An injury time goal from midfielder James Dunne gave Stevenage a dramatic late win against Notts County at Meadow Lane. Notts had shown promise on the wings but were frustrated by the defensively sturdy Boro, who came away on the positive end of a 1-0 scoreline.
The Magpies welcomed back Gary Liddle at the heart of the defence following the completion of a three-game ban and it was much welcomed with a number of fresh casualties in the County ranks. Defenders Alan Sheehan and Dean Leacock both missed out through injury, adding to centre-back Haydn Hollis, who is already sidelined with a long-term knee issue.
Frontmen Danny Haynes and Enoch Showunmi were also ruled out, meaning that Yoann Arquin and Adam Coombes were given the nod in attack. One further change saw David Bell replace Jamal Campbell-Ryce, after his tricky showing of the bench against Walsall.
The first moment of action arrived in the ninth minute, when away goalkeeper Chris Day handled outside his area to snatch the ball away from Coombes. The home support anticipated a card but Day was let off by referee Trevor Kettle and the Magpies had to settle for a free-kick on the right side of the box.
Boro struggled to deal with Bell’s back-post delivery and, following a series of attempted clearances, the ball bounced invitingly into the path of Liddle. The centre-back, who was named skipper in the absence of Leacock, volleyed against the turf and into Day’s arms.
On 20, Notts had a fantastic opportunity to deliver the first blow, when Sheehan’s replacement, Tempest, delivered a superb cross from deep, which found Arquin unmarked just three yards from goal. However, the Frenchman was unable to control – arguably deterred by Coombe’s terrific leap in his attempt to connect – and Day was able to collect with ease.
Akin to the Walsall encounter seven days earlier, County looked most dangerous in the wide areas, with much of the attacking threat came through Bell. On three occasions, the inventive winger saw excellent back-post crosses towards Arquin flicked away from the striker by Deacon at the last possible moment.
It was not until the 33rd minute that Boro provided an effort on goal and it was evident of Notts’ dominance. Robin Shroot, with a barrier of black and white shirts ahead of him and no support, managed to hit the target with a feeble 30-yard shot.
Bialkowski was tested for the first time four minutes later, when a mistake in midfield allowed Shroot to break down the centre. The striker stretched the County rearguard with a perfectly weighted pass to Darius Charles, whose curled finish towards the top-right corner had to be acrobatically pushed away by Bialkowski.
Moments before the interval, a quick passing move out of defence provided Callum McGregor with a pocket of space in the final third but he cleared the bar with a long-range hit. Then, at the other end, Shroot, again, tried his luck from range but found the Kop Stand behind the goal.
Notts nearly moved in front early into the second period, when a quick free-kick resulted in McGregor picking out Liddle in the box. The defender nodded across goal towards Coombes, only for away skipper Jon Ashton to direct over his own crossbar with a vital header.
For the visitors, Shroot was given space to roam in front of the home backline. The danger man cut inside from the left and curled narrowly wide of the right-hand post.
Shroot had an even better opportunity in the 57th minute, when Boro broke with a piercing attack through the centre. Charles set his strike partner free with an incisive through-pass, but Liddle and Bialkowski were able to do enough between them to block out the frontman and send the ball trickling wide for a corner.
On 72, Notts boss Chris Kiwomya made his first change by switching Coombes for debutant Jeremy Balmy. The Frenchman joined his fellow countryman Arquin in attack, as the Magpies searched for a winner.
It was Boro that were next to threaten from a hopeful long ball up-field, which saw Charles bustle past Liddle to latch onto the pass. Smith anticipated the danger well and pressured the imposing striker into a mishit effort that flew into the side-netting.
Balmy’s first involvement, an unexpected overhead flick into the right channel, gave McGregor space to run at the away defence. The on-loan Celtic midfielder roamed across field, into the box, but his strike lacked power and Boro escaped.
Late on, Nangle replaced Bell, who had only just returned to action from a hamstring injury, in a late push for maximum points. But, it was Boro that struck with a goal during three minutes of added time.
The away side escaped down the left wing and Shroot cut into the area unopposed. His low centre took a strong deflection into the path of Dunne, who swept inside the right-hand upright to give his side their first three points of 2013.14.