Notts County kicked off 2013 with a 2-1 defeat at the hands of promotion rivals Milton Keynes Dons. County put in a dominant second half showing but it was not enough to claw back a two-goal deficit that was established in the first half.
Despite a promising start to the game, Notts were two goals down inside 13 minutes. Darren Potter opened the scoring for the Dons with a sixth minute header, prior to Daniel Powell doubling their lead seven minutes later with an individual effort.
The Magpies were much improved after the interval and were able to pull a goal back in the 56th minute through Jamal Campbell-Ryce’s penalty. Further chances followed, with Lee Hughes, Yoann Arquin and Alan Judge coming painfully close to a leveller.
A late onslaught of the Dons’ goal saw further openings created. However, the visitors held on for maximum points.
Only one alteration was made to the starting 11 that faced Shrewsbury Town on Boxing Day, which was forced due to Jeff Hughes’ suspension for five cautions. Jordan Stewart made a surprise return from a hamstring injury to fill the vacated left-back spot, as the Magpies lined up in a 4-4-2 formation that worked so effectively against the Shrews.
Notts nearly got off to the best possible start, when Julian Kelly picked out Chris Iwelumo with an accurate diagonal pass out of defence. The frontman nodded into the path of Neal Bishop, whose lay-off resulted in Alan Judge firing over.
Although Notts looked the better of the sides in the early stages, it was the Dons that delivered the first blow of the afternoon. From the left wing, Harley arrowed a free-kick into a crowded box, where Potter was able to beat Bartosz Bialkowski with a forceful downward header.
On 10, Harley was the provider again, as his pass into the feet of Angelo Balanta allowed the forward to strike over on the turn. Balanta then had another stern drive, this time towards the bottom-left corner, blocked by Bialkowski, before Julian Kelly denied Powell on the rebound.
Powell only had to wait three minutes longer to get his name on the scoresheet, after he was given too much space in the pocket of space between defence and midfield. The wideman skipped past Gary Liddle into the area and, with his next touch, prodded low inside the left-hand upright.
It probably should have been 3-0 in the 25th minute, when a headed flick-on found Ryan Lowe unmarked. Eight yards from goal, the striker’s placed effort was smartly turned away by Bialkowski and followed up by Dean Bowditch, who fired wide of the mark.
The Dons continued to look a threat and full-back Adam Chicksen was next to test Bialkowski with an attempt that the goalkeeper clutched out of the air, as he dived to his right. Potter then came within inches of his second goal, when his powerful, 25-yard drive narrowly cleared the top-left corner.
As half time approached, Notts started to break down the visitors, first of all when Lee Hughes’ centre saw Iwelumo stoop to head wide on the edge of the six-yard box. Boucaud then produced a long-range hit that skidded past the left-hand post.
Iwelumo was involved again for Notts’ next effort. As he maintained possession on the edge of the box, he fed the ball into the feet of Liddle, whose low finish was confidently gathered by Martin.
Campbell-Ryce grew increasingly involved from the left wing, as the half drew to a close and was unfortunate not to see one of his in-swinging crosses converted. The winger’s added time delivery was especially unlucky, because Neal Bishop’s glanced header looped onto the roof of the net.
Keith Curle made one substitution at the break. In the final game of his loan spell from Watford, Iwelumo was withdrawn and replaced by joint top-scorer Yoann Arquin.
The first effort of the half came from a Dons’ breakaway move, which saw centre-back Shaun Williams charge out of defence. Following an exchange with Chicksen, Williams rifled inches wide of the bottom-left corner from the edge of the box.
On 56, the Magpies had a fantastic chance to get back into the game, when defender Antony Kay sent Judge tumbling inside the area. Campbell-Ryce did not waste the spot-kick sent Martin the wrong way with a low finish.
Arquin had a golden opportunity to level the game, when Hughes fed him into the right channel. The Frenchman broke into the area by cutting inside Kay but his placed shot was turned away by Martin, who reacted sharply down to his right.
The home fans were on the edge of their seats again when Bialkowski’s direct punt was flicked into the path of Hughes by Arquin’s climbing header. The frontman twisted Kay inside out but lost his footing as he attempted to apply the finish.
The visitors were pushed deep into their own half and an equaliser did not seem to be far away. The thought it had arrived when Kelly surged past Chicksen on the wing to deliver a low centre that Hughes swept against the crossbar.
For the Dons’, Alan Smith’s lofted pass may have been the killer blow. However, Kelly was able to do enough to deter the recipient, Lowe, and Bialkowski was able to smother the subsequent shot.
Campbell-Ryce made way for Francois Zoko in the 78th minute and the Ivorian’s first involvement, a run and cross from the left flank, was almost crucial. Kelly was able to feed the ball to Judge and the Irishman’s first-time hit came agonisingly close to finding the top-left corner.
Four minutes of added time was shown and Curle added Enoch Showunmi to a four-man attack-force. With bodies forward, Arquin headed marginally over, Zoko found the arms of the goalkeeper with a nodded finish and Manny Smith fired wide from range.
It was not to be Notts’ day and it could be argued that the second half performance warranted more. County dropped to 13th in npower League 1, six points adrift of the Play-Off places.