Callum McGregor’s ninth and 10th goals of the campaign and wonder strike from Jack Grealish gave Notts County manager Shaun Derry his first three points. McGregor stole the headlines with an excellent strike either side of Bradley Dack’s second half leveller, before Grealish’s Goal of the Season contender rounded off a deserved 3-1 victory at Meadow Lane.
After impressing off the bench in the previous weekend’s encounter with Brentford, Morgan Fox was handed his first ever Football League start at left back. Fox had replaced Manny Smith due to a knock and he started the game on the bench, as Alan Sheehan moved to the heart of defence alongside skipper Dean Leacock.
Notts almost had the ball in the net inside the first two minutes, following a foul on Jack Grealish in the left channel, which allowed Kieron Freeman to deliver an in-swinging free-kick into the box. Sheehan’s presence gave Danny Haynes space six yards from goal, only his shot was mishit and Gillingham escaped unscathed.
Former Magpies’ winger Myles Weston was the visitors’ key man in the opening stages from the right flank. In the sixth minute, he used his pace to beat his man and targeted the back post with a floated cross, but Charlie Lee cleared the bar with a headed finish.
On 15, the Gills came even closer to an opener, when a diagonal delivery towards the target man, Danny Kedwell, saw the striker head dangerously across goal. Bradley Dack gained a slight touch to direct the ball away from Bartosz Bialkowski towards the bottom-right corner but was denied by the inside of the post.
Notts gradually gained the upper hand and experienced the better of the possession with some patient passing moves, which only lacked a finishing touch. One passage of play resulted in a corner that was quickly fed to Freeman but the defender’s 20-yard hit flew over.
The home fans felt that the Magpies should have been awarded a penalty, after the away defence struggled to clear a tricky Freeman centre from the right. During a scramble, McGregor managed to unleash a stern drive that appeared to be handled by centre-back Adam Barrett but the referee waved play on.
On 40, McGregor washed away all memories of the decision, as he put County in front. The on-loan Celtic forward made a quick exchange with Jamal Campbell-Ryce on the right, before finding the net, via a couple of deflections, with a powerful low effort.
Bialkowski had to be at his best to keep Notts in front at the break, as a long throw into the box caused problems for his defence. Dack managed to strike at goal but the Polish stopper somehow reacted down to his left to tip against the post.
Gillingham had their goal just two minutes into the second period. Dack met a cross from the right at close range and although Bialkowski was able to gain a touch, he was unable to prevent the ball from creeping inside the right-hand post.
On 53, the Magpies restored the lead – just the required response after the disappointment of the equaliser – as Gary Liddle’s centre found McGregor. County’s top-scorer put two defenders on their backsides with a composed piece of skill and rifled into the top-right corner.
Callum Ball was introduced to the action in the 64th minute at the expense of Danny Haynes. The on-loan Derby County striker added height to the Magpies’ frontline against two big centre-backs.
One of them, Donervan Daniels, thought he had made it 2-2 when he latched onto Jake Hessenthaler’s corner. However, McGregor, who had been so influential at the other end of the field, was present to make an important goal line clearance.
Ball looked lively in attack for Notts and nearly added a third in the 71st minute with a low drive that was charged down. Another substitute, Gillingham’s Adebayo Akinfenwa came even closer from another long throw but Bialkowski produced an outstanding acrobatic save to claw the ball away from the top-left corner.
It was real end-to-end stuff and Boucaud quickly set the Magpies on an attack with a neat pass into the feet of Grealish. The wideman then carved open the away backline with an incisive pass into the path of Ball, whose finish was excellently blocked by former County goalkeeper Stuart Nelson.
McGregor, again, came to the rescue in the 80th minute with more goal line heroics. Dack’s corner evaded everyone except Akinfenwa but McGregor superbly blocked the big frontman’s back-post attempt with an outstretched boot.
The forward was undoubtedly County’s Man of the Match and he appeared determined to cap it off by completing his hat-trick. As the clocked ticked away towards the 90, he wriggled free in the box thanks to a Campbell-Ryce centre, only his resulting shot was blocked by Daniels.
Grealish, another key performer, was the man to fully secure the three points with the Magpies’ third of the afternoon and what a goal it was from the Aston Villa youngster. The winger collected the ball on the left wing and ghosted across the line of defence, into the box, where he proceeded to slam into the roof of the net.
It was the 18-year-old’s first ever professional goal and he raced over to the Derek Pavis Stand to celebrate with a jubilant family member. Even a booking, which aggravated the home faithful, failed to take the smile off his face.
Boos soon turned into cheers of celebration, as Notts celebrated a much-needed win. With no other Sky Bet League 1 fixtures taking place, County moved within three points of 20th placed Sheffield United.