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21:46 28th February 2012

Bencherif Header Wins It

Magpie Player

Hamza Bencherif's 45th minute header continued Keith Curle's perfect start in charge of Notts County in a 1-0 triumph over Rochdale at Spotland.

In the first half, Alan Judge twice came close, first on 10 and then on 26, but Notts had to wait until the 45th minute to break the deadlock. Shortly after Stuart Nelson kept out Gary Jones with a low save, Bencherif nodded home from a Julian Kelly cross.

Judge rattled the foot of the post early into the second half but there were to be no further goals for the Magpies. Lee Hughes' late sending off saw Rochdale mount some late pressure but the County rearguard defended valiantly throughout and deserved all three points.

Curle was aiming to claim his third successive win as Notts boss. The Magpies had overcome Stevenage and Chesterfield at Meadow Lane but the Spotland clash gave Curle his first test on the road.

Freshening up the starting 11, as he did for the Spireites victory, four alterations were made, with Kelly, Sam Sodje, Gavin Mahon and Ben Burgess replacing Kieron Freeman (international duty, along with Damion Stewart), Mike Edwards, Jonathan Forte and Lee Hughes. Kelly and Sodje made their first starts under the new regime, as they settled into a flexible 4-3-3 formation that gave Alan Judge and Jeff Hughes more freedom to get forward.

A frantic opening to the match saw Rochdale dominate possession, though County were first to threaten. With the hosts pushed forward for a corner, Jeff Hughes started off a quick break by feeding the ball to Judge, who charged down the left flank and fired wide of the top-left corner.

Ben Burgess

Judge was in the thick of the action again on 26, when Burgess, from Neal Bishop's weighted pass, picked out his run with a well-placed header. The Irishman progressed into the area and unleashed a stern drive that was denied by Dean Holden's superb sliding block.

Burgess almost got on the scoresheet, when Jeff Hughes delivered a low centre from the by-line, only for the ball to be touched away from him inside a crowded six-yard box. Kelly later picked out Bishop with an arrowed delivery from the right but the skipper failed to hit the target with his header.

Neal Bishop

Nicky Adams appeared to be the man to make things happen for the Dale and it was his vision that created their first opening of game. His cross-field pass to Jones stretched the County backline, though the midfielder was unable to beat Nelson, who rushed off his line to produce a fine block.

In the final minute of the half, Notts took the lead through Bencherif. Connecting with Kelly's back-post cross, the midfielder headed forcefully against the turf and home stopper Peter Kurucz failed to get near to the ball, as it looped into the top-right corner.

Hamza Bencherif

Hamza Bencherif

Hamza Bencherif

Curle opted to make a change at half time, replacing Sodje with Edwards. Sodje had picked up a couple of knocks, as well as a booking, in the opening 45 and either may have prompted the substitution.

The second period started with more goalmouth action than the first, with Adams drilling inches over from the edge of the box inside the opening minute. At the other end, Burgess' cross made its way to Kelly, whose placed effort forced a low save from Kurucz.

On 55, Judge thought he had doubled the Magpies' lead, after a piercing surge through the centre of the Rochdale rearguard. Rounding off the run, he placed low towards the bottom-right corner but, for the umpteenth time this season, he hit the woodwork.

Bencherif had an opportunity to add his second from range in the 73rd minute but instead fed the ball inside to Jeff Hughes. Notts' top-scorer composed himself and forced Kurucz into a tipping save under his crossbar.

There were times that County had to weather the storm but they did it well, winning plenty of headers and throwing bodies on the line. However, Rochdale were given fresh hope in the dying stages, following a red card.

Lee Hughes had replaced Burgess in attack and had a late chance to score, when he raced onto a long ball from the back. In a 50/50 challenge with the goalkeeper, Kurucz came off worse and, following a lengthy discussion with the assistant referee, Hughes was shown a straight red card by the referee.

The Dale had five minutes to salvage a point and came close through Michael Symes' 12-yard effort. Substitute Andrew Tutte then had a drive from distance kept out by Nelson in the final minute of added time, meaning that Notts held on for a third consecutive 1-0 victory and moved onto level points with sixth-placed Stevenage.

Attendance: 2,326

Man of the Match: Jon Harley

    Data provided by Press Association


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