Shaun Derry suffered a disappointing start to life as Notts County manager, with a 3-2 defeat away to Hartlepool United sending his side crashing out of this season’s FA Cup with Budweiser.
It was a lively and entertaining game, with Hartlepool showing all the confidence of a team that went into the game on the back of a run of six wins from their last seven outings, taking a 2-1 lead, that they probably deserved on the balance of play, into the break.
Despite Notts showing a hunger to get back into the game in the second half, a scrappy third goal for the home side left them with too much to do and meant that Ronan Murray’s first goal for the club late on would be little more than a consolation, with goals from Jack Baldwin and a brace for Luke James sealing Hartlepool’s progression to the next stage of the competition.
Derry made three changes to the side that lost 3-0 to Coventry City in the league last weekend, one of which was enforced, with Yoann Arquin replacing Danny Haynes, who was starting a three-match ban for a dismissal in that game.
There was also a change in defence, with Alan Sheehan reverting to left back in place of youngster Jordan Holt and Gary Liddle moving back to centre back alongside captain Dean Leacock, whilst Curtis Thompson came in at right back.
The final change saw Jamal Campbell-Ryce replace Greg Tempest, with a midfield three of Joss Labadie, Mark Fotheringham and Jack Grealish behind a strikeforce of Callum McGregor, Campbell-Ryce and Arquin.
There was a boost for Notts on the bench with Enoch Showunmi returning from a long-term injury lay-off to take his place alongside Fabian Spiess, Manny Smith, Andy Haworth, Murray, Greg Tempest and Andre Boucaud.
James showed early on why he had been nominated Sky Bet League 2 Player of the Month for October with a dangerous run down the left flank that led to a Hartlepool corner.
That would come to nothing, but the home side looked to build on their early attacking threat and had two good chances early on, both of which fell to Jonathan Franks, who first drilled a freekick from outside the area wide and then saw an effort from a little closer in well blocked by Sheehan.
The game really came to life on the quarter-hour mark, when Labadie was adjudged to have pushed his man when challenging for the ball, leading to a freekick in the left hand corner for Hartlepool. Simon Walton took it and delivered into a crowded six-yard box, where Baldwin turned the ball goalwards to give the home side the lead.
That goal was the catalyst for a lively couple of minutes, in which Notts surged forwards and won a corner that would come out to Labadie and his well struck shot deflected off a Hartlepool defender and immediately rebounded off the well-placed Leacock to make it 1-1 just two minutes after the home side had gone in front.
Just as the action looked to be settling down a little, after a high-tempo few minutes in the wake of the equaliser, Notts won another corner that eventually came out to McGregor and some lovely interplay with Grealish saw the duo work the ball into Campbell-Ryce high up on the right wing. After he cut the ball back for Liddle who was breaking into the area, his deflected cross fell to Leacock, but his awkward header, on the turn, was saved on the line by the Hartlepool goalkeeper Scott Flinders.
After the home side had enjoyed a short spell of attacking pressure that culminated in Baldwin’s tame header failing to trouble Bartosz Bialkowksi, there was some great play by Thompson, nutmegging the Hartlepool captain Austin down the right flank before putting in a cross that was deflected high and behind for a corner.
Notts may well still be wondering how they didn’t take the lead from the resulting corner, with the ball coming to Liddle who turned it goalwards and McGregor ran in at the far post seemingly just to make sure that the ball would find the net, but somehow it got caught between player and post before coming out to safety.
The visitors would be made to pay for failing to convert that chance shortly afterwards, with Andy Monkhouse firing in a dangerous shot from the edge of the area that Bialkowski could only parry and James was on hand to slot the ball home and restore Hartlepool’s lead just three minutes from the break.
There was still time for a double-booking for Monkhouse and Labadie after a tussle in the Hartlepool area at the end of a promising attack for Notts, but there was no further change to the score before the two sides headed back down the tunnel for the half-time interval.
Neither side made any changes at the break and there was little change to the flow of the game, early on at least, in the second half, with Hartlepool again starting with confidence and carving out a couple of early half chances, but Notts coming into the game more as it progressed.
There was a frantic spell on 52 minutes when Notts launched a quick break through Grealish, but that broke down as he got the ball caught in his feet trying a clever backheel and Hartlepool immediately launched a break of their own through James that would see James Poole given the chance to get a shot away from in front of goal on the edge of the area that took a great lunge from Liddle to block.
Notts looked to be establishing a foothold in the game as the hour mark approached and Derry brought on reinforcements to aid the fightback as the clock reached 60 minutes, with Grealish and Labadie, who was on a booking, replaced by the returning Showunmi and Boucaud.
However, whilst Notts did push forwards in search of the equaliser, it was the home side that made the breakthrough in the 75th minute, with a freekick conceded by Boucaud for handball just outside the area leading to a scrappy third for Hartlepool. Notts twice failed to clear their lines and the ball eventually fell to James in the area and the on-form man made no mistake, firing home from close range to make it 3-1.
To their credit, the Notts players did not let their heads drop and, with Ronan Murray added to the attack shortly after the goal, in place of Thompson, the visitors continued to push forwards to try and get back into the game.
They were rewarded for their efforts on 84 minutes, when a spell of attacking pressure saw Sheehan launch a lofted cross in from the left that was deflected down in the area and Murray was perfectly placed to fire the ball home and send a nervy hush around Victoria Park.
The announcement of four minutes added time did little to quell the nerves of the home crowd, although shortly after this substitute Antony Sweeney fired a shot just wide that lifted them going into stoppage time.
A corner late-on brought Bialkowski out of his goal to join the attack, but when that move came to nothing and a late chance for Murray went wide, it was left to goalkeeper Flinders to take the final kick of the game and claim a win that the home side will feel good value for.