Notts County 1-0 Swindon Town
Notts County fans were singing in the rain this afternoon, after the Magpies' two-month wait for a home win came to an end. Alan Judge's 27th minute strike was enough for maximum points against promotion rivals Swindon Town.
Following a lively opening 45 that was filled with chances for both outfits, Notts went into the half time break with a one-goal advantage. Judge broke the deadlock with a stunning, long-range hit, but efforts from the likes of Neal Bishop and Jeff Hughes could have seen the Magpies further ahead.
Bartosz Bialkowski was in excellent form between the sticks for County and made two top-class saves to keep Swindon at bay. The goalkeeper looked unbeatable and that continued after the break, with even more phenomenal stops, most notably to keep out centre-back Darren Ward's 63rd minute header.
The determination shown to claim back-to-back draws on the road continued into the Meadow Lane fixture. Notts fully deserved to climb back into the Play-Off places and highlighted that they are a force to be reckoned with at the top of power League 1.
Keith Curle handed a debut to his new recruit Chris Iwelumo, who had been a last-ditch arrival from Championship Watford on loan deadline day. There was one further alteration to the County starting-11, with Julian Kelly replacing Carl Regan at right-back.
Iwelumo was in the thick of the action in the early stages and looked a real handful for the away defenders. Inside the third minute, he tussled with Robins' skipper Alan McCormack to allow space for Judge, who cut inside his marker, Joe Devera, before testing goalkeeper Wes Foderingham inside his near post.
Swindon threatened for the first time from a direct set-play that saw McCormack's back-post delivery nodded dangerously across the face of goal by Raffaele De Vita. Striker James Collins, under pressure from Gary Liddle, attempted to apply the finish on the edge of the six-yard box but was unable to make a clean connection.
After latching onto an Iwelumo flick-on in the left channel, Francois Zoko crafted Notts' next opening by tricking his way past the full-back, into the area. The forward's cross made its way to Bishop, whose hit crashed into the back of Jeff Hughes.
Foderingham was called into action twice in quick succession, as County maintained the pressure. Alan Sheehan forced the stopper to push over with a free-kick around the wall and Hughes came close with a downward volley, which was smartly gathered.
On 18, Sheehan swept a free-kick into a crowded box to cause plenty of problems, though Bishop's close-range finish was not able to find a way through a hoard of players on the goal-line. From Sheehan's resulting corner, Hughes glanced agonisingly wide of the left-hand post.
At the other end, a moment of hesitation at the back by Hughes nearly gifted the visitors an opener but De Vita's low drive was superbly turned away by Bialkowski, low to his left. The Magpies' number one's next save was even better, as he adjusted his body to tip Collins' low finish, made possible by De Vita's low centre, onto the post.
The two saves were vital, because Notts moved in front in the 24th minute, after Iwelumo nodded Sheehan's long pass towards Judge. The midfielder made the most of the space and took a couple of touches prior to rifling inside the left-hand post from 25 yards.
Swindon thought they had equalised eight minutes later when Collins found the bottom-left corner with a fine header. However, the goal was ruled out by the linesman's flag - an easy decision.
Paolo Di Canio's men pushed hard for a leveller ahead of the interval and came closest through former Magpie Matt Richie. A rehearsed set-play routine saw the wideman fed into space but Bialkowski smothered his powerful, low strike.
Notts would have gone 2-0 up six minutes into the second period had Foderingham not pulled off a truly outstanding save to deny Iwelumo. The frontman had directed Judge's pin-point cross towards the bottom-right corner with a forceful header, only for the away stopper to palm the ball away at full stretch.
Bialkowski's reactions were also put to the test, when Ritchie was given space to get a shot away inside the area. The reliable Pole quickly got down to his right and the Magpies were able to clear the danger.
Bialkowski made his best save of the game in the 63rd minute, when Ward looked certain to have netted with a back-post header from Ritchie's corner. The custodian raced off his line to narrow the angle and was somehow able to claw the defender's point-blank effort away from goal.
Notts had to stand up to long periods of pressure but an organised defensive unit limited the Robins' goal-scoring opportunities. It was not until the 88th minute that Bialkowski was tested again, this time by Ritchie, whose free-kick had to be fisted away.
Five minutes of added time brought tension around Meadow Lane but Bialkowski made two further saves, first to keep out Ritchie's volley and then to tip over a Jay McEveley cross that almost crept under the crossbar. It was a battle until the end but the Magpies finally claimed that elusive home victory and the home faithful could not have been happier.
Attendance: 6,383 (including 815 away supporters)
|TEMPRELL MAN OF THE MATCH: BARTOSZ BIALKOWSKI
Produced a string of top-quality saves either side of the break and fully deserved the clean sheet.|
|CURRY LOUNGE FANS' MAN OF THE MATCH: ALAN JUDGE|
Gain a 20% discount at Notts' finest Indian Restaurant
Watch match highlights and post-match reaction on Magpie Player.