AWAY MATCH SPONSORED BY
It was the same old story for Notts County, as they were punished for not taking their chances in a 2-0 loss to Stevenage. The Magpies spent most of the game camped in the Boro half but a lack of cutting edge saw the hosts claim all three points.
On-loan Southampton forward Sam Hoskins got Stevenage off to the perfect start, when he capitalised on a fortunate deflection to find the net with a feeble finish. Jeff Hughes and Francois Zoko had the best attempts at goal for Notts, as part of a first half onslaught but neither was able to find the leveller.
The barrage continued after the break but, again, a finish was lacking. Substitute frontman Marcus Hamer then secured the points for Boro with a late header on a night that Notts should have taken at least a point.
Caretaker boss Chris Kiwomya took charge of his first game since the departure of Keith Curle and coaches Colin Lee and Colin West. The club parted company with the trio after the 2-1 defeat to bottom of the league Hartlepool United on Saturday.
Kiwomya made only one change to the weekend’s starting 11, with Joss Labadie replaced by Gavin Mahon in the centre of midfield. Two new faces did appear on the bench - promising youngsters Greg Tempest, 19, and Tyrell Waite, 18 – who Kiwomya would have seen plenty of during his time as development squad manager.
Notts could not have started the game any worse, as they were behind after just 18 seconds, albeit in quite unfortunate circumstances. Forward Filipe Morais’ powerful drive deflected strongly off his teammate, Steve Leo Beleck, towards Hoskins, who was able to squeeze the ball inside the near-post, as Fabian Spiess attempted desperately to scurry across goal, having committed to the original effort.
County thought they were back on level terms straight away, when both Alan Judge and Yoann Arquin added headed flick-ons to Jamal Campbell-Ryce’s right-wing centre. Hughes reacted at the back post to slot home at close range, though the goal was ruled out for offside.
Campbell-Ryce, akin to recent matches, was the Magpies’ main offensive threat and continued to pump quality balls into the area. None were better than his 25th minute delivery, which narrowly evaded Hughes’ outstretched toe at the far post.
On 29, Stevenage had a fine opportunity to double their lead, when Hoskins picked out Lucas Akins with a searching cross from the right flank. However, the forward failed to react, perhaps deterred by Gary Liddle’s leap, and the ball trickled wide, off his foot.
The remainder of the half saw the Magpies camped in the Boro half. As the hosts attempted to stifle County’s attacks, they resorted to physical tactics, with Greg Tansey and David Gray shown yellow cards for reckless challenges on Zoko and Arquin respectively.
Hughes came close again in the 38th minute, as he watched a downward header, made possibly by Judge’s corner, nodded over by Beleck. Zoko later escaped his marker inside the box with an excellent touch but goalkeeper Steve Arnold darted quickly off his goal-line to make a brave save at the Ivorian’s feet.
Judge’s deliveries continued to cause problems and his next, an in-swinging free-kick, resulted in Zoko heading over. Then, on 44, another corner was nodded high of the target by Hughes, who had climbed above his marker on the edge of the six-yard box.
The openings continued into added time. Zoko gathered Campbell-Ryce’s clever chipped pass with a superb piece of control but his low drive deflected into the side-netting, meaning Notts went into the break a goal down.
It remained a lively affair after the interval, though Stevenage managed to threaten themselves, with decent efforts from Gray and Tansey that were both well blocked by Dean Leacock. At the other end, great work by Arquin enabled Zoko to rifle agonisingly wide of the top-right corner.
As the Magpies maintained the pressure, Arquin switched play onto the right towards Campbell-Ryce, who then surged into the box, before having a shot bravely blocked. Judge gathered and produced a looped shot on the turn, which Arnold clutched out of the air.
On 60, Arnold was nearly caught out, when Zoko’s mishit cross swerved inside the near post, only the stopper was able to readjust his feet to make an awkward save. Three minutes later, Tansey tested Spiess with a placed effort that required the 18-year-old to gather smartly on the greasy surface, down to his left.
Hughes was next to try his luck for the Magpies, after he tricked his way into space from the left channel. The midfielder opened up his body and curled wide of the right-hand upright with a right-footed effort.
Kiwomya made two changes as the full time whistle loomed, adding greater aerial threat with the inclusion of Enoch Showunmi and Hamza Bencherif. Zoko and Mahon made way.
It was not long after these changes that Boro dealt the killer blow, as Gray’s floated cross from the right was met forcefully by the substitute Haber. The imposing striker’s header bounced off the turf and Spiess could not gain a strong enough touch to keep the ball from crashing against the inside netting.
During four minutes of added time, Showunmi nearly grabbed a consolation goal, when he met Judge’s low centre with a first-time hit that flew inches over. At the final whistle, County remained five points off the Play-Offs, having played one game more than sixth-placed Sheffield United.