Notts County claimed a first win of the 2014.15 Sky Bet League 1 season with a hard-earned victory over Colchester United at Meadow Lane on Tuesday night.
Having started the game brightly, showing the kind of response that manager Shanu Derry had asked of his players after the weekend, Notts had to dig deep to not only regain the lead in the second half but then hold on to it when down to nine men in the closing stages.
Straight from kick-off the home side were on the offensive, with Liam Noble getting the first shot on target as early as the second minute, latching on to a short freekick by Gary Jones to turn and get a quick shot across goal that had Sam Walker stretching to his left to collect.
Notts continued to press, determined to get on top and were rewarded for their bright start on six minutes when Nicky Wroe worked his way into the area and put in a great cross that Ronan Murray latched on to at the far post to flick home for the opening goal of the game.
With the atmosphere lifted around Meadow Lane, Notts looked to press home their advantage, but it was Colchester who would have the next meaningful attack, with their first foray into the Notts half of note.
Jabo Ibehre was the beneficiary of some strong build-up play as he had a free header inside the box, which he guided down into the bottom corner and it took a fine diving save from Roy Carroll to deny the visitors the equaliser.
Further chances for Notts fell to Jake Cassidy, who couldn’t capitalise on a well-judged advantage by the referee, and Zeli Ismail, who had looked threatening throughout the opening quarter of an hour, but could only blaze a strike from distance well over the bar when he looked to have options around him.
It was Ibehre who had probably the best chance of the half to bring Colchester back level a couple of minutes later when he was set through one-on-one with Carroll, but the Notts keeper stood up well to make the save and Hayden Mullins got back to clear.
George Moncur, Freddie Sears and Dominic Vose would see well-struck efforts fly over the bar as Colchester came into the game more and more as the half went on, before Marcus Bean found himself in space from a corner and will be disappointed to have missed the target from close range, with his header well wide of the upright.
As the half hour mark approached Notts were able to turn the tide in the game back in their favour though, with Gary Jones, Murray and Jake Cassidy all seeing chances come to nothing.
And having weathered the storm, the visitors were back on the offensive shortly afterwards, determined to find a way back into the game. Vose was very much the danger man for Colchester late on in the half, first seeing a shot of his own saved by Carroll before setting Ibehre in again a short time later, again the Notts goalkeeper had to do well to maintain his side’s lead.
Vose was then again involved when he played a lovely ball into Ibehre in the 37th minute and the big striker fed Moncur who took a touch to bring the ball slightly further infield before hitting a shot that flew just over the bar.
The first half ended with both sides mounting attacks, but neither troubling the goal, with Cieron Keane, who was making his debut for Notts on the night picking up a booking two minutes before the break for a foul on Sears as he broke down the right flank for Colchester.
HT: Notts County 1 Colchester United 0
The second half started a little slower than the first, with Notts looking to stamp their authority on the game and Colchester desperate to get back into it as early as possible after the break.
The early exchanges failed to produce any meaningful shots on goal, but it was the visitors who had a great chance to grab the equaliser on the hour mark when Sears found himself right in front of goal on the edge of the area but his shot was straight at Carroll.
The momentum was very much with Colchester at this stage though, stemmed only by a clever break down the left from Murray and some great trickery in the area by Ismail that allowed him to get a shot away in the 66th minute, but it flew across goal and over.
Colchester were soon back down the other end and after a decent headed clearance by Keane, Notts failed to push up quickly enough and were relieved to see a shot by Alex Gilbey fly over the bar.
The visitors didn’t have to wait long after that to get back on level terms though, with Sears once again set through moments later and this time he was able to keep his composure under pressure from Haydn Hollis to calmly slot the ball past Carroll and bring Colchester back level at 1-1.
Notts clearly felt that Sears was in an offside position as the ball was played through to him and the protestations of Shaun Derry on the touchline saw the fourth official summon the match referee, who sent the Notts boss to the stands.
It was as Derry was making his way into the stand that his side regained the lead. Noble picking up the ball on the edge of the area and unleashing a fantastic effort into the far corner that gave the goalkeeper no chance and sent Meadow Lane into uproar.
Heading into the final quarter of an hour all looked well for the home side, but a booking for Ismail for failing to retreat the required distance at a freekick was to set the tone for what lay ahead, with Keane shown a second yellow card in the 77th minute for a tap tackle on Ibehre as he broke down the right for the visitors.
Colchester boss Joe Dunne rang the changes shortly afterwards as he looked to make the man advantage count, with Gavin Massey and Sammie Szmodics coming on for Bean and Vose.
Derry reacted with a change of his own shortly after, with Curtis Thompson coming on to replace the impressive Ismail to shore up the defence and his players were in no mood to lie down in this one, with Colchester captain Magnus Okuonghae booked for a cynical foul on Cassidy as the Notts striker looked to get on the end of a long ball down the wing.
Notts even had the chance to increase their lead on 83 minutes, when Nicky Wroe got a great shot away from the edge of the area that Walker could only parry, but as Mustapha Dumbuya rushed in on the rebound he could only side foot his effort well wide of the post.
The final minutes were without doubt the most frantic of the game, with Ben Gordon booked for a rather rash challenge on Curtis Thompson, before a clever through ball by Hollis found Wroe in an advanced position and the midfielder turned and hit a first time shot over the Colchester keeper.
However, whilst the flag had already gone up for offside, it was to the disbelief of the home crowd that referee Geoff Eltringham proceeded to show Wroe a second yellow card for the incident and reduce Notts to nine men.
Further groans of disbelief rang around Meadow Lane soon after as the fourth official held up the board to show six minutes of added time, but with the Wheelbarrow Song ringing out around the ground, Notts dug in to ensure that Colchester couldn’t find an equaliser.
The final whistle was met with a cheer that pierced the Nottingham sky and a sense of relief around Meadow Lane, as a hard earned three points were secured in truly battling fashion.
FT: Notts County 2 Colchester United 1
The Northern Ireland international was simply imperious and couldn't have done more to secure all three points for Notts, with a string of key saves in the first half in particular that helped the home side go into the break with a crucial lead.