Notts County made it six points from six this evening with a 2-0 victory over Hartlepool United. Poor weather conditions had put the match in danger, but the Magpies handled the conditions well and fully deserved all three points.
Following a slow opening to the first half, arguably caused by the torrential rainfall, Notts were able to take the lead. Latching onto a delightful Alan Sheehan cross, Francois Zoko powered a header in to the bottom corner on 17 minutes.
Zoko and Lee Hughes both came close to doubling the Magpies’ advantage before the break, as the rain continued to pour. Thankfully the showers eased and the ground staff were able to improve the worst affected areas of the pitch.
Alan Judge was the first to threaten in the second period, forcing the away goalkeeper into a leaping stop with a stunning punt from distance. Lee Hughes also threatened again but County would have to wait until the 86th minute to add a second.
Neal Bishop showed great composure to find the net in the 86th minute, controlling Lee Hughes’ downward header before slotting into the bottom corner. Keith Curle’s side are now one of only three sides to have taken maximum points from the opening two fixtures.
The early stages of the match saw very little action in front of goal, except for Andy Monkhouse’s low drive for the visitors. Target man Steve Howard had made his presence felt in the final third with some strong hold-up play, allowing Monkhouse to fire wide of the mark from outside the area.
At this point, most spectators’ attention was placed on the heavy rain showers rather than the action on the pitch. Certain areas of the playing surface, most notably the wide areas, had become almost unplayable and the crowd sensed that the match might be abandoned.
Spirits were lifted in the 17th minute when the Magpies moved in front, with Zoko grabbing his second goal in as many games. Sheehan collected a clearance from his initial corner and provided an in-swinging cross for the Ivorian to head into the bottom-right corner.
With the home support roused by the goal, Zoko almost added a second, after Judge capitalised on a defensive error forced by the waterlogged pitch. However, Judge’s cross was inches too high for the striker and the Pools escaped.
On 23, Sheehan nearly claimed his second assist of the opening 45. The full-back’s free-kick from deep evaded the away backline but Lee Hughes’ downward header was gathered by away stopper Scott Flinders.
Notts were dictating most of the play but Hartlepool almost managed to draw level moments later. Monkhouse headed Evan Horwood’s centre across goal but Antony Sweeney was unable to gain a finishing touch at the back post.
County did suffer one first half blow and that came in the form of an injury to the goal-scorer, Zoko. After an initial attempt to play on, Joss Labadie replaced the former Carlisle man in the 33rd minute.
Ahead of the interval, Lee Hughes could have made it 2-0 ahead, when Andre Boucaud sliced open the Hartlepool rearguard on the counter. Hughes, under pressure from the retreating defenders, unleashed a powerful drive towards the bottom-left corner, only to be denied by Flinders, who then pounced on the loose ball to prevent Boucaud from scoring on the rebound.
On a surface improved by the groundstaff during the half time break, Notts were straight on the offensive after the restart. Alan Judge touched wide from Lee Hughes’ right-wing delivery and Dean Leacock headed over from a corner.
The Pools provided a scare in the 58th minute when Jonathan Franks picked out Howard with a whipped cross. The imposing attacker rose well on the edge of the six-yard box but was unable to keep his header down.
Four minutes later, Flinders was required to make a fantastic, acrobatic save to keep Hartlepool in the game. Judge had been given time to roam into space and his unexpected, long-range hit was certain to find its way underneath the crossbar.
Lee Hughes showed great strength to create a chance for himself, only his placed effort was deflected over. A challenge by Bishop in the final third then allowed Hughes to attempt a chipped finish but he was unable to get enough power behind the shot.
The striker was involved in the Magpies’ second goal on 86 minutes, nodding Julian Kelly’s back-post cross towards Bishop. The skipper gained control of the ball with his first touch and managed to hold off his marker to prod into the corner, making it 2-0.
During three minutes of added time, Bartosz Bialkowski had to produce his first meaningful save of the game, reacting well to Sam Collins’ poked effort. It highlighted Notts’ dominance throughout and they can feel confident heading into the weekend’s clash with Walsall.