Notts County’s performance epitomised everything required if they are to secure Sky Bet League 1 safety. Passion, commitment and, most importantly, a ruthlessness in front of goal, which ultimately ensured the Magpies overcame fellow strugglers Crewe Alexandra.
Gary Liddle struck for the second game running, when he headed home from a superb Jamal Campbell-Ryce cross in the 10th. Campbell-Ryce was County’s stand-out player on the night and was involved again for the second, with an excellent chipped pass for Ronan Murray’s third goal in as many games.
There was still time for Murray to add another in the 87th minute - his eighth of the season. Mark Ellis scored a consolation goal late on but it was not enough to deny Notts back-to-back wins, which lifted the team off the bottom of the table.
Notts were forced into one change, as Mustapha Dumbuya dropped out of the matchday squad. The right-back, who had been playing with a groin injury and was withdrawn in Saturday’s game, was rested for the midweek clash and replaced in the starting 11 by Curtis Thompson.
Boosted by the win over Carlisle United, County opened the game brightly and, following an exchange with Murray, Jimmy Spencer cleared the bar with a long-range effort. Gary Liddle also threatened in the early stages when he headed straight at the home goalkeeper, Ben Garratt, from a direct Alan Sheehan free-kick.
The Magpies’ early dominance paid off in the 10th minute, after Campbell-Ryce kept Sheehan’s overhit free-kick alive. The winger beat his man to deliver a floated cross towards the back post, which allowed Liddle to head across goal, out of Garratt’s reach.
The vocal Black and White Army over in the Ice Cream Stand were elated and, once again, sang the Great Escape theme song. Still, there was 80 minutes of football left to play and a frantic pace suggested that more goals were on the cards.
Despite the openness, there was little in the way of a final ball until the 31st minute, when Sheehan spotted a gap in the home back line to find Spencer with a delightful long pass. Spencer wriggled into space and grazed the side netting with a powerful 25-yard hit.
Spencer was involved again moments later with a neat pass inside to Grealish, who glided past three defenders into the box. The tricky wideman unleashed a low left-footed drive that was diverted narrowly wis of the near post by a vital Ellis block.
The hosts enjoyed their best spell of the half in the closing minutes but Notts defended with passion, as Hayden Mullins and Haydn Hollis produced vital clearances and challenges, and the likes of Campbell-Ryce chipped in at crucial moments. Crewe finally found a breakthrough when full-back Matt Tootle picked out Chuks Aneke, whose improvised finish flew wide of the mark.
The pressure continued after the break but County got bodies behind the ball to limit opportunities. Uche Ikpeazu came closest to an equaliser with a headed attempt that rested on the roof of the net.
Notts’ best outlet was Campbell-Ryce, who was largely unplayable with the ball at his feet on the right flank. From one of his forward charges, he was able to break into the area but Garratt reacted sharply down to his right to palm clear.
Bartosz Bialkowski’s first serious save of the evening was even better, when Abdul Osman found space 30 yards from goal. The home skipper’s fierce strike looked destined for the top-right corner, only for the Pole to acrobatically tip over.
On 79, Notts made it 2-0, as Campbell-Ryce provided his second assist of the match. More energy on the right was followed by a delightful chip over the Crewe rearguard, which allowed Murray to cut inside his man before rifling inside the left-hand post.
Murray struck again in the 79th minute, after the Railwaymen were caught out by a ball over the top. The striker still had plenty of work to do but carried the ball away from the pursuing defenders to send Garratt the wrong way with a cool finish.
Nathan Tyson, who had replaced Grealish, nearly opened his Notts account during added time with a stunning hit but Garratt instinctively batted away. Moments later, Ellis netted with a heavily deflected shot, after Notts had failed to clear a free-kick, but the Black and White Army did not care for their team was now within touching distance of 20th place ahead of another six-pointer with Colchester United.
The winger's fitness was on display for all to see as his energy at both ends of the pitch was invaluable. Mucked in defensively and looked Notts' biggest threat going forward. Two fine assists.