Notts County set a new club record of 11 away games without defeat by gaining a hard-fought point at stadium:mk. The Magpies had taken a first half lead through Neal Bishop but substitute Jay O’Shea earnt Milton Keynes Dons a share of the spoils after the break.
The Dons’ stopper David Martin was in fine form during the first half and kept out strong efforts from Jamal Campbell-Ryce and Alan Judge. He was finally beaten by Bishop’s 27th minute wonder strike, which gave Notts a half time lead.
Bartosz Bialkowski had to be at his best to keep out Shaun Williams’ long-range drive shortly into the second half but there was nothing he could do to prevent O’Shea from finding the bottom corner on 68.
In a surprise move by Notts boss Keith Curle, Jamal Campbell-Ryce was handed his full Notts debut at the expense of Lee Hughes, despite only returning from injury in the weekend’s clash with Oldham Athletic. The lively wideman made up part of an exciting attacking unit that also included the fleet-footed Yoann Arquin, Francois Zoko and Alan Judge.
The second alteration was forced, after the club had failed to overturn Andre Boucaud’s Boundary Park dismissal. Joss Labadie, who had replaced Boucaud against the Latics, was deservedly handed a start.
On a pitch perfect for passing football, both outfits seemed determined to put it to good use throughout the duration of the first half. Notts were the first to truly threaten on 11 minutes.
Stepping up a patient attacking move, Labadie switched the play with a delightful pass into the right channel. Getting away from his marker with a superb first touch, Julian Kelly was able to work the ball inside to Campbell-Ryce, who forced a low save out of Martin.
Judge’s corner then found Zoko at the near post. However, the Ivorian was unable to adjust his body and headed wide.
The hosts twice tried their luck from range through Williams and Antony Kay, prior to MacDonald being provided with a golden opportunity, when Darren Potter’s pass allowed the striker space inside the area. The former Brentford man attempted to get around Bialkowski, only the County number one stood up well to deny him.
Martin was next to be called into action, when Judge’s free-kick from the edge of the box forced him to fumble behind. Moments later, there were calls for a Notts penalty, after Labadie had been sent tumbling but the referee waved play on.
The away support soon forgot about the incident when Bishop gave their side a 1-0 lead in stunning style. 25 yards from goal and in front of the Magpies’ support, the skipper opened up his body and rifled into the bottom-left corner.
On 37, Labadie could have doubled Notts’ advantage, when Campbell-Ryce’s shot deflected into his path. Under pressure, the midfielder dragged harmlessly wide of the mark with a left-footed effort.
Two minutes before the break, Judge had another chance from a direct free-kick. The Irishman’s hit cleared the wall and would have found its way inside the left upright had Martin not produced a remarkable, tipping save.
Chants of ‘Super Notts’ rang out from the away section but the Magpies nearly went into the interval on even terms. During added time, Williams’ set-piece delivery was headed inches wide of the bottom-right corner.
The Dons continued their search for a leveler from the restart and may have found it in a matter of seconds. Roaming into space, Williams unleashed a powerful drive that Bialkowski somehow managed to touch over with an acrobatic save.
Campbell-Ryce remained a dangerous outlet for Notts and, following a breakaway exchange with Judge, he was unfortunate not to see his cross directed on target by Arquin. The Dons then countered quickly down the right and Bialkowski had to gather smartly inside his six-yard box to prevent the lurking MacDonald from applying a finishing touch to Powell’s low centre.
Campbell-Ryce was withdrawn to a standing ovation in the 64th minute. Jeff Hughes, his replacement, almost found the net with his first touch but headed over from Judge’s corner.
Four minutes after the substitution, the Dons made it 1-1, following a neat lay-off by MacDonald on the edge of the box. The recipient, O’Shea, made space with his first touch and curled accurately into the bottom-right corner, leaving Bialkowski with no chance.
O’Shea came close to settin up a second for his team with an in-swinging free-kick from the left wing. The delivery evaded MacDonald’s head by inches and Bialkowski was forced to parry clear with a reaction stop.
Either outfit could have taken maximum points in the dying stages. Gary Liddle made a saving block to deny Dean Lewington and Judge had a hopeful late effort gathered by Martin.
It remained a valuable point for County, who not only made history with the away run but claimed their first ever point on Dons’ territory. The Magpies now face a home clash with Portsmouth, where they will be aiming to close the gap on league leaders Tranmere Rovers.