Notts County’s unbeaten run came to a disappointing halt this evening at Meadow Lane. Despite taking the lead through Jamal Campbell-Ryce, two late goals saw Stevenage steal all three points.
Notts dictated the vast majority of the play during the opening 45 and limited Stevenage to efforts from distance. Bartosz Bialkowski was tested twice throughout the half but ensured that the Magpies’ record of not conceding a first-half goal in the league continued with two top saves to keep out Greg Tansey and Lucas Akins.
Francois Zoko forced the best save of the half with a close-range header during the early stages. Enoch Showunmi and Neal Bishop were also unfortunate not to get on the scoresheet before the break.
On 53, Jeff Hughes had a chance to give Notts the advantage from the penalty spot but was denied by the woodwork. Campbell-Ryce did not fail to score, when County were awarded a second penalty, and it looked as though his side were going to take maximum points.
A red card to Alan Sheehan for a deliberate handball led to Akins levelling with the third spot-kick of the evening. Substitute Robin Shroot then went on to net a winner for the visitors during stoppage time.
Keith Curle made two alterations to the side that faced Sheffield United three days prior, with Andre Boucaud and Showunmi added to the starting line-up. Julian Kelly missed out through injury, after being withdrawn at Bramall Lane with a hamstring issue, whilst Yoann Arquin dropped to the bench.
Boucaud had completed a three-match ban for a controversial red card against Oldham and settled into the holding midfield berth. Hughes, who had carried out the role in the weekend’s game, moved to left-back, with Carl Regan switching to Kelly’s vacated right-back spot.
Showunmi spearheaded the County attack as the lone striker but he had plenty of support from a trio of exciting, attacking midfielders, Jamal Campbell-Ryce, Francois Zoko and Alan Judge. And, the latter almost got Notts off to the perfect start with a long-range hit that flew marginally wide of the mark.
Judge was involved again in the 10th minute, when Francois Zoko connected with his near-post corner to force Boro goalkeeper Steve Arnold into a remarkable, reflex save. Showunmi also threatened in the early stages, when he charged down one of Arnold’s clearances, only the stopper was able to clear a dangerous stray ball by clambering over the striker to gain a vital punch.
Greg Tansey provided the visitors’ first effort of the evening with a hopeful, long-range shot that flew wide of the top-right corner, though it was Notts that continued to dominate. In quick succession, Showunmi came agonisingly close to adding a finishing touch to one of Judge’s lethal crosses, before Neal Bishop saw a half volley dip onto the roof of the net.
Boro struggled to penetrate the Notts rearguard but began to find some accuracy with their long-range attempts. Ahead of the interval, Bialkowski was required to pull off two impressive parries to keep out both Tansey and Akins, who both thought they had found the top-left corner.
Akins kicked the half into action with a piercing run from the right and his chipped cross would have found Filipe Morais at the back post had Regan not touched the ball away from danger. Akins was then involved at the other end of the field, when he upended Hughes inside the area and gave County a chance from the spot.
Hughes, who netted nine out of 10 penalties last term, dusted himself off to take on the responsibility himself. However, the stand-in left-back’s placed spot-kick cannoned back off the foot of the post and Boro escaped.
Showunmi made way for Arquin in the 59th minute and the straight swap nearly paid off immediately. The Frenchman raced clear of the away backline, following a sharp exchange with Zoko, but his chipped finish was well anticipated by Arnold, who had darted off his line to make a fine block.
Notts finally took the lead in the 71st minute, after being awarded another penalty, this time for a foul on Zoko. Campbell-Ryce made no mistake and placed the ball down the centre of the goal.
Judge almost doubled the lead on 75 with a powerful, 25-yard strike. However, Arnold dived low to his right to make a smart save, undeterred by the greasy surface.
Curle orchestrated two further changes to his side, as Notts looked to hold on for the points. Sheehan made a return from injury to replace Zoko in a move that saw Hughes move to the left side of midfield, and Campbell-Ryce made way for Joss Labadie.
Sheehan’s return to action lasted only seven minutes, because he was sent off for a deliberate handball inside the six-yard box. This allowed Akins to stroke home from 12 yards and the Magpies faced the remaining nine minutes with 10 men.
One minute into five minutes of added time, Stevenage moved in front with their top-scorer, Shroot, applying the decisive finish. The 76th minute substitute had managed to wriggle free of his marker to latch onto a lofted through-pass and placed into the bottom-left corner to spark jubilant celebrations in the away section.