Notts County played out a goalless draw with Oldham Athletic at Meadow Lane on Saturday that extended both sides’ recent unbeaten runs after a battling, if unspectacular, encounter.
Shaun Derry made three changes from the side that drew 1-1 with Leyton Orient in midweek, with Curtis Thompson, Alan Smith and Reece Brown the trio to make way for Mustapha Dumbuya, Ronan Murray and Danny Haynes, who was making his first start for the club since December last year and took his place on the right wing in a 4-4-2 formation, with Haydn Hollis named captain in the absence of Smith and Hayden Mullins.
The game started brightly enough, as first Murray was flagged offside, after setting off too early on a run that had taken him through one-on-one with Latics goalkeeper Paul Rachubka, and then a quickly taken freekick by Carl Winchester found Dominic Poleon inside the area, but his back-heeled effort was comfortably collected by Roy Carroll.
However it would be a false dawn to a half of precious few chances, despite 11 corners, eight of which went to the visitors, who enjoyed the better of the possession but never really troubled Carroll more than they had with that early effort.
There was a booking early on for Oldham when Conor Wilkinson was adjudged to have gone to ground too easily as he advanced into the area, earning him a yellow card from referee Stephen Martin in the 7th minute.
Beyond that it was the set-piece delivery of full-back Joseph Mills and midfielder Mike Jones that would dominate the attacking threat of the visitors, but to their credit the Notts County backline stood firm on every occasion that they were tested from a corner or freekick, of which there were four for the Latics.
Notts’ best attacking moves came down the wings, with Zeli Ismail twice delivering dangerous balls in from the left and the returning Haynes causing problems down the right, but they couldn’t find the clinical delivery to either Murray or Jake Cassidy ahead of them.
The nearest the home side would come to breaking the deadlock was a speculative effort by Liam Noble from distance in the 25th minute as Oldham struggled to clear their lines from one of the aforementioned deliveries in from the left by Ismail.
There was a scare for Notts moments before the interval, when Dumbuya looked to have injured his knee in turning to clear the ball after racing back well, but he was able to return to action after treatment from the medical team just before the referee blew for half time.
HT: Notts County 0 Oldham Athletic 0
The second half initially looked to be continuing where the first half had left off, with half chances and fractured attacking play dominating the opening exchanges, before Oldham’s captain Liam Kelly injured himself in a foul on Notts midfielder Gary Jones in the 53 minute.
Kelly barged into his opponent right on the halfway line, but picked up a cut above his eye for his troubles and had to play the remainder of the game with a bandage around his head.
The game really began to come to life shortly before the hour mark, after Notts had seen a great break by Jordan Cranston down the left breakdown only after a decent interception by Dominic Poleon as the ball was played out to the right, handing Oldham a quick counter-attack of their own that resulted in Wilkinson firing just wide.
A double change by Notts on 58 minutes saw Shaun Harrad and Garry Thompson enter the fray in place of Ronan Murray and Danny Haynes and it would be a move that breathed new life into the home side’s attack.
Harrad, who had made only two substitute appearances since returning to the club on a short-term deal last month, looked particularly fired up and had soon created a chance for Ismail, battling away after Oldham had failed to deal with a ball through to the Notts forward to setup his team-mate, who struggled to find space before shooting over.
Then Harrad himself had two chances, the first an ambitious but well-executed overhead kick inside the area that flew over the bar and the second a close-range header that he was stretching for and unable to get enough power behind, enabling Rachubka to gather comfortably.
The brief salvo had not only given a huge lift to the Notts players, but also the crowd, who were now in fine voice after struggling to find much to cheer about in the action that had preceded it.
Notts were unable to build on their new lease of attacking life though and the tempo slowed again in the game before Oldham made all three of their substitutions, first bringing on James Dayton for Poleon and then, with 15 minutes to go, Forte and Winchester making way for Danny Philliskirk and Amari Morgan-Smith, who was immediately presented with a chance to shoot from the edge of the area that Carroll had covered all the way.
There were claims for a penalty for the home side on 78 minutes, as Harrad went to ground in the area, but as he had to Wilkinson in the first half, referee Martin gave only a booking for what he saw as simulation by the Notts striker.
A further booking followed in the 80th minute, for a clumsy foul by Mills on Garry Thompson but it wasn’t until the dying minutes that the game reignited, courtesy of a driven effort by Wilkinson that Carroll could only parry before dropping on the ball and then having it kicked off him as he tried to gather, winning the visitors a corner despite the referee’s assistant initially having raised his flag for an infringement in the build-up.
Philliskirk then headed over from close range for the visitors and it would take some fine work by Carroll to deny the visitors all three points, as Wilkinson charged through the middle and got a great shot away that the Notts keeper had to be at full stretch to palm behind, injuring himself in the process and needing attention from physio Becky Knight before being able to continue.
The Northern Ireland international was still feeling the effects of that knock as he came to collect the resulting corner, before being fouled by Amari-Smith as he bravely threw himself at the feet of the Oldham man on the follow-up.
Carroll’s heroics proved enough at the end of a difficult game as the referee blew his whistle to hand both sides a share of the points.
FT: Notts County 0 Oldham Athletic 0
The young defender was handed the captain's armband for the game and stepped up to the plate, delivering another composed display that kept Oldham at bay, particularly in the first half when they enjoyed the better of the possession and attacking play.