Notts County were dumped out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy this evening by Sheffield United. Just four days after thumping Carlisle United, Notts were on the receiving end of a convincing scoreline this time around.
The match greatly resembled the last Meadow Lane meeting between the sides, which saw Sheffield United claim a flattering 5-2 win. The Blades once again took their chances and had a little bit of luck along the way.
United opened the scoring through striker Shaun Miller on 24, before centre-back Harry Maguire doubled their advantage on the stroke of half time. Notts could easily have been on level terms at the break but goalkeeper George Long was in fine form and made two particularly good stops to keep out efforts from both Jeff Hughes and Enoch Showunmi.
Eight minutes into the second period, Miller added his second of the evening with another great finish. One minute later, Maguire also grabbed a second, when his cross somehow found its way into the net.
Notts, who created more of the openings on the night, managed to score a consolation late on, when Jordan Stewart found the corner with a fantastic, placed finish. Still, it was too little too late for the Magpies and United were the team to face Coventry City in the next round.
Keith Curle made five alterations to the team that started against Carlisle United, with a number of them forced due to injuries. Alan Judge, Neal Bishop and Carl Regan had all picked up knocks in the weekend’s fixture and were left out as a precaution.
Dean Leacock was also withdrawn from the matchday squad but there was a place on the bench Jamal Campbell-Ryce. Gavin Mahon, Hamza Bencherif, Showunmi, Francois Zoko and Alan Sheehan all came into the starting 11.
The Magpies lined up in the flexible 4-3-3 formation, with Showunmi at the spearhead of the attack. Yoann Arquin and Zoko operated either side of him on the flanks.
Mahon’s inclusion in the holding role allowed Andre Boucaud more attacking freedom, alongside Jeff Hughes in the middle of the park. Sheehan, in his first start since early September, slotted in at left-back and Stewart switched to Regan’s vacant right-back back berth.
The match itself started off slowly and it was not until the 19th minute that Notts threatened with the first real effort by either side. Boucaud, out on the right wing, floated a delightful cross towards Jeff Hughes, who nodded wide of the mark.
Sheehan orchestrated the Magpies’ next opportunity with a free-kick from the left flank. Showunmi’s presence inside the six-yard box caused issues and the striker was able to get a header away that forced away stopper Long into a point-blank save.
Despite the early pressure, it was the Blades that moved in front via a direct move, which saw the imposing Chris Porter provide a headed knockdown for his strike-partner, Miller. The former Crewe frontman showed great confidence from 12 yards and swept low past Bartosz Bialkowski with his first touch.
The home fans thought that Jeff Hughes had found an equaliser in the 37th minute, when he rose high to connect with Bencherif’s arrowed cross from deep. The midfielder’s firm header looked destined for the top-left corner, only Long reacted sharply to tip over.
On 41, Boucaud met Showunmi’s run with a delightful pass. The number nine was able to get a shot away from a tight angle but was denied by Maguire, who deflected the ball wide with a well-timed block.
During stoppage time, Bialkowski was required to make a remarkable low save to keep out Ryan Flynn’s low drive. However, from the resulting corner, Maguire powered home Flynn’s dangerous delivery inside the six-yard box, after the home defence had failed to clear.
In an attempt to claw back the two-goal deficit, Curle made two changes at the break. The attacking move resulted in Campbell-Ryce and Lee Hughes replacing Showunmi and Mahon.
On 52, the gap was stretched to three goals, after Notts had failed to deal with another of Flynn’s corners. Miller collected a half clearance and rifled through a crowd of players to find the bottom-right corner.
Two minutes later, it was four. Maguire, from the right wing, delivered a looped cross towards the back post but rather than finding a teammate, he found the back of the net, via the woodwork.
County did not throw in the towel and continued to look for a goal to lift spirits in the home stand. Arquin came close to finding it, when he gathered Boucaud’s deflected through pass to test Long, who produced an acrobatic save to divert the striker’s curled effort away from the corner.
In the following minutes, Sheehan also drilled over from the edge of the box. On 69, Jeff Hughes then failed to gain a strong enough connection to take advantage of Stewart’s superb centre that evaded the Blades’ rearguard.
On 76, Stewart pulled a goal back for the Magpies, after riding a challenge in the final third. The full-back, opened up his body and curled over Long, into the far corner.
County wanted another and Bencherif later found the roof of the net with a dipping header. Jeff Hughes then picked out Lee Hughes inside the box with a lofted pass but, despite beating his man with an impressive first touch, the striker placed wide.
Zoko, Jeff Hughes and Campbell-Ryce had promising efforts in the dying stages but none were able to find a way past Long. Notts will now look to make it back-to-back league wins on Saturday when they travel to Coventry City.