Notts County dropped back into the Sky Bet League 1 drop zone after a 3-1 defeat to Championship bound Brentford but the Black and White Army’s belief of completing The Great Escape remains strong. The Magpies played out the majority of the fixture with 10 men after Haydn Hollis was dismissed but won the appreciation of the vocal travelling support following a hard-working display.
Hollis was given his marching orders in the 32nd minute for a late foul, which denied a goal-scoring opportunity. Adam Forshaw confidently stroked home before Alan Judge came back to haunt his former club.
Judge, who had left Meadow Lane in the summer, added goals on 43 and 52. Jimmy Spencer struck back late on but it was not enough to take anything from the game and County ended the day three points adrift of safety.
Manager Shaun Derry made just one alteration to his starting 11 at Griffin Park, as Nathan Tyson was given the nod ahead of Jack Grealish. Grealish was named as one of the seven substitutes and Tyson lined up on the left side of a four-man midfield.
Former Magpies forward Alan Judge started in attack of the hosts and almost broke through on goal after Hayden Mullins had miscalculated a high ball. His defensive partner, Hollis, came to the rescue with a vital interception before Judge could burst into space.
Mullins made up for his mistake with an excellent piece of defensive work, when a clever touch by powerful frontman Clayton Donaldson allowed Stuart Dallas into the box. Just as the wideman prepared to pull the trigger, Mullins managed to apply a vital, last-ditch challenge.
County looked dangerous on the break and Jimmy Spencer and Jamal Campbell-Ryce came close to setting up good chances with their determined work. On the whole, Brentford pushed high and made it difficult for Notts in possession and the openings were few and far between.
The County defensive shield stood up well to the Bees’ attacks and restricted them to long-range efforts. On 20, Dallas found the home fans behind the goal from 25 yards before Judge fired two shots straight at Bartosz Bialkowski.
Notts’ hopes of taking something from the fixture suffered a blow in the 32nd minute, when Hollis was shown a straight red card for a lunge on Donaldson. The defender was the last man and the referee awarded a penalty, which Forshaw swept into the bottom-left corner.
Judge should have doubled Brentford’s lead five minutes later, when he instinctively connected with Dallas’s pacy centre from the right, but he was unable to hit the target. In frustration, he later attempted another strike from distance that flew high and wide.
Judge finally added his name to the scoresheet with just three minutes of the half remaining, though his celebration was played down out of respect for his former club. An unfortunate slip at the back by Dean Leacock, who had replaced Ronan Murray, allowed the forward in on goal and he coolly slotted inside the left-hand post to make it 2-0.
Grealish was introduced at the expense of Mustapha Dumbuya at the break. The Magpies switched to a 3-4-2 formation that utilised Grealish just behind Spencer up front.
The system displayed County’s intent of getting back into the match but their hopes of a revival were dented when the Bees added a third. Bialkowski had to be at his best to deny Toumani Diagouraga with a double save but there was nothing he could do to prevent Judge from hammering home at close range.
Sheehan almost pulled a goal back for Notts, after Grealish was upended 20 yards from goal. The skipper curled around the wall, only for goalkeeper David Button to deny him with an outstanding one-handed save.
Judge was presented with a golden opportunity to complete his hat-trick, following Dallas’s interception of a Campbell-Ryce backpass. The forward picked out Judge inside the box but Bialkowski batted the Irishman’s drive behind.
The Pole was called into action on two further occasions in quick succession, first to prevent Jake Bidwell’s wayward cross from dipping under the crossbar at the far post. He then reacted brilliantly to parry Jonathan Douglas’s thumping diving header.
On 77, an in-swinging Sheehan free-kick into the area was only cleared as far as Liddle. The midfielder tried his luck with a half volley that trickled wide of the target.
At the other end, a quick passing move resulted in Dallas delivering a dangerous low centre across the face of goal. Mullins, in an attempt to clear, nearly directed into his own net but Bialkowski adjusted his body to make a block on his goal line.
In the 84th minute, Mullins was involved again with a delightful searching pass over the home rearguard. Spencer was first to the ball and lifted over Button with an improvised finish.
It was a demonstration of the Magpies’ never-say-die attitude under Derry and Sheehan came close to adding another. After another foul on Grealish 20 yards out, Sheehan curled just over the top-left corner.
Bialkowski was forced into two more impressive saves in the dying stages to deny decent hits from substitute George Saville. Spencer also searched for a spectacular second with a 30-yard strike but the scoreline remained 3-1 at the final whistle.
The away supporters sang The Great Escape theme song as their team left the field of play. Notts will look to bounce back with a strong performance and three points against Port Vale back at Meadow Lane.
Pulled off a series of fine stops throughout and could do nothing about the goals.