An outstanding performance by Notts County goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski ensured that his side extended their away unbeaten run to 21 matches. The stopper produced a string of remarkable saves either side of the break to keep out Yeovil Town and the Magpies came away with a valuable point.
An even first half could have seen either outfit hold a half time advantage, though it was Notts that enjoyed the better of the openings. At either end of the 45, Neal Bishop and Yoann Arquin spurned excellent chances.
It was top-class goalkeeping that kept the scores level, rather than poor finishing and the same could be said at the other end of the pitch. Full-back Luke Ayling was presented with Town’s best chance of the half but County number one Bialkowski came to the rescue with a smart, reflex save.
Bialowski was in even better form after the break and pulled off even more top stops to keep out the likes of giant centre-back Chris Burn and midfielder Edward Upson. This almost allowed Notts to claim all three points late on, as Alan Judge came within a whisker of winning the game late on, but Keith Curle’s side were more than happy with the 0-0 draw.
Chris Iwelumo missed the FA Cup with Budweiser clash against Rotherham United after being refused permission to play by his parent club, Watford, but returned to the spearhead of the County attack at Huish Park. As a result, last weekend’s goal-scorer Yoann Arquin moved from a central striker role to a wide berth in a flexible 4-5-1 formation, as Francois Zoko dropped to the bench.
Two further changes were made to the starting 11, with Carl Regan replacing Julian Kelly at right-back. Kelly was named as a substitute, along with Hamza Bencherif, who was replaced in the first 11 by Dean Leacock, following the completion of his one-match ban.
Notts almost got off to the perfect start when a long ball forward during the opening seconds saw full-back Luke Ayling forced into a last-ditch foul on Jeff Hughes. Although Alan Sheehan’s free-kick attempt was easily blocked, Gary Liddle’s subsequent cross was not cleared and Neal Bishop’s low drive had to be diverted away from goal by home stopper Marek Stech’s outstretched leg.
Yeovil’s first effort came as a result of midfielder Gavin Williams’ deep corner. Centre-back Byron Webster rose well on the corner of the six-yard box but was unable to keep his header down.
The hosts should have moved in front from their next set-play, a free-kick on the right wing that Jamie McAllister lumped towards Ayling at the back post. Having been gifted plenty of time to compose himself, the defender was left wondering how he failed to beat to beat Bialkowski, who produced a vital block.
On 20, Liddle nodded Judge’s out-swinging corner across goal but the effort lacked power and was hacked clear. Sheehan then found Iwelumo with a curled delivery from the left wing but the on-loan frontman placed well wide under heavy pressure from his marker.
Following the opportunity, Yeovil enjoyed a period of pressure and, as Notts struggled to clear their lines, wideman Sam Foley watched a volley bounce inches wide of the mark. Upson also threatened, when he headed over from winger Joe Edwards’ weighted centre.
The Magpies looked dangerous from set-pieces and, on 35, Hughes came within inches of applying a finishing touch to Sheehan’s free-kick from deep. Bishop later glanced Judge’s near-post left-channel delivery into the side-netting.
Ahead of the break, the match really picked up pace and either side could have gone into half time ahead. Following a quick attack down the left, the ball was eventually worked across the field to Edwards, whose shot flew inches wide of the top-left corner.
Moments later, Arquin broke the offside trap and only had the goalkeeper to beat. However, the Frenchman’s placed finish was acrobatically pushed away by Stech.
Bialkowski was the first of the goalkeepers to be called into action during the second period. A short corner routine ended with Foley feeding the ball to Upson but the midfielder’s firm hit inside the right-hand post was fisted away at full stretch by the Magpies’ custodian.
On 58, Upson had an even better chance, when he was found inside the area but Bialkowski again kept him out by reacting sharply to his left to parry a powerful, low hit. Equally as impressive was Sheehan’s heroic block, which prevented Edwards’ rebound from finding the net.
Bialkowski’s 64th minute save was up there with the best at any level this term. McAllister’s teasing, in-swinging free-kick delivery found Burn, whose downward header was unbelievably tipped away from the bottom corner by the Pole.
As the hosts maintained the pressure, Upson was able to test the stopper once more. After cutting inside from the left wing, he drove powerfully at goal but Bialkowski reacted well to make the block.
Curle made his first alteration of the match by replacing Mahon with Zoko. Hughes moved into the holding role, as the newly introduced Ivorian took up his regular spot out wide.
Zoko thought he had made an immediate impact when his neat pass into the channel set Judge free. The Irishman raced wide of McAllister but his finish rolled agonisingly wide of the bottom-left corner.
Despite a more reserved role, Hughes remained a goal threat. Town struggled to deal with a direct ball into the box and last season’s top-scorer was unlucky to see his strike deflected narrowly wide of the left-hand upright.
As the clock ticked nearer to the 90, it seemed that both sides had a chance of stealing maximum points. On 79, Ayling was denied by the legs of Bialkowski and Arquin was kept out by Stech at close-range, as he looked to latch onto Iwelumo’s headed flick-on.
Further height and power was added to the County attacking unit in the closing stages, as Enoch Showunmi replaced Arquin. Most of the work in the remaining minutes was spent defending, which was helped by Joss Labadie’s introduction at the expense of Judge, and Notts held on for a share of the spoils.