Notts County delivered a battling performance to secure a vital three points with a 3-2 triumph over Oldham Athletic. It was a nerve-wracking experience for the home supporters and it showed in the full time celebrations.
Danny Haynes opened the scoring for Notts in the 20th minute, when he converted a Greg Tempest corner. The Magpies were good value for the lead but suffered a blow in the dying stages of the half, as Adam Rooney levelled.
Yoann Arquin came off the bench in the second period to head County back in front. Callum McGregor then added his eighth of the campaign with a rare strike from inside the area.
Jonson Clarke-Harris set up a tense final 20 minutes with a terrific 25-yard free-kick. However, Notts held on with some valiant defending and fully deserved the win, which lifted the team off the bottom of the Sky Bet League 1 table.
The Magpies’ bad luck with injuries continued, as even more key players dropped out of the squad, including Mustapha Dumbuya, Marcus Haber, Jamal Campbell-Ryce and Adam Coombes. This meant that the substitutes’ bench was largely made up of development squad players and caretaker boss Steve Hodge was forced to field an inexperienced starting 11.
One development squad player, Jordan Holt, was drafted into the starting 11 for his Football League debut at left-back. Elsewhere, Mark Fotheringham returned to the side in the absence of the suspended Andre Boucaud, whilst Jack Grealish and goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski were declared fit to play.
Although Notts started the game as the better of the teams, Oldham threatened first following a misplaced pass in midfield. James Dayton carried the ball half the length of the pitch and into the box, but his pass to Adam Rooney resulted in a mishit shot that Bialkowski gathered with ease.
Haynes created County’s first opening, when he beat the left-back, David Mellor, with his pace. The striker’s cross behind the retreating backline found Greg Tempest, whose header failed to hit the target.
Notts had another excellent opportunity from Fotheringham’s delightful back-post free-kick. Haynes rose well to connect with a downward header that bounced agonisingly wide of the right-hand post.
Curtis Thompson, who had impressed against Preston at the weekend, was influential in the Magpies’ next attack, as he broke up play, raced infield and picked out Tempest with a searching pass onto the left wing. The midfielder quickly found Haynes on the edge of the box but the number 10’s powerful shot was deflected behind.
Tempest’s corner delivery was perfect for Haynes’ near-post run and he made no mistake with a thumping header, which goalkeeper Mark Oxley could only push into the roof of his own net. It was a deserved goal after an energetic opening.
Oldham almost struck back immediately from an unexpected quick free-kick on the left wing. Danny Philliskirk found space inside the box to target the far corner, though Gary Liddle remained alert and made an outstanding sliding block.
Notts looked a big threat from every set-piece and should have doubled the lead in the 37th minute. Fotheringham’s floated free-kick from the left found stand-in centre-back Alan Sheehan, who nodded inches wide of the back post.
Two minutes later, a long punt forward saw Joss Labadie muscle past centre-back Genseric Kusunga. The hard-working midfielder unleashed a stern low drive that Oxley somehow diverted over with the under side of his body.
In the final minute of the half, the Latics struck back against the run of play, when Dayton raced into space in the left channel. Rooney headed the wideman’s cross forcefully at goal and, despite an impressive double save by Bialkowski, the linesman signaled that the ball had crossed the line.
Away skipper Korey Smith nearly added a second moments later, following an excellent piece of skill inside the area. Thompson managed to deny a certain goal with a tremendous block but this proved to be his last involvement, as Manny Smith replaced him at the break.
Early into the second period, the danger man Dayton fired narrowly wide of the bottom-right corner, completing another breakaway run. For Notts, a lofted pass over the away defence found Tempest but he dragged wide of the mark.
Dayton again used his pace to create a chance for himself from the left wing, only his confident chipped finish cleared the bar. Arquin, who had just been introduced from the bench in place of Grealish, was then dispossessed but he tracked back to gain a vital touch to Mellor’s low drive, which saw the ball bounce wide.
On the hour mark, Arquin then made an impact at the other end of the pitch, as he made it 2-1 to the Magpies. Gary Liddle, who had shifted to right-back at half time, provided a lofted cross and the Frenchman powered a header back across goal, out of Oxley’s reach.
Haynes’ thought he had set up the third with a defence splitting back-heel into the path of McGregor. The on-loan Celtic forward’s dinked finish was well saved by Oxley and Haynes placed over on the rebound.
More flair in the build-up, by Arquin on this occasion, led to County’s third, as, following an initial blocked effort, Haynes prodded into the direction of McGregor. The Scottish Under-21 international maneuvered away from two defenders and rifled unstoppably into the bottom-right corner.
Still, there was plenty of time for more drama, because the 70th minute saw Oldham pull a goal back via an impressive Clarke-Harris free-kick. The imposing striker struck around the wall and into the bottom-left corner, leaving Bialkowksi with no chance.
The closing stages were tough for the home fans to watch and nerves were no doubt frayed at the final whistle, as their side sat deep and defended for their lives for 20 minutes. They may have been settled during four minutes of added time but McGregor missed a fantastic chance, as he curled over, having been played in on goal by Arquin.
Late ball retention deep into opposition territory, which saw Fotheringham repeatedly frustrate the home defenders by earning three corners on the spin, allowed the Magpies to play out the final seconds. It was a massive three points and gives Notts a chance of climbing out of the bottom four on Saturday away at Coventry City.