Substitute Iain Hume’s 74th minute finish saw Notts County beaten 1-0 by Preston North End at Meadow Lane this afternoon. Notts at least matched the visitors for large periods, but were unable to take their chances and were punished late on.
Injuries in the ranks forced a number of changes to the Notts line-up, which included three youth team graduates in the starting 11. Bartosz Bialkowski and Manny Smith both dropped out of the matchday squad through injury, meaning that Fabian Spiess deputised in goal and Alan Sheehan moved inside from left-back to centre-back.
This shuffle also meant that Mustapha Dumbuya switched to left-back and Curtis Thompson was handed a start at right-back. The final alterations from the midweek encounter with Gillingham were the inclusion of Joss Labadie – back from suspension - and Danny Haynes at the expense of Mark Fotheringham and Yoann Arquin.
The Magpies’ makeshift backline was certainly the busier in the opening stages, as the Lilywhites justified their lofty league position. John Welsh curled over from the edge of the box and stand-in skipper Gary Liddle was required to produce an outstanding saving challenge on Stuart Beavon, after his strike partner, Kevin Davies, had threaded him in on goal.
County’s first attempt arrived in the 11th minute, as a result of a series of short, sharp passes in the final third. Greg Tempest collected on the edge of the box and curled towards the bottom-left corner, only the Preston stopper, Declan Rudd, managed to scurry across his line to touch behind.
The visitors next threatened through Scott Laird on the left flank, whose inviting near-post centre was directed over by Beavon’s forceful diving header. Thompson later had to a gain vital touch to prevent Chris Humphrey’s right-wing delivery from finding a man and this led to Keith Keane driving inches high of the top-right corner.
On 22, Another impressive passing move involving Thompson, Tempest and Dumbuya allowed Coombes to cut in between two defenders from the left, but his low effort was dragged wide of the mark. Shortly after, Danny Haynes showed great determination to win a free-kick 30 yards from goal but Rudd easily dealt with Sheehan’s strike.
Spiess was tested for the first time in the 33rd minute, following a defensive slip. Beavon gathered on the edge of the box and was prevented from finding the bottom-left corner by the German custodian’s reaching save.
Preston could easily have been down to 10 men, when Sheehan was sent tumbling to the ground by what seemed to an elbow from Davies. Amongst a crowd of players from both sides, the referee eventually brandished a yellow card – a decision that the home faithful felt was not harsh enough.
Notts came the closest to taking a lead into the interval from another Sheehan free-kick, following a foul on Thompson. The defender’s in-dangerous in-swinging delivery was cleared as far as Boucaud, whose long-range hit forced an acrobatic parry out of Rudd, before Coombes nodded wide on the rebound.
Coombes was involved in the Magpies’ first chance of the second half with a crossfield pass that stretched the away rearguard. McGregor found space and unleashed a first-touch shot that flew high of the target.
McGregor looked dangerous in the early stages of the second period and teased his marker, ahead of providing a cutback for Tempest. The Northern Ireland international confidently struck the ball with the outside of his left boot but Rudd stood up well to the effort.
On 52, as County continued to press Preston deep, an Andre Boucaud free-kick forced a goalmouth scramble, which saw McGregor’s prodded attempt deflected wide. McGregor’s near-post corner then found Coombes, whose inventive flick forced another good save from Rudd.
At the other end of the field, Spiess was called into action in the 69th minute, when Josh Brownhill raced through on goal. The German made a brave save at the midfielder’s feet and the newly introduced substitute Hume fired wide on the rebound.
Hume did not have to wait too much longer for his goal but much of the plaudits went to Laird, who had shown an excellent piece of skill to escape his marker on the left wing. The wing-back then delivered a tremendous cross-come-shot, which Hume prodded home at close-range.
Laird later forced Spiess into a low block with a 25-yard hit. Hume lurked, looking for his second of the afternoon, but Liddle came to the rescue with an excellent last-ditch clearance.
Hume came close once more with a clever free-kick that wrong-footed Spiess and flew marginally wide of the left-hand post. The stopper was able to do something about Keith Keane’s shot from distance, as he got down well to his right.
Three minutes of added time provided a late push but Preston stood up well. Notts have a chance to bounce back on Tuesday night against Oldham Athletic.