An enthusiastic fist pump in front of the Kop by manager Shaun Derry summed up the passion put into Notts County’s 2-1 win over Sheffield United. The Magpies put bodies on the line, fought for every ball and showed great character to come from behind to claim all three points at Meadow Lane.
Although the win was not enough to lift Notts out of the bottom four, it closed the gap on 20th placed Tranmere Rovers to just one point. County did it through goals from Enoch Showunmi (26) and Mark Fotheringham (69) after Conor Coady had given the visitors an early lead.
Prior to kick-off, the Magpies announced the loan signing of Derby County duo Callum Ball and Kieron Freeman. Both were named in the matchday squad but only Freeman was named in the starting 11, as he replaced Mustapha Dumbuya at right-back.
Callum McGregor’s lack of availability due to the expiration of his loan deal gave Ronan Murray a chance to shine in the County attack, just behind Enoch Showunmi. Alan Sheehan also returned to the team at left-back, following his return from a one-match ban.
Both sets of fans were in fine voice – a real local derby atmosphere – but it was the Blades that got off to the better start with a second minute goal. Coady played a quick one-two with frontman Chris Porter to allow him into the area and made no mistake with a composed first-touch finish into the bottom-left corner.
It certainly looked like more goals were on the cards at both ends, as Jamal Campbell-Ryce cut inside two away players before curling narrowly over. Then, in quick response, Porter, again, fed Coady into space with the Magpies’ defence stretched, only on this occasion the forward struck wide.
As the end-to-end opening continued, County broke on the right flank through Campbell-Ryce thanks to a superb sliding challenge by Manny Smith. The winger found Murray in space but the striker’s low hit was well charged down.
For United, a Jose Baxter corner was half cleared, which allowed Michael Doyle to clear the bar with a volley. At the other end, following a trip on Jack Grealish, a Sheehan free-kick from the left made its way to Fotheringham, whose low 20-yard shot failed to hit the target.
On 21, Freeman picked out Campbell-Ryce with a delightful chipped pass into the right but the winger’s driven cross evaded the head of Showunmi at the near post. However, five minutes later, another powerful centre did the job, as Showunmi nudged home with an improvised effort utilising his chest.
The visitors almost restored the deficit when left-back Matt Hill unleashed a long range hit but Freeman diverted the ball away from the bottom corner with an outstretched boot. From the resulting corner, Coady’s shot appeared to be handled by Showunmi but the referee waved play on as the frontman held his face – evidently hurt by the block.
The remainder of the half provided entertainment from the Kop, following another hopeful call for a handling offence in the away section. The home faithful screamed ‘handball’ every time a player touched the ball but there were no further infringements – or goals – in the opening 45.
The second period started as a battle but Notts came out on top through sheer desire to win the ball. Chances were few and far between and Murray came closest for County with a shot that flew over.
On 63, Porter laid on another chance, this time for Baxter, but the forward’s effort skidded wide of the left-hand post. The Magpies were more clinical and gained the lead in the 69th minute.
Great work on the left by Sheehan saw him skin Maguire before delivering a dangerous back-post cross. Fotheringham had an attempt blocked but his follow-up effort was more successful in lifting the roof of the buoyant Kop Stand.
In an attempt to win a penalty for the Blades, Tony McMahon threw himself to the ground as he attempted to glide past Sheehan. The referee stopped play but booked the midfielder for simulation.
On 73, the Blades should have found their equaliser after McGinn tricked his way into space inside the box. He only had Bartosz Bialkowski to beat but curled over to the disappointment of the impressive away following.
Danny Haynes replaced Murray as the game edged towards half time to add fresh legs in the County attack. The key area in the closing stages was at the back, where Dean Leacock was called into a vital piece of defensive work in the final minute of normal time.
Five were added on and there were a few nervy moments to come, none more so than when a long throw fell to Baxter, whose rifled attempt swerved inches wide of the far post. The full time whistle brought cheers of relief from the home sections – their team deserved it after one hell of a battle.