Notts County fought back to earn a share of the spoils in a game of two halves at Meadow Lane. Crewe Alexandra created a host of chances in the first half to deservedly go into the break ahead but a spirited second half showing by the Magpies saw them level the tie.
Fabian Spiess was awarded Man of the Match, largely because of his display in the opening 45. The young goalkeeper produced a series of excellent saves to keep out the likes of midfielder midfielder Abdul Osman and winger Bradden Inman.
Railwaymen skipper Luke Murphy was the player to finally beat Spiess, on the stroke of half time from the penalty spot. More was needed from County and a change in tactics helped that to happen.
In a 4-4-2 formation, Notts looked a different side and debutant striker John Cofie made it 1-1 with a fantastic individual finish. Strikes from Alan Judge and Alan Sheehan came agonisingly close but the home fans, who were hugely impressed by the second half showing, had to settle for a point.
Caretaker boss Chris Kiwomya adjusted the team’s shape from 3-5-2 to a 4-2-3-1 formation, as the Magpies looked to recover from back-to-back away defeats. This allowed Julian Kelly to return to the starting-11 at right-back, as one of two new faces on the teamsheet.
The other was Cofie, who was named as the lone striker just 24 hours after agreeing a move to Meadow Lane from Manchester United. Francois Zoko and Yoann Arquin dropped to the bench.
Cofie looked lively in the opening stages and showed plenty of energy, as he relentlessly closed down the Crewe defenders. Such work rate forced a corner inside the first minute, from which Cofie almost gained a headed finish, only to be beaten to the ball by away stopper Steve Phillips.
County’s goalkeeper, Spiess, was first to be tested, as Crewe mounted the pressure early on. In the fifth minute, Murphy’s floated free-kick was headed forcefully at goal and forced Spiess into an instinctive one-handed save.
The custodian’s next stop was just as impressive, after Inman had surged into the final third unopposed. The wideman targeted the bottom-right corner and Spiess managed to gain the slightest fingertip touch to turn the ball onto the post.
It was a busy opening for the German and he was required to make further saves on 12 and 17. First, he rushed off his line to produce a brave block at the feet of Inman, before making an impressive claim to his left, following a quick turn and shot by on-loan Arsenal midfielder Chuks Aneke.
Against the run of play, County had the ball in the back of the net, when Phillips dropped Judge’s cross, due to Jeff Hughes’ aerial challenge. Cofie pounced to nod home at close range, though the goal was ruled out for a foul on the goalkeeper.
Hughes was in the thick of the action again moments later, when he escaped his marker to connect with Sheehan’s right-footed cross from the corner of the box. However, the midfielder’s header flew wide of the left-hand post.
The game looked set to be goalless at the break but Gavin Mahon was seen to have fouled Ajay Leitch-Smith by referee Andy Woolmer, despite seemingly taking the ball with a last-ditch challenge. Murphy stepped up to take the penalty and fired confidently into the top-right corner.
Notts lined up in a 4-4-2 for the second period and immediately looked much more dangerous in attack. To accommodate the formation, Yoann Arquin replaced Mahon and partnered Cofie up front.
Arquin’s presence was immediately felt, as he gained a valuable headed flick-on that gave Cofie room to strike. The Ghanain composed himself but his final effort lacked power and was easily gathered.
Judge was next to threaten after he was allowed to roam into space from the left flank. From 25 yards, he let loose with an unstoppable hit, which left Phillips rooted to the spot, and left with his head in his hands as the ball cannoned back off the underside of the crossbar.
As the Magpies continued to push forward, spurred on by the vocal Kop Stand, Jamal Campbell-Ryce had a strong penalty call turned down. Andre Boucaud later curled wide of the mark and it seemed that a goal was not far away.
This was certainly proved to be the case, because, on 57, Cofie pulled Notts onto level terms with a fantastic individual goal. The striker intercepted a pass and ran at the away rearguard, prior to finding the bottom-left corner with a rifled finish from the edge of the box.
County grew further in confidence and immediately went in search of a second, with Arquin becoming increasingly involved. The Frenchman was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet with a header and then a stunning long-range shot that flew inches past the bottom-left corner.
Crewe’s first attempt of the half came from a floated Murphy free-kick that saw centre-back Mark Ellis beat Spiess with a firm header, though Liddle came to the rescue with a trademark, spectacular goal-line clearance. He then could have been the hero at the other end of the pitch, when he managed to get onto the end of Sheehan’s free-kick from deep, only he was unable to made a solid connection and Phillips gathered easily.
On 77, Spiess was called into action by Murphy’s well-struck free-kick that dipped under the crossbar. The 18-year-old goalkeeper somehow reacted to flick the ball onto the bar with an outstanding acrobatic save.
Sheehan thought he had won the game for Notts late on, when he skipped inside from the left wing into space. The left-back, with his weaker right foot, targeted the far top corner but watched the ball fly inches wide.
The closing stages saw Notts create one final chance to win the match, as Judge’s cross dipped onto the roof of the net, but, on the balance of the 90 minutes, a draw appeared a fair outcome. The Magpies ended the day seven points off the Play-Offs in 11th in npower League 1.