Yoann Arquin came off the bench to secure Notts County’s first point of the season in an exciting 1-1 draw with in-form Walsall. The Saddlers had won all three of their opening fixtures but were fortunate to come away with a point after a dramatic ending.
The hosts took the lead in the second half when Romaine Sawyers found the bottom corner with a superb long-range finish. Arquin levelled in the 74th minute with his second goal in as many games and later thought that he had secured maximum points with a last-gasp winner.
The striker had the ball in the net with a late header, only for it to be struck off by a controversial offside decision. Still, it was a point on the board for the Magpies, who can head into next weekend’s game against Stevenage knowing that a similar performance will more often than not deliver three points, rather than one.
Manny Smith’s return from a one-game ban saw him included in the starting 11 against his former club at the expense of Greg Tempest, who dropped to the bench. Joining Tempest on the sidelines was David Bell, after his recovery from a knock that had kept him out of the Magpies’ first three games.
As part of a lively opening to the game, Danny Haynes produced Notts’ first effort of the afternoon, which was made possible by Jamal Campbell-Ryce’s clever flick in the right channel. The striker rifled powerfully across goal from the edge of the box, wide of the far corner.
In an immediate response, Ashley Hemmings progressed into the Magpies’ box via a quick one-two with Sawyers. The wideman managed to get a shot away but Bartosz Bialkowski raced sharply off his line to make a fine block.
In the sixth minute, Labadie was tripped 25 yards from goal and stepped up to take the free-kick himself. The midfielder struck ferociously through a gap in the wall and was denied a stunning goal by home goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell, who clawed the ball around the right-hand upright.
Notts next threatened when Callum McGregor anticipated a poor pass out of defence by Paul Downing and surged into the area from the left wing, with the home rearguard stretched. The lively midfielder’s low finish wrong-footed O’Donnell but the goalkeeper managed to adjust his body to make an outstanding save down to his right.
Notts retained most of the possession and asked a lot of questions of the Saddlers’ backline. However, it was not until the 31st minute that they gained another breakthrough, when, from a counter attack down the right involving Mustapha Dumbuya, Mark Fotheringham swept into the arms of O’Donnell.
Haynes was withdrawn from the action ahead of the interval due to injury. This paved the way for Adam Coombes to make his County debut, following an impressive performance for the development squad in midweek.
In the dying moments of the half, the Magpies came within a whisker of an opener, after a Campbell-Ryce delivery resulted in the ball falling invitingly into the path of McGregor. From 12 yards, the on-loan Celtic man let loose with an instinctive shot that flew narrowly over.
Walsall came out for the second half looking a better outfit and they almost delivered the first blow within moments of the restart. James Baxendale found stime on the edge of the area but his stern drive cleared the bar.
It was from another long-range effort that the Saddlers moved in front through Sawyers, who had been given far too much space as he carried the ball into the final third unopposed. The midfielder proceeded to curl powerfully into the bottom-right corner from 20 yards, leaving Bialkowski with no chance.
Moments later, former Notts forward Craig Westcarr almost doubled Walsall’s lead when he was fed in on goal. Smith managed to put Westcarr under pressure and Bialkowski was able to make a low save, despite a deflection.
David Bell’s introduction for Campbell-Ryce lifted the away support, as he put the home defence under pressure with plenty of crosses into the box. McGregor also grew in stature and fired over.
On 62, Westcarr was set free again, this time by Sam Mantom, and he home support felt that the striker had found the bottom corner, only his low shot cannoned back off the advertising boards. Westcarr then turned provider with a pacy centre across the face of goal, which evaded the outstretched toe of Baxendale at the back post.
The away fans felt that their team should have been awarded a penalty, after great vision by Sheehan allowed Dumbuya to race into space on the right flank. The full-back’s centre flicked up and appeared to be handled but the referee waved play on.
At the other end, Mantom broke into the area and fired through Dean Leacock’s legs. Fortunately for Notts, Bialkowski reacted well to produce an impressive reaction stop.
The save proved to be vital, as on 73 the Magpies drew level, when Sheehan’s searching back-post cross found Arquin. The Frenchman rose well to head unstoppably past O’Donnell, into the roof of the net.
County were lifted, as were the travelling fans, and there only look like one side would go on to take maximum points – the Magpies. McGregor, again, ran at the Walsall defence and cut inside a defender to force the goalkeeper into a strong parry.
Fotheringham later found space on the right, where he picked out Coombes with a near-post cross. The ball looped up and Arquin won an aerial challenge with O’Donnell but Nicky Featherstone came to the rescue with a back-heeled goal-line clearance.
McGregor came close once more after he glided into the box, past two defenders. He looked certain to find the net but his shot skewed away from goal to clip the outside of the post.
Against the run of play, Walsall nearly stole in the points during three minutes of added time. Malvind Benning’s stunning 20-yard hit took a wild deflection but Bialkowski made a truly remarkable save by tipping over.
There was still time for more drama and Arquin had the ball in the net again, when he latched onto an in-swinging Sheehan free-kick beat O’Donnell with a well-placed header. However, the celebrations were cut short by the linesman, who disallowed the goal for offside, meaning that the Magpies had to settle for a share of the spoils.