Notts County made it four away wins on the spin with a 2-0 triumph over Colchester United this evening. The energetic and committed performance by the Magpies showed exactly why they have been undefeated on their travels since February.
Notts frustrated their opponents in the opening 45 and were able to go into the break two goals to the good. Neal Bishop was the man to find the opener in the 17th minute with a smart volley from Alan Judge’s well placed free-kick.
The skipper’s fourth goal of the season only saw the Magpies grow in confidence and there were no surprises when they added a second before the break. A clever flick by Francois Zoko created the goal, which was scored by Judge during first half stoppage time.
Colchester looked more dangerous in attack after the break and Bartosz Bialkowski had to be at his best to prevent Ian Henderson from making it 2-1. Notts had plenty of chances to add further goals but two was enough for another three points on the road.
The Magpies lined up as they did in the weekend’s FA Cup with Budweiser win over Portsmouth. The only changes to the squad were on the bench, as Lee Hughes and Liam Mitchell, back from illness and a loan spell at Mansfield Town respectively, replaced Kevin Pilkington and Joss Labadie.
The hosts provided the first effort on goal inside the opening two minutes, when tidy link-up play by Marcus Bean and Jabo Ibehre in the final third allowed Gavin Massey to get a shot away. However, the midfielder’s driven finish was deflected over by the head of Dean Leacock, before Anthony Wordsworth volleyed over from the resulting corner.
The U’s threatened again in the ninth minute, after Ibehre was seen to have been sent tumbling to the ground by Leacock. Michael Rose beat the wall with a free-kick from the corner of the penalty area but watched the ball crash into the side netting.
Notts’ first attempt of the match came in the 17th minute and it put them in front. Judge’s whipped set-piece delivery from the right flank was met by Bishop, whose forceful, side-foot volley found its way inside the right-hand upright, despite Rose’s desperate attempt to clear on the goal-line.
Yoann Arquin had the ball in the net again for Notts, following a forward surge by Andre Boucaud that was rounded off with a neat through-pass. Arquin placed inside the left upright but the goal was ruled out for offside.
Colchester almost levelled the scores, following strong hold-up play inside the box by Henderson. The wideman’s lay-off enabled Bean to strike forcefully at goal, though he was unable to keep his effort down.
On 30, Bishop thought he had followed up his goal with an assist, when he showed great determination to win the ball in the U’s half. The skipper’s challenge, which left teammate Francois Zoko in a heap on the turf, found Arquin in space, only the Frenchman’s low finish was superbly kept out by home stopper Mark Cousins, who reacted sharply to his left.
During two minutes of first half added time, Judge made it 2-0, thanks to an intelligent overhead pass on the edge of the box by Zoko, who had shown great strength to hold off centre-back Tom Eastman. Judge read the Ivorian’s mind and nipped between the static defenders to prod past Cousins, before celebrating passionately in front of the away support.
Notts continued to dictate the pace of the game after the break and refused to let the U’s settle in possession. On 50, Boucaud won the ball back in opposition territory and Arquin fired into the advertising boards with a mishit finish.
Bishop was central to many of County’s offensive moves and rounded off an extended passing move with a hit that was deflected wide. Judge then picked out the midfielder with a near-post corner but his flicked finish bounced wide of the far post.
Bialkowski was called into action for the first time in the 55th minute when Wordsworth’s pass through a hoard of players found Henderson unmarked. The County stopper rushed quickly off his line and he was able to get a fist to the midfielder’s lifted finish.
The save was vital but he was beaten moments later, after Wordsworth again found a man in space. This time, Massey rifled into the bottom-left corner, though celebrations were soon cut short by the linesman’s flag.
Arquin made fine use of the right channel for the Magpies’ next opening by holding off his marker, Brian Wilson, to deliver a tempting low cross. Zoko met the ball at the near post but directed wide with a first-touch finish.
On 69, a direct pass into the feet of Ibehre, saw the striker find frontman Freddie Sears. The newly introduced substitute raced into space but Jeff Hughes came to the rescue with a fantastic saving challenge.
In a break of their own, Notts came within inches of a third goal, after Gary Liddle burst down the right wing and latched onto his own pass through Bishop’s legs. The stand-in right-back’s early centre found Judge, who found the wrong side of the post with a stunning drive.
Lee Hughes was introduced to add fresh legs to the County attack. Zoko made way and Arquin dropped to the left flank.
With less than 10 minutes remaining, Hamza Bencherif replaced Jamal Campbell-Ryce, as Notts placed a greater emphasis on defending. In the dying stages, Gavin Mahon then took the place of Judge.
The U’s continued to push for a way back into the match until the final whistle but they were left frustrated. Wordsworth curled over and had a free-kick deflected behind, whilst Henderson rattled the bar with a header and Magnus Okuonghae’s nodded finish was touched over by Bialkowski.
Notts’ unbeaten run on the road was stretched to 17 matches – a truly remarkable record. Now the aim is to take the positives into a tricky home fixture with Crawley Town on Saturday.