Notts County’s performance at Brunton Park arguably warranted at least a point but the Magpies travelled back to Nottingham empty handed after a 2-1 defeat to Carlisle United. The Cumbrians’ goalkeeper Mark Gillespie was largely to thank for the hosts’ victory, as he made a string of brilliant second-half saves to frustrate County.
Callum McGregor gave Notts a deserved 27th minute lead with a superb long-range drive into the bottom corner. However, Carlisle grabbed an equaliser ahead of the interval through Matty Robson’s controversial free-kick.
The winning goal arrived in the 54th minute – a close-range finish by David Amoo. Still, the Magpies created enough chances to have won the game but Gillespie’s remarkable performance ensured that his team held on for maximum points.
First team manager Chris Kiwomya was able to name the same starting-11 in back-to-back games for the first time in 2013.14, following the impressive 2-0 triumph over Tranmere Rovers seven days prior. The only change came on the bench, as Romello Nangle, who had impressed in a midweek development squad game, replaced the injured David Bell.
Notts seemed happy to play keep-ball in the opening stages and the hosts struggled to win possession on their own patch – much to the frustration of the home supporters. Andre Boucaud was the first to add an end product to one of these extended passing moves with an 11th minute hit from distance, which flew harmlessly wide of the mark.
Moments later, Boucaud was involved again, only at the opposite end of the field. The creative midfielder’s back-pass appeared to lack power, but Bartosz Bialkowski managed to beat striker David Amoo to the ball and made a vital clearance.
Boucaud was influential in so many of the Magpies’ attacking moves and nearly rounded off another with a spectacular finish. Following a one-two with Danny Haynes, the Trinidad & Tobago international targeted the top-left corner but was denied by home goalkeeper Mark Gillespie, who managed to tip over.
Jack Grealish was next to test the home stopper, when he tricked his way into the box from the left channel. The on-loan Aston Villa midfielder struck powerfully across goal but Gillespie reacted well to his left to push wide, via a deflection off Joss Labadie.
Despite County’s dominance, the Cumbrians nearly delivered the first blow, after Bialkowski gifted the ball to Mark Beck. The forward should have scored but instead placed wide of the left-hand post.
It was a let off for the Magpies and it was greatly welcomed, as, on 27, they moved in front. An excellent challenge in the final third by Boucaud saw McGregor roam into space and, from 25 yards, he watched a powerful low drive skid out of Gillespie’s reach and into the bottom-right corner.
McGregor could have added his second of the afternoon in the 39th minute. The Scotsman drifted into area from the right flank and curled towards the far corner, only for Gillespie to get his body behind the ball.
Within two minutes of McGregor’s attempt, Carlisle levelled, after Labadie was seen to have fouled Amoo on the corner of the box. The decision was protested, as the energetic midfielder appeared to take the ball, but Robson took no sympathy and rifled through a crowd of players, into the far corner.
Notts had a fantastic opportunity to restore the deficit shortly before the half time break, when Boucaud’s delightful overhead pass into the right channel picked out Danny Haynes’ run. The striker then provided a cutback into the path of McGregor, whose shot crashed into the side-netting.
The Magpies continued to look dangerous early into the second period and produced two decent efforts on goal in quick succession. First Haynes fired across goal, after Labadie had found him inside the box, before Grealish curled wide from the edge of the box.
On 54, United moved in front, as a result of a breakaway attack down the left that saw the ball cut back to Robson 12 yards from goal. The lively wideman unleashed a stern drive, which forced Bialkowski into an instinctive parry, though there was nothing the Polish stopper could do to prevent Amoo from placing home on the rebound.
In search of an equaliser, McGregor almost connected with a pacy near-post cross from Haynes. He later tried his luck from distance but on this occasion found the unpopulated terraces behind the goal.
The second half provided an open and exciting game of football, with both teams determined to add the crucial next goal. For Notts, Labadie had a 30-yard hit smothered, whereas Robson found the side netting with a stunning shot from the left wing.
On 72, the away supporters thought that their team had found the second goal and they would have if Gillespie had not been in such fine form. The home Man of the Match batted away a rifled Alan Sheehan free-kick and then produced a remarkable save down to his left, which denied Boucaud’s low finish that was certain to find the net.
Gillespie came to the rescue again moments later with another impressive stop. McGregor raced down the centre of the field and targeted the bottom-right corner, though the goalkeeper, again, reacted well.
Beck nearly added Carlisle’s third on two occasions ahead of his withdrawal from the action. The striker struck narrowly wide of the right-hand upright and then forced Bialkowski into a reaching save with an unexpected chip.
Haber came off the bench to replace Mark Fotheringham in an attacking substitution and he could have easily registered had it not been for the outstanding Gillespie. A Labadie free-kick led to a goalmouth scramble, where the Canadian international was denied a low finish by the home stopper’s outstretched leg.
When Gillespie was finally beaten, it was still not enough to get the Magpies back onto even terms. From a Sheehan corner, Haber rose well to add a downward header but Leon McSweeney preserved his side’s lead with a goal line clearance.
Manny Smith, who had replaced Dean Leacock, headed over in a late push for a goal. Bialkowski even roamed forward for a corner late into four minutes of added time but it turned out not to be County’s day – no matter how hard they pushed.