League leaders Tranmere Rovers took all three points away from Meadow Lane this afternoon with a 1-0 triumph. Substitute Joe Thompson’s 21st minute header proved to be decisive and Notts dropped to seventh in the npower League 1 table.
Keith Curle included one big surprise in his starting line-up – former Millwall defender Jordan Stewart, who had signed on a short-term contract prior to kick-off. Stewart slotted in at left-back, which allowed Jeff Hughes to move to the right wing.
Francois Zoko and Enoch Showunmi dropped to the bench, and Yoann Arquin returned to the side at the spearhead of the County attack. Another late signing, Blackpool defender Ashley Eastham, was also included on the bench.
The early stages of the match saw both teams cancel each other out and spectators had to wait until the 13th minute for the first goalmouth incident. Tranmere full-back Danny Holmes was the creator with a diagonal ball towards the back post, where Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro forced Bartosz Bialkowski into a low save.
Akpa Akpro was not on the pitch much longer due to injury and, as the visitors attempted to make a change, Notts pressed forward. From the pressure, Neal Bishop had an effort deflected wide of the mark and Jamal Campbell-Ryce struck over, following fine work on the left flank.
Akpa Akpro’s replacement, Thompson, made an immediate impact by giving his side the lead. Winger Abdulai Bell-Baggie had raced down the right flank to provide a lofted, back-post centre, which Thompson nodded home via a deflection off Carl Regan’s back.
The goal lifted the away section and Rovers went in search of a second. Adam McGurk nearly managed to find it shortly after the opener when he beat the wall with a free-kick, only Bialkowski stooped towards the bottom corner to bat the ball away.
Moments later, Jake Cassidy was threaded in on goal and Bialkowski had to spread himself to keep out the frontman’s placed finish. The stopper then had to dive low to his right to turn skipper James Wallace’s low drive around the post.
In the build-up to the break, Notts tried their hardest to draw level. Arquin fired over from distance and Bishop was unable to connect cleanly from eight yards, after Stewart had burst between two players on the left wing to provide a grounded centre.
During one minute of added time, Campbell-Ryce cut inside from the right wing at pace but his shot flew inches wide of the top-left corner. The lack of full chances during the opening 45 arguably prompted the half time change that saw Jeff Hughes replaced by Lee Hughes.
Tranmere kicked the second half into life with an incisive attack down the left involving Wallace and Thompson. The latter was fed into space and he would have picked out a teammate in a tremendous goal scoring position had Dean Leacock not made a saving interception.
On 51, Rovers were lucky to keep 11 men on the pitch, when defender Ash Taylor appeared to go out of his way to stick a high boot in on Bialkowski during an aerial challenge. The goalkeeper was left requiring medical attention and Taylor escaped with a caution.
The challenge had prompted a series of confrontations between the players but it did seem to give the Magpies a lift. Notts pinned the visitors back in the subsequent minutes but the final ball was lacking, much to the frustration of the players and the home support.
Curle made his second substitution in the 62nd minute and replaced Arquin with Zoko. Zoko almost grabbed an equaliser when he added a headed touch to an Alan Judge cross but Rovers’ goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams was able to get behind the effort.
At the other end, Bell-Baggie watched a shot skid inches wide of the bottom-left corner. Cassidy also forced a remarkable, low save out of Boalkowski, who gained the finest of touches to guide the ball wide.
Tranmere should have made it 2-0, after McGurk was denied by another fantastic Bialkowski save, low to his left. On the rebound, Cassidy looked set to apply the finish at close range but Stewart came out of nowhere to make a superb, saving challenge.
On 80, Liddle thought he had found a leveller when he connected with Judge’s corner to head over. A minute later, Regan came within inches of finding the top-left corner, when he unleashed a powerful drive from the corner of the box.
Bell-Baggie had two more attempts for Tranmere as the game edged towards the 90 mark but he was unable to find the net. First, rounding of a counter attack, he placed wide, before producing a stunning hit that cannoned back off the foot of the post.
Enoch Showunmi was introduced in the dying stages and the Magpies threw as many men forward as possible. During five minutes of stoppage time, Showunmi was unfortunate not to get on the end of a low Boucaud delivery on the edge of the six-yard box and Notts were beaten for the second game running.