Notts County manager Shaun Derry’s homecoming failed to deliver any points but hopes of the team pulling themselves away from the bottom of the table could not have been higher. The Magpies delivered a passionate performance against Sky Bet League 1 high flyers Wolverhampton Wanderers and were unfortunate not to come away with at least a point.
One goal separated the teams at the final whistle, after Ethan Ebanks-Landell’s 76th minute finish wrapped up a 1-0 win for the away side. County were deservedly applauded off the pitch by the vocal home supporters at the final whistle and more showings of that nature will certainly deliver the points to lift them up the table.
Derry was welcomed back to Meadow Lane for his first game in charge by a rapturous reception from the home crowd, which filtered into the game. Their side lined up in a 4-4-2 formation and opened the match brightly against a very strong Wolves 11.
The fixture went ahead despite numerous international call-ups in both camps. Still, the Magpies were boosted by the inclusion of Callum McGregor, who made the trip back from a Scotland Under-21 match in time to take up a spot on the right flank.
Dean Leacock’s suspension meant that stand-in skipper Gary Liddle partnered Manny Smith at the heart of defence. Kieron Freeman, following his arrival on loan from earlier in the week, lined up at right-back.
In attack, Ronan Murray retained his place as he searched for his third goal in as many games. Marcus Haber, who added a physical and aerial threat, partnered him up top.
Although County started well, Wolves provided the first efforts – both from range. Jake Cassidy forced Bartosz Bialkowski into a routine save before Bakary Sako sent a volley bouncing wide of the mark.
County’s first serious attempt on goal arrived in the 19th minute, after Jamal Campbell-Ryce energy in the left channel won his team a free-kick. Alan Sheehan’s back-post delivery was met by Smith, whose downward header was directed into a crowd of players, before his follow up drive was superbly diverted over by centre-back Richard Stearman’s brave block.
The Magpies’ fans felt that the visitors should have been down to 10 men when McGregor was tripped as he attempted to break through on goal. Defender Danny Batth was shown a yellow card and Sheehan’s resulting free-kick crashed into the wall.
On 27, Bialkowski was tested for the first time, as Cassidy unleashed a stern hit through a crowd of players. The ball swerved wildly away from the goalkeeper but he adjusted his feet to push clear with a reaction save down to his left.
The home ends were calling for red again when Liddle was downed by a high David Davis lunge. The midfielder, who injured himself in the challenge, also escaped with a caution and Liddle fortunately walked away relatively unscathed.
It was certainly an entertaining game of football and Notts linked up play well. The front duo combined well, bringing other players into play, and Campbell-Ryce looked a constant threat on both wings.
In the latter stages of the half, it was Wolves that provided efforts on goal. After being given too much space, James Henry targeted the top-left corner, only to be denied by an acrobatic Bialkowski parry, ahead of another save by the Pole to keep out Sako’s 25-yard shot.
County opened the second half well and Murray almost created an opener, as he provided a cutback from the byline but McGregor’s attempted shimmy was well scouted by Stearman. Then, on 50, Campbell-Ryce cut inside from the left to curl inches past the far post.
The away fans were on their feet, after Sako’s low centre towards Cassidy appeared certain to result in a goal. However, Sheehan came to the rescue and touched over with a vital last-ditch tackle inside the six-yard box.
Wolves came close again in the 56th minute, this time from a counter attack that was started off by goalkeeper Carl Ikeme’s impressive long throw. With the Magpies stretched, Henry surged into space and found half time substitute and top-scorer Leigh Griffiths, whose low finish was excellently blocked by Bialkowski.
On 69, Bialkowski produced another important save, when Griffith’s header found Henry with room to strike in the area. Liddle did well to get himself in front of the wideman but the play was quickly shifted to Cassidy, whose firm low shot was well smothered by the Pole.
Wanderers were by no means dominant but they broke the deadlock in the 76th minute from a set-piece won by Sako on the left wing. Henry’s pacy delivery into the six-yard box was not cleared and Ebanks-Landell pounced with powered finish.
The Kop, evidently impressed by their team’s commitment, had been chanting ‘Shaun Derry’s Black and White Army’ relentlessly. Even the goal did not halt their backing of the Magpies, who needed it more than ever if they were to get onto even terms.
Derry made a double change to add fresh legs in the final 10 minutes. Campbell-Ryce and Murray were withdrawn to a great ovation and Yoann Arquin and Andy Haworth were introduced.
Arquin nearly made an immediate impact with a clever flick that was headed on in the final third by Mark Fotheringham. McGregor anticipated the pass brilliantly but his volleyed shot skewed wide of the left-hand post.
On 85, the visitors came within inches of doubling their lead from a breakaway attack. Griffiths’ centred pass allowed the newly introduced Bjorn Sigurdarson in on goal but his delicate finish clipped the outside of the post.
Haber, who had impressed throughout, made great use of the right channel to create Notts’ next chance with a dangerous cutback. The ball eventually fell to Arquin but the Frenchman’s shot lacked accuracy.
As County maintained the pressure, Fotheringham had a placed effort deflected narrowly wide. From the resulting corner, Haworth watched a 20-yard half volley dip inches over.
Five minutes of added time raised the volume from the Kop, as the Wolves fans watched on nervously. Despite a late push, the visitors held on but the positives were clear for all to see.