A remarkable first half goal haul from Notts County enabled them to overcome league leaders Charlton Athletic this afternoon.
Alan Judge got the scoring underway in the 16th minute, when his effort from range crept into the bottom corner. The midfielder then set up Jonathan Forte to add the first of his three goals two minutes later.
Forte rounded off his hat-trick with further finishes on 35 and 40. The striker already had the matchball at the break but there was a long way to go for the Magpies.
Goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Scott Wagstaff shortly after the interval had Charlton back in the game, prompting changes from Keith Curle. A switch to a less attacking 4-5-1 helped the Magpies to cope with the pressure and, with the help of some composed ball retention, they were able to hold on for a precious three points.
If ever Notts wanted any momentum going into a fixture it was this one. The Addicks topped the npower League 1 table by an impressive margin, with their nearest automatic promotion rivals, Sheffield Wednesday, 13 points behind them.
The Magpies were leading the form table over the most recent six matches with four wins, one draw and one defeat. The last five of those fixtures had seen Curle get off to an unbeaten start as Notts boss but The Valley clash with Charlton appeared, on paper, the toughest test of his tenure.
Curle made four alterations to the side that started in the midweek draw with Tranmere Rovers, with Liam Chilvers, Alan Sheehan, Gavin Mahon and Judge replacing Krystian Pearce, Julian Kelly, Hamza Bencherif and Ben Burgess. County took up a 4-4-1-1 formation, which had Judge just behind Forte in attack and Jon Harley and Jeff Hughes in the wide berths of the midfield unit.
Notts started the game brightly with the attacking duo, Judge and Forte, linking up dangerously in the final third on multiple occasions. Their first exchange allowed Judge into the left channel but his cross was slightly over hit and Addicks stopper Ben Hamer was able to touch the ball away from Forte and behind for a corner.
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Judge stunned the hosts in the 16th minute, when, out of the blue, he turned in possession and fired powerfully towards the bottom-left corner. Hamer reached out and got a touch but was unable to keep the Irishman's 25-yard hit from finding the back of the net.
Before the celebrations in the away end had calmed, the Magpies were two up, with Judge this time providing an assist. The tireless midfielder raced down the left and provided a low cross that was touched over the line by Forte at close range.
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On 27, Charlton threatened for the first time, after Yann Kermorgant nodded Danny Hollands' delivery from wide into the direction of Matt Taylor. The centre-back, with his back to goal, attempted an overhead kick, but Stuart Nelson denied him with a save, low to his left.
The hosts had only been beaten once at The Valley in 2011/12 prior to kick-off, that coming in midweek against Colchester United. As the Addicks looked to prevent back-to-back defeats, it was expected that most of the remaining minutes were going to be played in the County half.
That was certainly not the case, as Forte added his second of the afternoon in the 35th minute, capitalising on a communication error at the back. Hughes' hopeful chip into the box had prompted a mix-up between Michael Morrison and Hamer, allowing Forte to nip between the pair, where he prodded into a gaping net.
The visiting supporters were delighted with three but almost burst with joy when Forte completed his hat-trick. Hughes was again instrumental, as he turned his marker on the right wing to fire in a near-post cross that Forte nodded home.
In the closing stages of the half, Dale Stephens had a shot deflected over for Athletic. Then, during added time, Kermorgant looked certain to convert substitute Wagstaff's curled delivery but was instead booked, after he directed off target with a deliberate handball.
The home crowd had grown frustrated by the first 45 but they were soon right behind their team again, when, shortly after the break, Wright-Phillips made it 4-1. The forward's presence made it difficult for Nelson to reach a high ball into the six-yard-box and, holding off the goalkeeper, he found the corner with an acrobatic finish.
Neal Bishop could have restored the deficit moments later, when he latched onto another teasing centre from Judge. However, the skipper was unable to gain a strong enough connection and Charlton escaped.
On 55, Wagstaff, who had provided the assist for Athletic's first goal, pulled another goal back. Returning the favour, Wright-Phillips picked out the midfielder, whose header nestled inside the left upright.
The Addicks piled on the pressure but were kept out by a number of brave defensive blocks. They also had two penalty calls, when Wright-Phillips tumbled under pressure from Damion Stewart and then for a strong handball claim on Chilvers.
In an attempt to calm the relentless onslaught, which also saw Kermorgant head inches over, Curle made his first substitution. Replacing Harley with Bencherif, Notts moved to a flat 4-5-1.
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Fresh legs were later added to the County attack, with both goal-scorers, Judge and Forte, withdrawn from the action. In their place, Burgess and Ishmel Demontagnac were introduced.
As time ticked away, Charlton pushed further players into attack and resorted to a more direct approach. From this, Johnnie Jackson's hopeful header almost found Wright-Phillips in space but Nelson rushed off his line to punch clear.
A tense close to the match brought four minutes of added time. Unlike Tuesday night, Notts were able to shut out any late threats and maintained their place in the top-six.
Man of the Match: Jonathan Forte