Notts County goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski recorded a Man of the Match display for the second season running at the County Ground, only on this occasion he was not rewarded with a clean sheet. Two first half goals gave Swindon Town a 2-0 win, which continued their unbeaten run on home turf and climbed into the Sky Bet League 1 Play-Off places.
Despite a decent opening, the Magpies fell behind in the 11th minute after striker Nile Ranger was left unmarked for a corner. Swindon then gained the upper hand and doubled their lead in the 28th minute from the spot, with Dany N’Guessan finding the bottom corner.
Danny Haynes had Notts’ best opportunity to get back into the game but failed to convert a second half spot-kick. County battled until the end but Town dominated throughout and could have added more had it not been for a string of top Bialkowski stops.
First team manager Chris Kiwomya made one change from the side that trounced Crewe Alexandra in the Magpies’ last Sky Bet League 1 encounter. Notts had previously been unchanged for four consecutive matches but an injury to on-loan Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish forced the alteration.
In his place was Adam Coombes, who had impressed in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy triumph over Wolverhampton Wanderers. This allowed County to maintain the 4-3-3 formation that had been so effective in the previous four fixtures.
Notts had won three of their previous four matches across all competitions and looked in a confident mood in the opening stages. From their early pressure, two Alan Sheehan free-kicks almost ended up in the back of the net, only to be diverted off target by crucial headers from Massimo Luongo and Jay McEveley respectively.
Swindon dealt the first blow in the 11th minute, when midfielder Alex Pritchard’s corner was guided into the top-right corner by Ranger’s glancing header. Mustapha Dumbuya had attempted to hook clear on the goal-line but could only deflect the ball into the roof of the net.
Pritchard nearly doubled the Robins’ lead with a well-placed header across goal moments later, only to be denied by a Bialkowski parry. Dumbuya then prodded the ball away from goal as far as Pritchard, whose second effort was charged down by Dean Leacock.
On 15, Callum McGregor almost levelled in spectacular style, after roaming into space through the centre. The forward unleashed a stern hit that was destined for the top-left corner but home goalkeeper Wes Foderingham leapt acrobatically across his goal to tip over.
At the other end, Ranger should have added his second of the night, as he skipped past numerous challenges to get into the box. The striker rounded off the tricky run with a placed shot that Bialkowski smothered with a routine save down to his left.
Town’s second arrived in the 28th minute from the penalty spot, after Dumbuya hacked down the fleet-footed Nathan Byrne on the byline. From 12 yards, N’Guessan drove forcefully inside the left-hand post, out of Bialkowski’s reach.
McGregor tried to strike back immediately with a 25 yard hit that flew wide of the mark. Moments later, Mark Fotheringham’s incisive through-pass allowed Haynes to place through the goalkeeper’s legs, but the goal was ruled out for offside.
County failed to test the home rearguard from this point onwards and this prompted changes at the break, as the Magpies switched to a 4-4-2 formation. Manny Smith replaced Dean Leacock in a forced change at the back, whilst Marcus Haber was introduced to partner Haynes up top at the expense of the booked Joss Labadie, who will miss the trip to Gillingham through suspension.
Hopes of a comeback were almost diminished in the opening stages of the second period, when Pritchard’s in-swinging set-play delivery from the left bounced awkwardly in front of Bialkowski. The stopper pushed the ball away from goal and N’Guessan followed up with an instinctive shot, which deflected wide off the outside of the post.
Swindon continued their search of a third through McEveley, whose powerful left wing strike flew narrowly wide of the near post. Moments later, Ranger glided into the box from the opposite flank and was only denied by Bialkowski’s superb spreading save.
As the chances continued to flow, Ranger nodded at the back post following McEveley’s dangerous free-kick delivery from the right. Yaser Kasim’s stunning 30-yard punt then forced Bialkowski to bat clear with an impressive stop.
In an attempt to get County back into the game, Kiwomya introduced Bell from the bench, as Coombes made way. Still, the hosts kept piling forward in numbers.
On 63, Kasim tried his luck from distance once more. The midfielder looked certain to find the bottom-right corner but the wrong-footed Bialkowski readjusted well to tip behind at full stretch.
Kasim was brimming with confidence and, from the resulting corner, beat his marker on the byline to produce a low cutback towards Pritchard. The subsequent shot was crowded out by a wall of purple shirts, before Kasim directed wide of the far upright on the rebound.
In the 73rd minute, the Magpies were handed just the lifeline they needed, when McGregor was upended inside the box. Haynes was provided with a fantastic opportunity from the spot but blazed over.
The opportunity certainly lifted Notts and more opportunities followed, the first of which saw Haber charge down a back pass to deflect the ball narrowly wide. McGregor later dragged wide with a 25-yard attempt.
Notts’ Man of the Match, Bialkowski, was called into action again late on to deny a tremendous solo effort by Byrne. The wideman raced inside from the left channel to target the far corner but the Pole reacted well to touch around the post with arguably his save of the game.
In the dying stages, Fotheringham had a near-post header palmed clear and Bell watched a deflected shot from the left gathered by Foderingham. Byrne rounded off the night with one more attempt for the hosts – a well-hit drive that cannoned back off the foot of the post.