Notts County completed a remarkable week by climbing out of the relegation zone thanks to a 2-0 win over Colchester United. Seven days prior, the Magpies had been seven points adrift of safety at the bottom of the table but following a third win on the spin, they ended the day 19th.
Ronan Murray continued his impressive goal-scoring form with a fourth minute opener before Haydn Hollis added a second in first half added time. County soaked up pressure at times but battled to ensure that the perfect week was achieved.
Mustapha Dumbuya returned to the starting 11 in place of Curtis Thompson, who had filled in for the right-back against Crewe Alexandra due to illness. This proved to be the only change to Shaun Derry’s side, as the Magpies looked to build upon the momentum created by back-to-back victories.
The Black and White Army was in fine voice before a ball had even been kicked, as they sang along to the Great Escape theme song. The belief of avoiding relegation was there and it showed on the pitch as well.
Spurred on by the Kop, Notts got off to the perfect start when a slip by defender Tom Eastman allowed Murray in on goal. The in-form striker only had the goalkeeper to beat and, much like his second goal against Crewe, the Irishman sent the Sam Walker the wrong way with a cool finish into the bottom-left corner.
The goal only injected more confidence into the Magpies and Jimmy Spencer and Jamal Campbell-Ryce looked particularly dangerous in attack. The duo combined magnificently just moments after the opener to win a corner, which Gary Liddle nodded into the arms of Walker at the back post.
Eager to strike back, the visitors pushed forward in numbers and the likes of Dumbuya, Liddle, Alan Sheehan and Hayden Mullins had to perform important blocks and clearances to keep Notts in front. Bartosz Bialkowski also had to remain on his toes and raced off his line to punch away from dangerous frontman Freddie Sears.
Murray looked a threat every time he touched the ball in the final third and nearly doubled County’s lead in the 17th minute. The striker drifted infield, away from his marker, but his powerful drive was well held by Walker.
In quick response, the U’s thought they had levelled, when Alex Gilbey pounced on a rebound after his initial effort had been charged down by Hollis. On the corner of the six-yard box, the midfielder failed to hold his nerve and placed over.
Sears came even closer after Dominic Vose found him with a low cut-back from the left by-line. The striker connected with a ferocious first-touch finish that cannoned back off the post before Sheehan cleared the danger.
Regardless of the pressure, the home faithful stuck with their side – an appreciation for the fighting spirit on display. And, they were nearly rewarded with a goal against the run of play.
Murray led a breakaway charge into the left channel and held up play to find Sheehan. The left-back’s searching delivery looked certain to find Spencer at the back post, only for Ryan Dickson to produce a goal-saving headed clearance.
The Magpies settled for a corner but Colchester could only clear as far as Murray on the right. The goal-scorer picked out Hollis’s near-post run and the defender’s header flew wide of the mark.
Bialkowski was called into two top saves as the match edged towards the interval, first to deny Gilbey’s placed effort with a reaching save down to his left. From the following corner routine, Dickson then watched an over-hit cross from the right almost dip under the bar, but the Pole gained a vital touch to tip against the woodwork and behind.
In added time, Notts doubled the lead, after Jack Grealish was hacked to the ground on the left wing. Sheehan’s free-kick was swept towards the near post, where Hollis guided the ball into the far corner with a glancing header.
The Magpies started the second period at a great pace and Murray came within a whisker of a Goal of the Season contender. The striker latched onto Bialkowski’s punt and targeted the top-left corner with a thumping volley that forced Walker into an outstanding finger-tip stop.
Before the away defence could settle, a speedy corner routine allowed Sheehan space on the left. The skipper fired another teasing cross into the box, where Spencer directed agonisingly wide with an improvised attempt.
Dumbuya and Campbell-Ryce linked up well down the right before the latter met Murray’s forward run with a delicate chip. The former Ipswich man let loose with a stern shot that deflected narrowly over.
Colchester were largely restricted to long-range efforts, though Sears should have pulled a goal back when a cross from the left was flicked into the danger area. However, under heavy pressure from Sheehan, he was only able to prod over inside the six-yard box.
On 75, Bialkowski was caught out by Dickson’s in-swinging free-kick and appeared certain to be lobbed. The stopper readjusted his feet and managed to acrobatically tip over at full stretch.
Nathan Tyson replaced Grealish in the 79th minute and would have been on the scoresheet shortly after had it not been for Brian Wilson. The left-back produced a crucial last-ditch interception to prod behind Campbell-Ryce’s low centre before the loanee could touch home.
In a final attempt to take something from the game, Colchester substitute Clinton Morrison turned quickly to fire wide and Craig Eastond, also introduced from the bench, tested Bialkowski with a powerful 25-yard drive.
Liddle headed into the goalkeeper’s arms from a Spencer cross as Notts looked to add a third but there were not too many grumbles with a 2-0 win. The Great Escape campaign continues at high-flying Brentford.