Notts County continued their impressive away record with a 2-0 win against Bury at Gigg Lane. The Magpies were required to defend for much of the match but goals from Lee Hughes and Alan Judge gave them all three points and extended the unbeaten run on the road to nine matches.
It took just two minutes for County to move in front, when Hughes nodded home his first goal since the Valentine’s Day victory over Exeter City. Mark Cullen, Lenell John-Lewis and David Worrall had good chances to take the hosts into half time on level terms but Notts held on.
The barrage continued after the interval but Bury struggled to create clear-cut openings, as the Magpies’ defensive unit remained organised and tough to break down. This allowed County to kill the game off during second half stoppage time, when Judge curled accurately into the bottom corner.
There was only one change to the Notts side that lost 1-0 to Walsall seven days prior, with Francois Zoko replacing Joss Labadie to take up a spot on the left side of a midfield four. Within two minutes of his return from injury, the Ivorian made an impact, drawing a foul on the left wing that led to the Magpies’ opener.
Judge curled dangerously towards the back post with the free-kick, where Lee Hughes was able to gain the slightest of touches to send the ball past goalkeeper Trevor Carson. The headed finish marked Hughes’ first goal under boss Keith Curle, who had been desperate to see the striker’s trademark dance since arriving February.
Bury immediately went about their search for an equaliser and they may have found one, when lively attacker Mark Cullen found space on the left wing to work the ball inside to Joe Skarz. The advanced left-back progressed into the box and was set to pull the trigger, but Gary Liddle produced a crunching challenge to deny him.
A delightful overhead pass by Shakers’ skipper Steven Schumacher carved open the County backline for his team’s next opening. John-Lewis raced into space down the right channel and fired in a low centre that narrowly evaded the outstretched toe of Cullen at the back post.
On 23, John-Lewis was involved again, this time making space for himself on the edge of the box before firing inches wide of the bottom-left corner. A quick turn and shot from 20 yards out then saw the imposing striker miss the target again.
At the other end, Liddle, roaming out from the back, created space for Judge in front of the home defence. However, the Irishman, under heavy pressure from his marker, dragged wide of the mark.
A misplaced pass by Andre Boucaud on 34 allowed John-Lewis another opportunity but he found the wrong side of the post with a low drive. Then, two minutes prior to the break, the former Lincoln City man danced around numerous Notts defenders inside the area, only for Neal Bishop to prevent a certain goal with a superb sliding tackle.
Zoko threatened with a header, courtesy of another Judge free-kick, during added time but Bartosz Bialkowski had to be at his best to ensure Notts went into half time ahead. A diagonal cross by Skarz picked out Worrall at the back-post and the midfielder’s diving header forced the County stopper into a remarkable reaching save.
The Shakers continued their hunt for a leveler immediately after the restart, with Bialkowski having to take the sting out of Peter Sweeney’s powerful volley. Ahead of being withdrawn, Cullen also dragged wide, again from distance.
Skarz remained one of the Shakers’ biggest threats in the second period and he was able to provide another cross for John-Lewis. The forward’s header was unable to beat Bialkowski, who clutched the ball confidently under his crossbar.
Zoko was withdrawn in the 67th minute so that fresh legs could be added to the Magpies’ midfield. Labadie was introduced in his place and Notts reverted to a 4-5-1 formation.
The County rearguard stood up well to late Bury’s offenses but they were given a scare when Schumacher’s low drive was deflected off Worrall. Fortunately for Notts, Bialkowski was alert and managed to adjust his body to preserve his side’s lead.
The Magpies, despite their defensive priorities, did look dangerous on the break, especially through Judge’s dribbling. The midfielder was able to surge forward in the 78th minute, after Jeff Hughes had won possession with a fantastic challenge, but his deflected effort was prevented from dipping under the bar by Carson, who tipped over at full stretch.
As the hosts struggled to clear the resulting corner, Sheehan was able to fire sternly into a crowded goalmouth, where Leacock added an instinctive touch. Carson did not know too much about his save but it was enough to keep the Shakers in the game.
Connecting with Skarz’s deep cross, Mark Hughes' header across goal could have seen Bury snatch a point late on but John-Lewis could not keep his header down. This was the home side’s last chance, as Notts were to grab a decisive second on the counter during the first minute of added time.
As the Bury defence attempted to regroup, Boucaud showed good composure in delaying his pass to Judge, who took a couple of touches before curling into the bottom-right corner, out of Carson’s reach. Delighted with his first goal of the season, Judge leapt into the crowd to celebrate a return to winning ways with the travelling support.
In the dying stages, Curle handed a senior debut to youth team forward Romello Nangle. The 17-year-old nearly scored as well, firing over prior to the full time whistle.