were a few late scares but County held on to claim all three points.
Plenty of fans took up the free ticket offer at Prenton Park to cheer on the Magpies, as they looked to make the most of their game in hand. A point would have been enough to lift Notts out of the relegation zone but they would have to halt a run of nine losses on the bounce first.
Two alterations were made to the side that lost 2-0 to AFC Bournemouth at the weekend. Liam Chilvers replaced the injured Mike Edwards and Harley returned to the team at the expense of Febian Brandy, who dropped to the bench.
In the opening stages, Notts had two scares, with the first requiring Chilvers to pull off a well timed slide tackle to keep out Enoch Showunmi, after Sam Sodje's clearance deflected dangerously off Ricky Ravenhill. Moments later, Showunmi, utilising a chipped pass, presented his strike partner, Lucas Atkins, with a goal-scoring opportunity inside the box but Stuart Nelson denied him with his legs.
Notts' first opportunity came from one of Nelson's long balls, which allowed Lee Hughes into the left channel. He lifted the ball towards Craig Westcarr but the forward was unable to connect adequately with his header.
On 24 minutes, Robbie Weir, following a clever run from deep, almost added a finishing touch to Zoumana Bakayogo's diagonal ball into box. The danger wasn't cleared and Showunmi found space to get a shot away, but he struck wide of the bottom corner.
Nelson was called into action by the hosts' next effort - a long range hit from Weir. The stopper reached towards his top corner to guide the ball wide of goal, before scrambling it away from a number of Tranmere players, who were looking to capitalise on the rebound.
Seven minutes before the break, Ricky Ravenhill's hooked pass back into the box found Hughes with his back to goal. The 13-goal striker controlled with his chest and produced an ambitious overhead kick, though he was only able to find the roof of the net.
Just ahead of the break, Notts managed to nudge themselves in front, after Harley was fouled inside the area by Bakayogo. Westcarr took on the responsibility and powered the ball underneath Tony Warner, into the bottom-left corner.
Tranmere pressed Notts early in the second period, hoping to snatch an early leveller. Bakayogo rifled just past the foot of the post from distance and Michael Kay forced Nelson to gather low on his goal line with a tame attempt.
An impact injury to Regan resulted in the game's first substitution, with Karl Hawley coming on to replace him. Westcarr moved to the wing and Hawley positioned himself alongside Hughes in attack.
Notts were frustrating Rovers by limiting them to half chances with an organised backline and a commanding goalkeeping performance. Ash Taylor volleyed Aaron Cresswell's cross wide at the back post and Westcarr did enough to pressure John Welsh into firing off target.
Martin Allen was forced to make another change through injury on 72 minutes. John Thompson, during a last-ditch challenge, suffered an injury to his shoulder and had to be replaced by Graeme Lee.
Sodje, who had reverted to right-back, gave away a free kick on the edge of the box with a foul on substitute Dale Jennings, who had burst inside from the wing. Cresswell bent the ball around the wall but Nelson was at hand to palm behind.
During an extended session of possession play in the final third, after John Spicer's determination had won the ball on the wing, Notts almost went 2-0 up. Westcarr's chipped centre from the by-line was met by substitute Ben Burgess's downward header, only Warner met it with a low save.
Six minutes of added time was shown on the fourth official's board, during which Nelson had to pull of the save of the game. Welsh headed powerfully at goal but the stopper acrobatically flicked the ball over the bar with his fingertips - a remarkable save.
The home side sent Warner forward for a late corner and he came close with a header. Frustrations turned to pushing and shoving in the dying stages, as well, leading to Ricky Ravenhill being sent off.
Celebrations at the final whistle showed relief, as the players and management greeted the travelling support. Chants of 'we are staying up' circulated and the chances of doing so were certainly increased by the win.
Magpie Player Man of the Match: Stuart Nelson