Home supporters were given plenty of reasons to be optimistic by an impressive display from a Notts County side that included a collection of young players. The Magpies ended a run of three consecutive losses with a hard-working performance at Meadow Lane, which saw the team rewarded by the 3-1 victory over Colchester United.
Jeff Hughes had initially given Notts the lead with a back-post finish in the 18th minute but frontman Jabo Ibehre levelled the scores ahead of the interval. However, Yoann Arquin came off the bench to restore County’s lead with a 77th minute finish, before youth team forward Romello Nangle wrapped up the scoring with an outstanding finish in the closing stages.
With the Play-Offs out of reach, first team manager Chris Kiwomya gave a number of his younger players the chance to shine in anticipation of the new season. Both Curtis Thompson and Tyrell Waite were handed their first ever Football League starts on the right side of a four-man midfield and up front respectively.
Haydn Hollis also returned to the starting 11 at the heart of defence, a move that saw Gary Liddle shift to right-back and Julian Kelly drop to the bench. Elsewhere, Neal Bishop was left out of the matchday squad due to a hamstring injury and regular midfielders Andre Boucaud and Alan Judge missed out through suspension.
Hughes, who was partnered in the centre of midfield by Joss Labadie, provided Notts’ first effort of the game. Strong hold-up play by Jamal Campbell-Ryce 25 yards out, gave the midfielder space to get a shot away but his effort flew well wide of the mark.
Moments later, following a misplaced pass in midfield, Colchester threatened for the first time, as Drey White forced Bartosz Bialkowski to tip around the post with a save down to his left. From Bradley Garmston’s resulting corner, Ibehre looked certain to score from an unmarked position six yards from goal, only his header cleared the bar.
For County, Campbell-Ryce was again involved when he tricked his way inside from the left flank. The wideman unleashed a powerful hit, which narrowly evaded the far top corner.
On 18, the Magpies moved in front, after Waite made fine use of the right channel to deliver a low cross that found Hughes at the back post. The Irishman’s late run was almost too late but he managed to gain a prodded touch that away goalkeeper Sam Walker could only push into his own net.
Waite almost netted himself 10 minutes later, when Alan Sheehan’s whipped free-kick from deep made its way into the six-yard box, following a dummy by Hollis. The former Ilkeston FC youngster applied tamed the bouncing ball with a first-touch finish but Walker anticipated it well to make an important block.
The U’s drew level in the 37th minute, when Andrew Bond raced down the left wing to deliver a dangerous low centre that was out of Bialkowski’s reach. At the back post, Ibehre was the only player to react and prodded over the line at close range.
County looked eager to restore the lead and Labadie burst out of midfield to create the next opening. The energetic midfielder fed the ball to Thompson, who turned away from his marker on the edge of the box to test Walker with a left-footed strike.
A collision between Labadie and U’s full-back David Wright caused a long delay in play at the end of the first half. Wright received emergency attention from both physios and paramedics and was later taken to hospital with a suspected concussion.
Wright’s replacement, John-Joe O’Toole had an opportunity to put the visitors ahead early into the second period. The midfielder rose well at the back post to nod Brian Wilson’s left-wing free-kick high and wide.
On 54, Sheehan provided another superb set-piece delivery, this time a corner onto the head of Dean Leacock. The stand-in skipper failed to gain enough power to trouble Walker, who plucked the ball out of the air.
Bialkowski was required to make two decent stops to keep out efforts from Bond and Garmston. Bond’s long-range hit was smartly gathered by the Pole inside his right-hand post but thee next save, a double fisted parry to keep out Garmston’s curled free-kick, was even better.
At the other end, Walker had to remain alert to keep out an unexpected drive from Campbell-Ryce. The winger skipped into space after collecting a chested pass from Enoch Showunmi but his 25-yard attempt was palmed away from the bottom-left corner.
Kiwomya added fresh legs to his attack by replacing the impressive Waite with Arquin. The Frenchman could not have made a better introduction, as within four minutes he was on the scoresheet with his ninth goal of the season.
Sheehan’s deep out-swinging corner saw Arquin aim a header towards the far top corner. The ball looped over the outstretched Walker and under the crossbar to give County a 2-1 lead in front of the Kop Stand.
Notts wanted more and Campbell-Ryce, who had caused the visitors’ rearguard problems all afternoon with his dribbling, He completed another mazy run with a stern punt that stung the palms of the goalkeeper.
The final goal of the match came on the break, when Arquin’s direct header down the line was carried forward by Showunmi. The powerful frontman centred into the path of Nangle, who made no mistake by slotting through Walker’s legs, before celebrating his first ever senior goal with a passionate celebration in front of the buoyant home support.