Notts County should have taken maximum points from their npower League 1 meeting with promotion rivals Crawley Town this afternoon. The Magpies dominated the vast majority of the 90 but had to settle for a 1-1 draw.
Notts’ first half display included some of the team’s best attacking football of the season and it was fully deserved when they took the lead. Fine work in the final third by Jamal Campbell-Ryce allowed Neal Bishop to net his fifth goal of the campaign – and his second inside a week.
The Magpies continued to create openings but they somehow went into the break on level terms. Former Notts loanee Jonathan Forte popped up at close-range in the final minute of the half to make it 1-1.
In the second period, County struggled to cut the visitors apart like they had in the opening 45. However, they still created enough chances to win the game.
Lee Hughes nearly came off the bench to score with a stern header and Yoann Arquin was denied by a tremendous save late on. Notts threw bodies forward in the closing stages and switched to a 4-4-2 but Crawley held on for a point.
Having recorded back-to-back wins and clean sheets, there were no surprises that Notts stuck with the same starting 11 for the third game running. Two changes were made on the bench, with Alan Sheehan and Joss Labadie returning to the squad.
Prior to kick-off, everybody in the stadium observed a minute’s silence to pay respect to military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts. Following the referee’s whistle, the volume was raised in anticipation of an exciting game of football, which was certainly delivered.
Although Notts dominated the early stages of the match, Crawley were first to threaten through Forte. The frontman latched onto a long ball from the back but, under pressure from Damion Stewart, he was unable to seriously test Bartosz Bialkowski.
Notts really picked up the pace from the 10th minute onwards and a slick move down the right wing saw Campbell-Ryce pick out Yoann Arquin with a superb delivery. The Frenchman rose well but his header was directed narrowly wide of the top-right corner.
Two minutes later, the Magpies moved in front, following a piercing run by Campbell-Ryce that was rounded off with a delightful, chipped through-ball. Bishop had made an offensive run from midfield to latch onto the perfectly weighted pass and placed confidently through the goalkeeper’s legs.
There was a belief in Notts’ play, as they swept the ball about the pitch and went on to create further openings. The home fans, who were in fine voice from the first whistle, chanted ‘it’s just like watching Juve’.
It could have been 2-0 shortly after the opener, when Campbell-Ryce forced a parry out of away stopper Paul Jones. Arquin was tripped as he tried to capitalise on the rebound, and further attempts from Francois Zoko and Andre Boucaud were unsuccessful.
Jeff Hughes was next up, when his header from Alan Judge’s corner was blocked. He then prodded wide, after reacting first at close range.
Campbell-Ryce, following a sharp one-two with Gary Liddle, provided another great cross for Arquin. The striker met the delivery with another powerful header but he was unable to keep it down.
Town may have punished County for missed chances, as Josh Simpson volleyed inches over and Adams drove wide of the mark, after picking up on Damion Stewart’s stray pass. Adams was later set free, following a misplaced pass by Bishop, only on this occasion Bartosz Bialkowski came to the rescue with a save to his right.
Notts continued to push for a second and Arquin came close with a deflected hit, after he outpaced centre-back Claude Davis to latch onto a hopeful ball forward. Judge was also unlucky not to find the net with a long-range hit that bounced marginally wide of the mark.
Judge was involved again on 29, when he won possession in the Crawley half and met another Bishop run into the area with a swerved centre. The skipper, at full stretch, gained the slightest of touches but it was not enough to distract Jones, who gathered at the back post.
Notts were playing some of their best football and opportunities were appearing for players all over the pitch. As half time approached, Liddle unleashed a low drive from the corner of the box that skidded agonisingly wide of the bottom-left corner.
In the closing stages of the half, Bialkowski pulled off a remarkable, point-blank stop. Adams’ in-swinging free-kick was met by Billy Clarke, whose header could not have been better placed, inside the right-hand post.
In the final minute of the half, Town did manage to pull level. Adams was the provider with a low delivery across the face of goal that was touched over the line by Forte.
Crawley had two openings early into the second period but they were unable to take advantage. Clarke nearly made the most of a mix-up between Stewart and Bialkowski, and Dean Leacock was required to make a saving clearance to deny Forte, who was about to pull the trigger in a dangerous goal-scoring position.
On 63, Arquin wriggled free of his marker to unleash a low drive. However, Jones read the shot well to make the stop.
With 18 minutes remaining, Keith Curle made his first change. Zoko made way for Lee Hughes, who took up the role of central striker.
Four minutes after his introduction, the striker had a golden opportunity to score, when Jeff Hughes found him with a delightful centre. The number 19 connected with a forceful header four yards from goal, only to find the wrong side of the post.
An alternative corner routine led to Lee Hughes producing a curled finish that deflected into the path of Arquin. He worked the ball out of his feet and fired towards the bottom corner but Jones, against all odds, got in the way.
A final roll of the dice saw Enoch Showunmi replace Campbell Ryce. Notts moved to 4-4-2 and pushed Crawley deep into their own half during five minutes of added time.
It did not turn out to be the Magpies’ day, though there were plenty of positives to take from the game – particularly the attacking football on show during the first half. The home fans showed appreciation for their team’s efforts at the full time whistle but blasted the match officials with boos, after a number of decisions failed to go County’s way.