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Notts County were defeated 2-1 by Hartlepool United on a disappointing afternoon at Victoria Park. Stiriker James Poole and defender Peter Hartley netted for Pools, either side of Jamal Campbell-Ryce's fantastic goal.
Poole’s goal came in the fifth minute, a wonderful finish at close range. Yoann Arquin had an effort cleared off the line and Campbell-Ryce had another outstandingly blocked, meaning the Magpies went into the break a goal down.
Campbell-Ryce did get his goal after the break. The wideman’s finish was outstanding and Notts looked like they might go on to take maximum points.
20 minutes from time, Hartley nodded home the winning goal to extend County’s winless run at Victoria Park, which stretches back to 1959. The Magpies dropped to 10th but remained five points adrift of the Play-Off places.
There was one forced change to the County side, as a result of Neal Bishop’s three-game suspension. His replacement, Joss Labadie, was handed his first start since September in midfield, as part of an attacking 3-1-4-2 formation.
Gary Liddle was handed the captain’s armband against his former club in the absence of Bishop. The defender had spent six years at with Hartlepool prior to joining the Magpies and received a warm welcome from the home supporters.
His return did not get off to the best of starts, as Hartlepool gained an early lead from a breakaway attack down the right. As the Notts defenders desperately retreated, wideman Jonathan Franks picked out Poole, who, with his first touch, lifted the ball over Campbell-Ryce and proceeded to send a volley crashing against the roof of the net with his second.
Notts went in search of an immediate response and it nearly came, following great work by Arquin near to the corner flag. His strength allowed Campbell-Ryce to float a cross to the back-post, which was inches too high for Alan Judge.
Labadie dragged wide with an effort from distance but it was the hosts that continued to create the better of the chances. On 17, Liddle was required to produce a vital saving challenge inside the six-yard box, when forward Charlie Wyke latched onto Franks’ superb near-post delivery.
Wyke was given space to get another shot away, following Poole’s headed flick-on, though his finish from the edge of the box lacked power and accuracy. Poole later had a pop himself but his low drive rebounded back off the advertising boards behind the goal.
The Magpies next threatened in the 30th minute, as Judge fired wide, following Zoko’s intelligent back-heel. Moments later, Zoko found midweek goal-scorer Jeff Hughes five yards from goal with a cross from the by-line, only the midfielder was unable to generate enough power in his finish and goalkeeper Scott Flinders gathered easily.
The closer the game moved towards half time, the more likely it seemed that Notts would find an equaliser. And, on 37, Campbell-Ryce had his hands on his head in disbelief that he was not the man to get it.
Hughes found the winger with a chipped centre, which allowed him to drive venomously towards the far corner. However, Hartley came to the rescue with a tremendous block.
From the resulting corner, another piece of top defending denied Notts, as Arquin rose high to glance Judge’s corner towards the bottom-left corner. Flinders was beaten but full-back Neil Austin instinctively stuck out a leg to prevent a certain goal.
The next goal was massive and it could have gone either way ahead of the interval. Zoko headed into the arms of Flinders, after great work in the right channel by Campbell-Ryce, and, at the other end, Spiess had to make a brave save at the feet of Poole, who had been set free inside the area by Simon Walton’s quick free-kick.
County boss Keith Curle made one substitution at the break, with Julian Kelly replacing Labadie. The change saw Liddle move into midfield, as Kelly lined up on the right side of the defensive three.
Two minutes into the second half, the Magpies had a golden opportunity to level, when Sheehan’s high centre wreaked havoc inside the box. Flinders strayed off his line and got nowhere near the ball, but he was let off by Zoko, whose header was directed straight at the stranded stopper.
The hosts also came close to finding the net in the early exchanges, after Wyke had made his presence felt in attack to feed the ball wide to Franks. The midfielder unleashed a stunning drive but Spiess quickly manoeuvred across his line to make a save inside the near post.
On 52, Campbell-Ryce, gathered Sheehan’s pin-point diagonal pass to produce a moment of brilliance, which made it 1-1. The former Bristol City man tricked his way into the box by beating two players and curled powerfully into the far corner – a terrific goal.
The game was alive and more action followed, as Spiess held onto another Poole effort. Wyke then turned well to strike wide of the left-hand post.
For County, Judge and Arquin both had decent hits blocked by Hartley and Evan Horwood respectively. Sheehan also watched a long-range strike gathered by Flinders.
Missed chances were punished in the 69th minute, when Pools moved in front for the second time. Horwood’s free-kick from the right wing was met at the back post by Hartley, whose header made it over the line, despite Zoko’s best efforts.
It nearly became a two-goal deficit from another impressive Horwood set-piece. Spiess was forced into a commanding punch, prior to getting down low to his left to keep out Poole’s follow-up attempt.
Arquin came within inches of a second leveller, when a pass inside rose nicely for him. 25 yards from goal, the Frenchman targeted the top-left corner with a wonderful volley but watched the ball dip agonisingly over.
Even closer was Judge’s 75th minute downward header, made possible by Hughes’ dangerous centre. The ball was prevented from crossing the line by centre-back Sam Collins, who gained a fortunate touch, and Flinders was able to smother on his goal-line.
Two changes were made to the County attack in quick succession, as the full time whistle loomed. Zoko and Arquin made way for Hamza Bencherif and Romello Nangle.
The Magpies struggled to break down the home defence and the Pools players relentlessly closed down when out of possession. Five minutes of added time brought no success for Curle’s men, who left Victoria Park empty handed.