Messages from the Meadow Lane camp indicated that Notts County were fired up for the clash with Tranmere Rovers and that was undoubtedly the case. The Magpies fought for every ball and, with the help of the vocal home crowd, recorded a deserved first victory of the season, along with a much welcomed clean sheet.
Joss Labadie opened the scoring for Notts in the seventh minute with a well-taken header against his former club. Off the bench, Marcus Haber made it 2-0 in the 79th minute with a close-range finish and nearly added a third late into stoppage time.
First team manager Chris Kiwomya sent out a message of intent with his starting 11 – as they lined up in an attacking 4-3-3 formation. Midweek goal-scorer Danny Haynes was named at the spearhead of the frontline, with exciting midfielders Callum McGregor and Jack Grealish in close pursuit.
Mustapha Dumbuya and Joss Labadie returned to the side after watching on from the bench on Tuesday night. Therefore, midweek starters Marcus Haber and David Bell were named among the seven subs.
Buoyed by an enthusiastic home crowd, the Magpies did not look like a side fighting it out at the bottom of the table. Boucaud found Haynes with a delightful lofted pass and, following an exchange with McGregor, the frontman drilled wide of the mark.
A lot of emphasis had been placed on Notts delivering the first blow. And, it was a massive relief to the home support when their side moved in front in the sixth minute.
An excellent passing move allowed Grealish to find space and he was able to drag his marker inside before sliding the ball wide to Sheehan. The advanced left-back’s cross was nodded forcefully back across goal by Haynes, allowing Labadie to finish the job with a close-range header.
The volume from the Kop raised as the Magpies’ faithful chanted ‘We’re the Black and White Army’. The players responded with more attractive passing football that suggested more goals were on the way.
Another extended period of play resulted in Notts’ next chance, as the Tranmere was stretched by a series of quick passes onto the right. Dumbuya delivered a low cutback into the path of Haynes, only the striker failed to gain a connection with his attempted shot.
As the pressure mounted, McGregor cut inside from the right and watched a powerful drive loop towards Sheehan, who climbed above defender Tom Hateley to clear the bar with a header. Haynes later skipped past his marker to drive high and wide from the corner of the box.
On 31, Dumbuya’s clearance saw Haynes force away skipper Ian Goodison into a missed header on the half-way line. Grealish’s pace allowed him to get a yard on two defenders but his low shot skidded narrowly wide of the left-hand post.
Rovers’ first serious effort on goal arrived in the 35th minute, after Max Power created space for himself in front of the home rearguard. The midfielder unleashed a stern hit from distance and Bartosz Bialkowski did well to clutch the ball to his chest with a save to his left.
The visitors could have levelled on two occasions before the break. First Dean Leacock was forced into a brave block to keep out Chris Atkinson’s powerful hit and then Bialkowski had to remain alert to deny Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro’s header from Evan Horwood’s in-swinging free-kick.
Grealish continued to look a big threat for the Magpies following the half time break. Within moments of the restart, he ran at the Rovers’ defence and curled marginally over from 25 yards.
Haynes came within a whisker of doubling County’s lead, following another outstanding overhead pass by Boucaud. The striker’s fierce drive saw Owain Fon Williams produce an excellent reaction stop, which only partially halted the momentum of the effort, as the ball bounced against the outside of the post.
Dumbuya was next to test Fon Williams with a strike from the right wing, after composed work by Grealish in the middle of the park. In quick response at the other end of the pitch, the newly introduced Abdulai Baggie teed up Akpa Akpro with a centre from the right but the forward directed over with an improvised volley.
Akpa Akpro came even closer in the 74th minute, this time from a Power cross. The powerful Frenchman rose well to produce a thumping header that was only prevented from finding the net by the crossbar.
On 79, Grealish was denied once more when Fon Williams stood up well to his low shot. However, an important second goal was less than a minute away.
Bell, who had replaced McGregor, held up play on the right to feed the ball to Dumbuya on the byline. The fleet-footed full-back then rifled across the face of goal, where another substitute, Haber, placed home inside the six-yard box.
Sheehan, who was one of numerous Man of the Match contenders, almost added Notts’ third late on when he watched a stunning hit crash against the side netting. Haber also thought he had added his second, as his low finish from Labadie’s grounded cross was somehow turned away by Fon Williams and hacked off the line.
It was certainly the Magpies’ best league performance of 2013.14 and lifted a lot of tension after a winless start. With the first league win behind them, County now look forward to a trip north to Carlisle United, where they will aim to make it back-to-back triumphs.