AWAY MATCH SPONSORED BY
Notts County dug deep to earn a point against Crawley Town on an afternoon where they rode their luck at times. The Magpies showed enough commitment to warrant the 0-0 outcome, which kept them in the race for the top six, as many of the sides around them dropped points.
The Reds saw the better of the opening 45 and would have gone into the interval ahead, had Bartosz Bialkowski not been in top form. The County stopper pulled off two outstanding saves to deny forward Jamie Proctor's 10th minute hit and midfielder Matt Sparrow's close-range effort 15 minutes later.
Although the Magpies had to soak up a lot of pressure, they almost edged in front on the stroke of half time. Hamza Bencherif was presented with a golden opportunity by Man of the Match Alan Sheehan but scuffed the finish.
After the interval, Bialkowski did not have as much to do but there was some excellent last-ditch defending on show from the likes of Gary Liddle and Haydn Hollis. In fact, Notts could have stolen all three points late on, when substitute Enoch Showunmi had a powerful effort well saved by the Crawley goalkeeper.
With Dean Leacock suspended for two games, following his 10th caution of the season against Leyton Orient, Manny Smith made only his fourth appearance of the campaign and his first since New Year's Day. He lined up at centre-back alongside Haydn Hollis, who had impressed in midweek.
Alan Judge missed out through injury, opening the door for Bencherif to make his first league start since April 2012. As part of a 4-5-1 formation, the Algerian was handed an attacking midfield role, behind another new introduction, lone frontman Jacob Blyth.
Jeff Hughes was the fourth player to receive a call-up to the starting 11 and alternated between the wings with Jamal Campbell-Ryce. John Cofie, who had suffered a heavy blow to the jaw on Wednesday night, dropped to the bench, along with Francois Zoko.
Crawley were first to threaten in the 10th minute, when Proctor moved into space on the left to curle towards the far top corner. Bialkowski quickly moved across his line and, at full stretch, tipped around the post, much to the appreciation of the away fans behind his goal.
Within a minute, Notts responded, as Gary Liddle fed Campbell-Ryce into space in the right channel. His superb back-post cross was prevented from finding the head of Blyth by full-back Mustapha Dumbuya, before Hughes had a strong volley bravely blocked.
County continued to push for the opener and Campbell-Ryce saw plenty of the ball, as he roamed into pockets of space in the final third. On one occasion, the winger spotted that home goalkeeper Paul Jones had wandered off his line but his ambitious chip was well scouted.
The hosts slowly gained the upper hand and looked particularly dangerous down the right flank. On 23, Dumbuya watched a pacy cross into the six-yard box evade everyone and Bialkowski was required to make a low save to keep out midfielder Jake Taylor's downward header.
Crawley should have moved ahead in the 25th minute, when Taylor met Sparrow's run in behind the Magpies' backline with a delightful lofted pass. The midfielder controlled with a deft first touch but his subsequent volley was charged down by Bialkowski - an excellent spreading save.
Joe Walsh was next to try his luck for Town, after he dispossessed Andre Boucaud. His resulting shot, however, flew narrowly wide of the left-hand upright.
Notts edged back into the game from this point and Hughes came close with an unexpected turn and shot from distance that Jones spilled behind. Alan Sheehan later picked out Bencherif in a fine goal-scoring position with a low cutback but the shot was mishit and Crawley escaped.
Bialkowski was the first of the goalkeepers to be tested after the break. Neal Bishop had gained a crucial touch to prevent Mike Jones from getting an initial shot away but the ball fell to Nicky Adams, whose placed attempt was smartly gathered by the Pole.
The Magpies immediately broke, with Hughes playing Blyth into space, as the home defence regrouped. The on-loan Leicester striker tried to thread in Campbell-Ryce, but the pass was overhit and Jones collected.
On 59, Notts produced an impressive passage of play, which eventually saw Bencherif lay the ball to Bishop on the edge of the box. The skipper drove powerfully Towards goal but cleared the bar.
As both sides carved out half chances, Adams fired over and Campbell-Ryce dragged wide, though the hosts thought they had found the opener in the 69th minute. In an attempt to cut out Proctor's driven centre from the right, Hollis stuck out a leg but was fortunate to see the ball cannon back off the crossbar.
County continued to ride their luck when Dumbuya's cross looked certain to be touched home at the back post by Jones. Liddle was able to gain a vital connection and the ball looped somehow looped onto the roof of the net.
Three changes in quick succession added fresh legs to the Magpies' attack. Zoko, Enoch Showunmi and Cofie replaced Bencherif, Blyth and Campbell-Ryce respectively.
Showunmi almost made the difference in the 73rd minute, when he burst past centre-back Connor Essam into the area. The striker's low hit was kept out by a fine reaction save and his rebound was crowded out.
Proctor nearly won the game late on, after Boucaud lost possession in his own box. The frontman pounced but Hollis came to the rescue with a hooked clearance.
Following strong hold-up play by Showunmi, Cofie could have netted during four minutes of added time, only his 20-yard effort skewed high and wide. Despite being packed with chances, the game ended goalless but Notts remained seven points adrift of the Play-Off places.