Alan Sheehan’s late penalty rescued a point for Notts County on a heated afternoon at Meadow Lane. Bristol City had taken a controversial first half lead through Sam Baldock but Sheehan’s finish gave the Magpies a point, which was the least they deserved.
Manager Shaun Derry named an unchanged starting-11 for the first time since taking charge of the Magpies. The only adjustments were on the bench, as Kevin Pilkington replaced the injured Fabian Spiess and Greg Tempest was named in place of Haydn Hollis.
The reduced ticket offer attracted a bumper home crowd for the Christmas fixture and there was a real buzz about the place – understandably so after back-to-back wins. After an applause for former boss Steve Cotterill, who returned for the first time since guiding Notts to the League 2 championship in 2009.10, they really got behind their team with an unrelenting series of chants.
County responded to the vocal backing and were on the front foot from the first whistle, though it was the visitors that provided the first effort on goal. A quick break saw Bobby Reid given space on the edge of the box but the midfielder’s shot towards the top-right corner was tipped behind by the reliable Bartosz Bialkowski.
In the opening exchanges, former Jamal Campbell-Ryce looked Notts’ biggest offensive threat and the former City winger delivered a teasing cross from the right wing which Callum Ball was able to keep alive with an outstretched toe. This allowed Callum McGregor to drive low at goal but defender Aden Flint kept out the effort with a crucial block.
Moments later, Campbell-Ryce was again involved, as he skinned the left-back, Greg Cunningham, to blast narrowly over. Then, on 23, Sheehan forced the first save out of away stopper Elliot Parish with a free-kick around the wall.
Notts suffered a blow in the 30th minute when Gary Liddle was withdrawn from the action after a horror challenge by Cunningham. The home fans were incensed to see the left-back escape not only with a red but a yellow as well.
The decision lifted the Magpies, on and off the pitch, and you sensed that every action was in support of Liddle, who had been helped down the tunnel and replaced by Mark Fotheringham. Bialkowski certainly played his part with another impressive save to block a low shot by Sam Baldock, following an incisive pass from Jay Emmanuel-Thomas.
On 38, Emmanuel-Thomas was presented with a chance of his own, when he escaped the offside trap. Bialkowski made an excellent save to deny the 15-goal striker before Kieron Freeman made a crucial goal line clearance to keep out his follow up attempt.
As City maintained the pressure, Bialkowski made another outstanding save to tip behind Baldock’s unexpected overhead kick. But, from the resulting corner, the home sections’ frustration from the earlier decision hit new highs as the referee pointed to the spot for an incident involving Dean Leacock and Flint.
Baldock struck home from with a powerful drive from 12 yards. Leacock was then booked to even louder boos for his continued protests.
During two minutes of added time, County suffered another bad injury. Ball suffered a nasty looking head injury during a high challenge and was stretchered off, with Ronan Murray introduced in attack.
The second half was sparked into life in the 53rd minute, when Sheehan’s quick free-kick resulted in McGregor curling inches wide via a deflection. The corner prompted a goalmouth scramble and Murray appeared to be upended, but calls for a penalty from the players and the Kop were waved away.
A free-kick from deep almost led to the visitors doubling their lead, as Reid’s diagonall ball was gathered by Emmanuel-Thomas but Bialkowski got down well to his left to parry the frontman’s low hit.
Grealish became increasingly influential as the clock ticked away and, from a short corner, set up McGregor to sweep agonisingly over. McGreogor then had another good shot diverted away from goal by an important defensive header.
Before being withdraw, Campbell-Ryce did well to escape three away defenders on the right. However, Parish gathered his low 20-yard strike.
Enoch Shouwunmi was introduced with 13 minutes remaining in place of Campbell-Ryce. Notts move to a 4-4-2 with the hope of gaining something from the game in the closing stages.
Top-scorer McGregor thought he had made it 1-1 in the 85th minute, following an inentive backheel by Grealish. The on-loan Celtic forward targeted the bottom-left corner and was unfortunate to find the wrong side of the post.
McGregor was involved again as he glided into the box to deliver a low centre, which was deflected into the side-netting. The corner led to an infringement by substitute Marvin Elliott.
It seemed harsh but the Notts fans did not care when Sheehan fired inside the right-hand post. The celebrations were passionate and showed how much effort had gone into securing the equaliser.
Showunmi came within a whisker of stealing all three points with the last kick of the game, after he latched onto the end of Bialkowski’s long punt forward. The striker’s placed finish deflected wide off the foot of the post but County were happy with the point having been behind until the 89th minute.