A combination of committed defending and heroic goalkeeping saw Notts County claim a point against an impressive Swindon Town. The Robins piled the pressure on the Magpies’ goal throughout but blocks from the likes of Alan Sheehan and Gary Liddle, combined with a string of remarkable Bartosz Bialkowski stops ensured that County held on for the clean sheet and a hard-fought point.
Following his impressive performance off the bench against Scunthorpe United, Greg Tempest was handed his full Football League debut at the County Ground. The 19-year-old lined up on the left side of a five-man midfield, which gave Alan Judge the freedom to attack behind lone frontman Enoch Showunmi.
Another youth team graduate, Haydn Hollis, dropped to the bench, as Julian Kelly returned for his first appearance in nearly a month, following his recovery from a calf injury. This meant that Liddle returned to the heart of defence, alongside last weekend’s winning goal-scorer, Dean Leacock.
There were fears over whether Liddle would last beyond the second minute, when he was sent sprawling during an aerial challenge with Adam Rooney. Following a lengthy examination from physiotherapist Becky Knight, he was given the all clear to continue.
The hosts applied much of the early pressure and threatened for the first time in the 10th minute. Tricky wideman Gary Roberts fired high into the empty stand behind Bialkowski’s goal with a half volley from the edge of the box, after Notts could only partially clear.
Moments later, Liddle was required to produce a superb, last-ditch block to keep out Andy Williams’ low drive, before Simon Ferry dragged wide of the mark with the rebound. As the Robins continued to push Notts back, Williams later nodded home skipper Alan McCormack’s left-wing delivery back across goal but the County defence was able to scramble clear.
The Magpies’ first attempt came from a free-kick 25 yards from goal, following a foul on Neal Bishop. Sheehan, against his former club, drilled well wide.
Shortly after, Sheehan created Notts’ second opportunity with a high, dropping cross into the box, which saw Jeff Hughes force goalkeeper Wes Foderingham into a fumble. Bishop attempted to capitalise on the loose ball but only received a heavy knock to the chest, as he strived to gain a touch.
On 34, Nathan Thompson overlapped to great effect and was threaded into the area by Robert’s incisive pass. From a tight angle, the Swindon right-back struck powerfully at goal but Bialkowski batted clear.
Three minutes later, Tommy Miller drove a free-kick under the County Wall to force Bialkowski into another save, this time down to his right. The Pole could only parry and Leacock eradicated the danger with a crucial clearance, as the red shirts flooded the goal area.
In the second period, Town had an early penalty shout waved away, after Liddle outmuscled Williams. Bialkowski also had to remain in top form to keep out Ferry’s 50th minute downward header with a save down to his right.
The Robins tried their luck from range on two occasions, through Alan Navarro and substitute Louis Thompson. Navarro drove inches over with a stunning free-kick and Thompson’s deflected hit dipped onto the roof of the net.
On 58, Kiwomya swapped Tempest, who had looked very composed in possession throughout, for Arquin. The Frenchman partnered Showunmi in attack, as the Magpies switched to a 4-4-2 formation.
It was following the change that Notts started to look dangerous in the final third, with the first of three good opportunities in quick succession arriving from a Sheehan free-kick from deep. Town struggled to clear and Showunmi was able to prod into the path of Bishop, whose low drive was well blocked by Darren Ward.
In the 69th minute, Arquin’s crossfield pass from the right was intelligently dummied by Showunmi, which gave Judge space to shoot 20 yards from goal. The Irishman’s curled effort was certain to drop under the crossbar but Foderingham made an acrobatic tipping save to keep the game goalless.
From Judge’s subsequent corner, Jeff Hughes nodded back across the goalmouth, where Showunmi applied a thumping header at close range. The County fans were on their feet in celebration, only for Williams to direct the ball against the bar with a goal-line clearance and Arquin followed up with unsuccessful attempts that were blocked and placed wide respectively.
Adam Rooney should have put Swindon ahead in the 76th minute, when he rose unmarked at the back post and was only denied by Bialkowski's tremendous tipping save onto the right-hand post. The ball then fell kindly to substitute James Collins five yards from goal but his stern finish was deflected over by Sheehan’s outstanding block.
Next to test Bialkowski was McCormack, who cut inside from the left to force another block out of the in-form stopper. This was nothing in comparison to his next save, which was arguably his best of the season.
McCormack delivered a low centre into the path of Collins, whose shot was placed into the bottom-left corner. Bialkowski had raced across his line in the opposite direction but, quite unbelievably, managed to divert over with an outstretched leg.
The corner saw Ward produce a stern header but the former Southampton man got down well to his left to frustrate the hosts once more. It almost allowed Notts to win the match.
In the dying stages, the Magpies broke through Arquin, with the Robins pushed forward. The striker squared to Hamza Bencherif, who had replaced Showunmi, but rather than going for goal, the Algerian attempted to make a return pass, which was well anticipated.
Based on the balance of play, Notts were more than happy with a share of the spoils. At the final whistle, they remained six points off the Play-Off places in 11th place.