An exhilarating Boxing Day clash at Greenhous Meadow ended in a 2-2 draw between Notts County and Shrewsbury Town. Both outfits held the lead at different points in the game and worked hard for share of the spoils.
Notts were disappointed to go behind in the 19th minute, when they went behind from a set-piece. Former Magpie Luke Rodgers added the finishing touch to give the hosts the lead against the run of play.
It did not take Lee Hughes long to even things up, as he levelled the scores from a dangerous Alan Judge corner. Jamal Campbell-Ryce then fired Notts into the lead during first-half added time, following an extraordinary run by Judge.
The second half was another entertaining battle but it seemed that Notts were going to hold out for the points. Another twist in the tale arrived in the 81st minute, when lively winger Jon Taylor’s cross looped into the far corner.
An exciting close to the match saw both sides create chances but neither were able to capitalise. Although disappointed to have let the lead slip, it was an encounter that provided plenty of action for the spectators.
There were two big surprises in the Notts starting 11, as Lee Hughes and Manny Smith returned to action. Hughes, who had been ruled out until the New Year through illness, made an early recovery to partner Chris Iwelumo in attack, whereas Smith made his first appearance since the opening day defeat to Bradford City, when he picked up a serious knee injury.
The switch to a 4-4-2 formation was also a hot topic of discussion amongst the travelling fans. The Magpies had started with a flexible 4-5-1 in every game during 2012.13 but first team manager Keith Curle opted to switch it around against the Shrews, as his side looked to close the gap on the Play-Off places.
County started well in the new system and looked particularly dangerous down the right flank through Campbell-Ryce. In the third minute, the wideman delivered an excellent cross towards Iwelumo, whose improvised effort was well watched by the home goalkeeper, Chris Weale.
From the opposite wing, Alan Judge was next to threaten, when he gathered Jeff Hughes’ throw to drive wide of the bottom-left corner from 20 yards. Then, on 13, another Campbell-Ryce cross wreaked havoc, as Weale clattered into Iwelumo during a claim and almost fumbled into his own net.
Shrewsbury were by no means pinned back and could have moved in front themselves through Taylor. The winger had a deflected right-wing cross narrowly evade Bartosz Bialkowski’s back post and he also came close to intercepting an under-hit back-pass by Julian Kelly.
Against the run of play, Town managed to make it 1-0 in the 19th minute, after the Magpies’ rearguard failed to deal with Darren Jones’ lofted free-kick into the area. Towering frontman Marvin Morgan was able to gain a vital knockdown, which allowed Rodgers to lift over Bialkowski at close range.
The lead only lasted five minutes, as Lee Hughes marked his return with a poacher’s goal. Judge had fired a corner into the six-yard box that allowed the striker to nudge the ball over the line using his hip.
Shrewsbury nearly regained their advantage within moments of the equaliser, when Taylor was able to surge into the area at pace. As Kelly attempted to halt his momentum, Bialkowski raced off his line and made a forceful block at the wideman’s feet, taking everything.
It was exciting stuff and more efforts followed in the build-up to the break. Judge forced a save out of Weale with a 25-yard hit and Aaron Wildig headed inches wide of the left-hand upright from a teasing Paul Parry cross.
Home skipper Matt Richards then thought he had the ball in the back of the net, following an uncharacteristic mishandle by Bialkowski. Richards unleashed a stern drive, but the County number one was able to get back into position and made up for his error with an acrobatic parry.
Neal Bishop nearly punished Town for their missed opportunity, when he latched onto Judge’s near-post corner to glance agonisingly over. However, there was still time for another goal before the break.
During added time, Jeff Hughes won possession deep inside the County half, which allowed Judge to race the length of the pitch at pace. The Irishman burned into the area, past Richards, only for Weale to keep out his low shot with an impressive reaction stop.
Campbell-Ryce did not mind, as he was able to smash home his fifth goal of the season on the rebound – a composed, first-touch finish. The home fans protested Jeff Hughes’ initial challenge but the referee was having none of it.
The second period looked set to provide more excitement at both ends, with Campbell-Ryce almost finding the bottom-left corner with a stern effort from distance during the early exchanges. For the Shrews, Taylor nearly forced an own goal, when he attempted to race onto a long ball, but Bialkowski was able to touch clear.
Moments later, Bialkowski was called into action again, this time by Parry, whose well-hit centre had to be fisted clear. Weale then had to produce an even better save at the other end to keep out Judge’s driven attempt from the edge of the area.
On 61, Taylor escaped Jeff Hughes down the right to produce a cross-come-shot that Bialkowski turned behind. Two corners followed – both directed towards Jermaine Grandison – but Smith and Jeff Hughes won aerial battles to keep out the giant centre-back.
Weale was forced into the save of the game by Judge, who looked certain to find the top-left corner with a free-kick on the edge of the area. The stopper leapt across his goal to push the ball clear, as Judge watched on, head in hands.
Curle freshened up his strikeforce by replacing Lee Hughes and Iwelumo with Enoch Showunmi and Yoann Arquin. From a quick counter attack, Showunmi almost made an immediate impact but he struck over, after being threaded in behind the home backline by Judge.
Shrewsbury pushed forward in the closing stages and managed to make it 2-2 just nine minutes from time. Taylor’s cross from the right channel took a strong deflection off Jeff Hughes and the ball looped over Bialkowski and into the far corner.
The final minutes, including four of stoppage time, provided more drama. Hold-up play by Showunmi enabled Jelly to get a shot away, which was heroically blocked, before Notts had a strong penalty call dismissed.
The Shrews could have stolen the points when Bialkowski raced out of his area to make a clearance. The stopper did not make the connection he desired and had to compete with Morgan in an attempt to eradicate the danger.
The draw marked Notts’ 22nd away match without defeat. Another tough challenge awaits at the Lamex Stadium on Saturday.