Notts County could not have celebrated the New Year any better as they put three past Bradford City to climb off the bottom of the table and closed the gap on the teams outside the bottom four to just three points. The Magpies fully deserved the victory with a hard-working performance that produced three outstanding goals from Man of the Match Jamal Campbell-Ryce (32), Callum McGregor (88) and Jack Grealish (90+1).
Alan Sheehan’s one-game ban saw him miss out on the 2014 curtain raiser but this gave Manny Smith a chance to impress alongside skipper Dean Leacock at the heart of defence. This was the only change to the side that faced Crawley Town three days prior.
Smith was called into action for the first time with a vital piece of defending in the 12th minute when former Magpies loan full-back Stephen Darby attempted to pick out giant frontman James Hanson with a dangerous cross from the right flank. Smith anticipated the delivery well and produced a brave diving header to deny a certain goal-scoring opportunity.
Notts’ early advances saw Jamal Campbell-Ryce heavily involved and, following a quick interchange with Callum McGregor, the winger struck wide. From a superbly weighted Morgan Fox diagonal, Enoch Showunmi also threatened, as he controlled on the chest before drilling past the left-hand upright from 20 yards.
Showunmi’s presence at the back proved to be important in County’s defence of set-pieces, following three important headed clearances. Bradford eventually found a way through in the 23rd minute via a Gary Jones free-kick delivery into the box but Bartosz Bialkowski was equal to centre-back Matthew Bates’ headed attempt.
Moments later, Campbell-Ryce forced the first save out of away stopper Jon McLaughlin. The wideman pounced on a poor clearance inside the area but McLaughlin reacted quickly down to his right to smother a placed finish.
Notts’ danger man Campbell-Ryce was rewarded for his hard work in the 32nd minute, after he burst into space just inside the Bantams’ half. The winger surged forward at pace, ahead of cutting back inside from the left and firing into the bottom-left corner – an outstanding individual goal.
Campbell-Ryce was evidently full of confidence after his first strike of the campaign and he almost turned provider with an incisive through-pass into the left channel. Showunmi then provided an inviting low centre across goal towards McGregor, only for Bates to make a vital interception at full stretch.
After the break, Campbell-Ryce picked up where he left off and remained a constant menace to the Bradford backline. Following a terrific sprayed pass onto the right by Jack Grealish, the former Bristol City man delivered a dangerous cross across the six-yard line that marginally evaded Showunmi’s outstretched toe.
Aside from a Rory McArdle header from a Jones free-kick, which was directed wide, Notts frustrated the visitors and enjoyed the better of the play. The likes of McGregor, Campbell-Ryce, Grealish and Andre Boucaud looked comfortable with the ball at their feet and drew plenty of fouls as they attempted to break down the away defence with sessions of short, sharp passing.
On 68, Bialkowski was seriously tested for the first time in the game as a result of a direct Jones free-kick on the left side of the box. The experienced midfielder rifled at goal but the reliable Notts goalkeeper batted clear with an acrobatic parry.
Bialkowski was called into action again when Mark Yeates, a substitute who came off the bench to score an equaliser in the reverse fixture at the Coral Windows Stadium, found space on the edge of the area to force the Pole into a reaching save. Even more impressive was Bialkowski’s reaction stop to keep out Kyel Reid, who drove powerfully at goal from close range.
The Magpies quickly got back on top and, after strong work up front by Showunmi, Mark Fotheringham picked out Campbell-Ryce, whose low shot was courageously charged down by McArdle. The winger later dummied his way into the box past Darby and sent an effort crashing into the side netting.
In the 88th minute, County confirmed the three points with a long-awaited second, which was made possible by Grealish’s breakaway run through the centre. Bradford were stretched and the wideman fed the ball to McGregor, who calmly curled around the goalkeeper.
Celebrations showed relief but there was more to come from Notts, as Showunmi, after a touch of trickery, laid the ball into the path of Grealish. The Aston Villa youngster added a placed finish into bottom-right corner to round off a great afternoon at Meadow Lane. Happy New Year, indeed.