Notts County gave their Play-Off hopes a boost this afternoon with a 3-0 triumph over Leyton Orient.
The win saw Notts close the gap on sixth-placed Carlisle United to just two points, as the Cumbrians drew 1-1 with Wycombe Wanderers. It was back-to-back wins for the Magpies and another battling display.
Orient had the better of the opening half and Stuart Nelson had to be at his best to keep the game goalless. He produced fine saves to deny Kevin Lisbie but Jimmy Smith also came close on numerous occasions.
After the break, Damion Stewart gave Notts the lead with an opportunistic finish and Jeff Hughes made it 2-0 shortly with his 16th goal of the season. Lloyd Sam rounded off the scoring in added time, sending the travelling supporters home happy.
Leyton Orient have had the better of the chances in the opening 45 minutes but it's 0-0 at the Matchroom Stadium.
Four changes were made to the side that beat Oldham Athletic 1-0 the previous Saturday, with Kieron Freeman, Mike Edwards, Nico Yennaris and Lee Hughes dropping out of the starting 11. Julian Kelly, Stewart, Hamza Bencherif and Louis Harris replaced them, as Notts took up a flexible 4-5-1 formation that offered plenty of attacking freedom from midfield.
Neal Bishop had been expected to return, after serving a two-match ban, but Keith Curle decided not to risk playing the regular skipper, who would have missed a further two games had he picked up a yellow card. The cut-off point for 10 cautions followed the fixture, meaning that the midfielder could go into the final matches without fear of suspension, should he pick up another booking.
The 90 minutes got off to a slow start and both sides were limited to half chances. For the hosts, Smith narrowly cleared the bar with a hit from 25 yards and, at the other end, Sam almost caught out goalkeeper Jamie Jones, who had rushed to the wing to clear, but the wideman's shot lacked power.
Orient came within inches of taking the lead, when Dean Cox's cross from the left was glanced high of the top-right corner by Lisbie. Alan Judge came equally as close from range, when he drove wide of the bottom-left corner.
The O's certainly looked the more threatening as the minutes ticked away and Nelson had to remain alert. His first save of the afternoon saw him touch the ball away from Lisbie at the near-post, as the frontman strived to connect with right-back Dean Leacock's teasing centre.
On 22, the Notts stopper had to deny Lisbie again, after the defence was caught napping. The former Colchester man raced clear with the ball bouncing in his path but Nelson anticipated his lobbed finish.
10 minutes later, Orient carved out another clear-cut opening, after Cox picked out Smith in space with a diagonal delivery into the area. Smith quickly targeted the bottom-right corner and Nelson had to react quickly to tip around the post.
Smith should have been on the scoresheet ahead of the interval but spurned another two opportunities. Nelson smartly gathered his strike through a crowd of players but he was more disappointed when he failed to hit the target with a free header, made possible by a well-rehearsed corner routine.
Notts offered more offensive threat after the break, especially down the right flank. In the opening stages of the second period, Sam nearly found Judge with a curved centre, which Jones managed to intercept.
Bencherif's presence in the final third enabled the Magpies' next effort by allowing Judge into the channel. The Irishman's cross made its way to Jeff Hughes, whose back-post shot was badly mishit.
Stewart later rose high on the edge of the six-yard box to connect with Alan Sheehan's floated free-kick from deep. The centre-back, on his first game back from a groin injury, looked certain to score but was not able to keep his header on target.
Smith returned to the thick of the action shortly after, rounding off an Orient attack down the left. Gathering the ball 25 yards out, he fired fractionally wide of the post.
Notts needed all three points and Curle made a double substitution. Lee Hughes and Gavin Mahon were introduced at the expense of Bencherif and Harris.
In the 70th minute, a goal came for the Magpies, when Jones spilled Sheehan's cross, following a collision with one of his own teammates. Stewart quickly pounced on the loose ball and smashed home, off the underside of the crossbar.
Adam Reed thought he had equalised before the celebrations had died down in the away end but his close-range finish was ruled out for offside. In quick response, Notts could easily have added a second but Jones made a spectacular parry to keep out Lee Hughes' hooked attempt.
Jeff Hughes did manage to double County's lead on 76, following some fine work on the right by Sam. The winger beat his marker with trickery and provided a centre that the Magpies' top scorer swept into an empty net.
Nelson made a block inside his near post to frustrate Lisbie, as the O's looked for a way back. Reed also came close with a stern drive from distance.
In the dying stages, Lee Hughes had chances to make it 3-0. The frontman had a volley smartly collected by Jones and another shot diverted over by a last-ditch challenge.
During seven minutes of added time, County made it 3-0, courtesy of Sam. The on-loan Leeds United man capitalised on a rebound from substitute Jon Harley's shot and squeezed the ball inside the near post.
Attendance: 4,016 (606 away supporters)
Man of the Match: Stuart Nelson