Notts County were defeated 2-1 by promotion rivals Brentford this afternoon at Meadow Lane. The visitors left it late to claim the win, with Clayton Donaldson gaining the decisive strike with only two minutes remaining on the clock.
Notts had enjoyed the better of the opening 45 and deservedly moved in front in the 20th minute via an own goal by Bees’ centre-back Tony Craig, which was forced by Julian Kelly’s magnificent, low cross. Eight minutes before the interval, Brentford pulled level, when Adam Forshaw escaped the offside flag to find the bottom-corner with a great strike.
The second half was not quite as open and both teams had to battle for dominance. Although Notts were pushed back for sustained spells, they were still able to produce the better of the second half attempts.
The last eight meetings between the sides had ended in draws and it looked destined to be the outcome again. However, Donaldson pounced in a goalmouth skirmish to give his side the win.
In the absence of the suspended Alan Judge, Jamal Campbell-Ryce returned from a three-game suspension to take up a place on the right wing, with Jeff Hughes moving into an advanced, central midfield role. Julian Kelly, who had been rested in the previous weekend’s meeting with Yeovil Town at Huish Park, was also handed a start at right-back, as Carl Regan dropped to the bench.
Andre Boucaud made his first appearance since the Magpies’ win over Swindon Town at the end of November in place of Gavin Mahon. The holding midfielder had been sidelined with an ankle injury picked up in the dying stages of that game.
Notts almost gained a first minute lead, following fine work by Neal Bishop in the middle of the park, which saw the captain skip past a number of challenges before delivering a searching pass towards Zoko. A slight touch by Chris Iwelumo forced centre-back Harlee Dean into a mistake and the Zoko looked certain to score, only for his placed finish towards the bottom corner to be turned away by the legs of Bees’ goalkeeper Simon Moore.
Moore was in action again during the sixth minute, when Dean Leacock guided Alan Sheehan’s teasing free-kick delivery the bottom-left corner with a glanced header. The away stopper reacted sharply and produced an outstanding, tipping save to deny the centre-back of his first Notts goal.
The Magpies were certainly the better side in the opening stages and further opportunities of an opener presented themselves. Hughes and Campbell-Ryce were both unfortunate to see their dangerous crosses intercepted at crucial moments, as Bishop lurked.
It was subsequent to the second of these deliveries that Brentford were able to carve out their first opportunity of the match, as Clayton Donaldson broke at pace down the right flank. The frontman, who had netted five goals in his last four appearances, unleashed a stern hit that was superbly blocked Dean Leacock at full stretch.
On 20, Notts finally saw a ball into the box converted, after Campbell-Ryce had won possession on the right wing. He fed the ball to Kelly, whose low centre resulted in Craig slicing into his own net.
Shortly after the goal, the visitors’ danger-man, Donaldson, was able to break free of the home backline and only had Bartosz Bialkowski to beat. The in-form stopper rushed out of goal and was able to make a crucial block to preserve his team’s lead.
On 37, Brentford moved onto level terms, though there were strong calls for an offside decision when Marcello Trotta fed the goal-scorer, Forshaw, into space. The linesman’s flag stayed down and Forshaw struck powerfully inside the right-hand post.
The Bees ended the half strongly and twice came close to gaining the upper hand. Midfielder Jonathan Douglas watched a hopeful volley dip onto the roof of the net and Harry Forrester fired marginally wide of the top-right corner, after bursting into space on the edge of the box.
Notts made a change at the interval, with Leacock replaced by Damion Stewart. It was the Jamaican’s first game back, after a knee issue had kept him out of action since the Scunthorpe encounter in November.
Brentford’s first attempt to break the new-look Magpies defensive armour came via Douglas’ driven free-kick that was pushed over by Bialkowski. At the other end, Kelly came close to finding the top-left corner with a curled effort from 25 yards.
On 58, Joss Labadie replaced Boucaud in midfield and nearly made an immediate impact. The substitute was able to latch onto another dangerous delivery by Kelly but his header lacked accuracy.
Much of the second half was scrappy, as both sides attempted to gain a stranglehold on the game and it was not until the 70th minute that another opening was created. Again, Kelly was the provider with a right-wing cross, only this time Zoko’s header was smartly gathered by Moore, low to his right.
The visitors were restricted to long-range efforts on the large. Forrester found the side-netting with a stern strike and Donaldson blazed harmlessly over, as Notts stood up to a period of pressure.
On 73, Enoch Showunmi was introduced at the expense of Iwelumo and it was from this point that the Magpies started to threaten more frequently. They could not have come closer to making it 2-1 either, when Alan Sheehan’s rifled effort towards the top-right corner was acrobatically touched over by Moore – an unbelievable stop.
Almost as impressive was Kelly’s block on Forrester. The Bees’ wideman made use of the left channel to make space for a shot, which the full-back diverted away from goal with an outstretched foot.
Just two minutes from time, Brentford moved in front with a goal from a short corner. It was a killer blow and there was no way back for the Magpies.
The goal came from a short corner to full-back Shaleum Logan, whose initial shot was hacked off the goal-line by Stewart. The clearance looped towards the other corner of the goal, where Donaldson was able to bundle home during a goalmouth melee.
Notts switched to direct tactics with the hope of making it a ninth consecutive draw between the sides. It did not quite work out and their impressive eight-game unbeaten run came to an end.