Notts County claimed a hard-fought victory at the Ricoh Arena this afternoon with a 2-1 triumph over Coventry City. Impressive finishes from Andre Boucaud and Yoann Arquin secured a deserved three points for the Magpies.
In an end-to-end first half that saw both sides create a number of openings, Notts were able to go into the break a goal to the good. Boucaud was the man to find the net, when his long-range effort flew unstoppably into the bottom corner six minutes before the break.
Bartosz Bialkowski ensured that it was the only goal of the half by producing a number of fine saves. Most notable were parries to keep out attempts by midfielders John Fleck and Callum Ball.
The Magpies enjoyed the better of the second period and deservedly added another late on through Arquin. Richard Wood made it 2-1 with three minutes remaining but County got men behind the ball and held on to send a bumper away following home with plenty to be positive about.
Notts were boosted by the return of Neal Bishop and Dean Leacock, who had sat out the midweek Johnstone’s Paint Trophy encounter with Sheffield United. However, Alan Judge did not pass his late fitness test and was forced to sit out the fixture.
Francois Zoko, who came off the bench to replace Judge in the previous week’s 4-0 win over Carlisle United, started on the left side of a three-pronged attack force, which also included Yoann Arquin and Jamal Campbell-Ryce. With Carl Regan sidelined with an ankle injury, Curle opted to move Gary Liddle to right-back and handed on-loan defender Ashley Eastham his first start for the club at the heart of defence, alongside Leacock.
The match started at a high tempo and Notts were first to threaten, when Bishop had a close-range effort charged down, following a low centre by Arquin. From Campbell-Ryce’s resulting corner, Arquin then rose high above his marker to head over.
At the other end of the field, Fleck was able to break into the area from the left flank, after a quick exchange with former County frontman David McGoldrick. Bialkowski came to the rescue and kept out the wideman’s low drive with an extended leg.
The action continued at both ends and, on 16, Arquin was given a fine opportunity inside the six-yard box by a pin-point Jordan Stewart centre, only the Frenchman was unable to direct a shot goalwards. In quick response, Ball tested Bialkowski with a grounded hit before Fleck, under pressure from Liddle, sliced wide on the rebound.
In the 21st minute, Campbell-Ryce wriggled free of three Coventry players on the right wing and rifled inches wide of the bottom-left corner. He later had a free-kick smartly saved by home goalkeeper Joe Murphy.
From a free-kick of their own, Coventry should have taken the lead, when Carl Baker saw his low delivery scuffed by McGoldrick eight yards from goal. Moments later, winger James Bailey found space on the right to provide a teasing centre, which evaded the outstretched toe of Ball.
County ended the half strongly and showed signs that a goal was on the way. Jeff Hughes forced fine reaction save out of Murphy after finding space inside the box but there was nothing the stopper could do to keep out Boucaud’s finish on 39.
Jeff Hughes had picked out Zoko on the left wing with a diagonal pass and the winger surged inside as he attempted to create room for a shot. With no success on that front, the forward laid the ball to Boucaud, who fired powerfully into the bottom-left corner from 25 yards out.
City almost found a leveller within a minute, with Franck Moussa trying his luck from range. The ball swerved awkwardly in the air and Bialkowski did well to get his body in the way.
After the interval, Notts resumed their dominance, much to the frustration of the home fans, who increasingly aired their grievances. Zoko appeared to be the Magpies’ main threat and he stung the palms of Murphy within a minute of the restart.
Notts were in again when Bishop picked out Jeff Hughes’ run in behind the Sky Blues’ rearguard. The midfielder controlled well and teed up Zoko, who drilled high of the top-right corner.
The hosts’ first effort of the half came in the form of a direct free-kick, which was deflected into the path of Bailey. The on-loan Derby man connected with a stern volley that skidded wide of the target.
Jeff Hughes’ forward runs from midfield caused City plenty of problems and he looked certain to convert Arquin’s 63rd minute cross but was unable to keep his back-post volley on target. Bishop kept the attack alive by nodding the ball back to Zoko, whose placed header forced Murphy to clamber across his line to tip clear at full reach.
Leacock ensured that Coventry did not open their account with a brilliant, last-ditch challenge on Fleck, who had found space from a direct move involving substitute Cody McDonald. Notts needed another goal and it came on 84.
Jeff Hughes was the provider with a neat back-heel that allowed Arquin space on the edge of the box. The striker did not waste the opportunity and drove forcefully into the bottom-right corner.
With three minutes remaining, Wood gave the hosts a glimmer of hope when he powered home a corner with a headed finish. Four minutes of added time was shown and Notts had to fight to hold onto the three points.
McDonald came closest in the dying moments with a stunning hit but Stewart threw his body on the line with a crucial block. The final whistle meant that the Magpies had stretched an impressive away run to 14 games, ahead of a home clash with Bournemouth at Meadow Lane.