Notts County have climbed out of the Sky Bet League 1 relegation zone with a dominant performance that fully warranted their 3-0 win over Coventry City. The new boys stole the show, as Hayden Mullins and Jimmy Spencer gave Notts a two-goal lead, before Alan Sheehan secured the points from the spot late on.
Spencer was handed his full debut for the Magpies less than a week after signing from Huddersfield Town, as he replaced Enoch Showunmi in attack. Mullins, who had made his first County appearance off the bench against Preston North End, was promoted to the starting 11 in place of Mark Fotheringham.
Goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski also made a return to the side, having missed the Preston game through illness. Goalkeeping coach Kevin Pilkington produced a Man of the Match display on that day but there was no place for him on the bench due to Fabian Spiess’ recovery from a hand injury.
Before the sides kicked off the action, both sets of supporters and players paid tribute to Tony Hateley with a minute’s applause. The club’s second highest goal-scorer with 114 goals in 207 appearances had passed away the previous weekend, aged 72.
The Magpies were fired up for the occasion and started the match well. Callum McGregor struck over with a 25-yard free-kick and Kieron Freeman was unlucky not to see an inviting delivery across the face of goal evade Jack Grealish at the back post.
A goal was not far away and in the 12th minute it was one of the new arrivals that registered thanks to a driven Jamal Campbell-Ryce cross from the right flank. Mullins rose well on the six-yard line and powered a header beyond Joe Murphy.
The goal lifted the Black and White Army and silenced the impressive away following in the Jimmy Sirrel Stand, as Notts pushed for a second, which almost arrived following fine footwork by Spencer in the away box. The striker’s lay-off saw skipper Alan Sheehan force Murphy into a save down to his left, before Manny Smith’s follow-up efforts were driven straight at the stopper and wide respectively.
Spencer’s energy and willingness to get stuck into the away defenders quickly won over the home faithful, but he took it one step further in the 33rd minute with a moment of brilliance. The frontman won possession in the final third and found the top-right corner with a fantastic 25-yard hit.
The Magpies almost found a third ahead of the interval, when Campbell-Ryce met Freeman’s run with a neat through-ball, only for the full-back’s dangerous low centre to be hacked away by centre-back Andrew Webster on the line. McGregor then completed a mazy run inside from the right wing with a low shot that skidded narrowly wide of the right-hand upright.
Notts’ first half dominance was highlighted by the visitors’ two half time changes. However, the County defence and midfield remained organised and limited the Sky Blues’ openings, as Bialkowski’s hardest work arrived in the form of two right-wing crosses, which he smothered on both occasions.
City captain Carl Baker provided the first serious attempt of the half in the 65th minute. The midfielder found space on the edge of the box but dragged his shot wide of the mark.
Notts threatened shortly after, when Grealish found Campbell-Ryce on the right with a delightful pass. The winger’s skill opened up a gap for him to deliver a chipped cross that Smith nodded onto the roof of the net.
On 73, a hopeful punt forward by Freeman resulted in Spencer challenging Murphy for a 50-50 ball. The goalkeeper spilled but Spencer had lost his footing and was unable to capitalise on the loose ball before the defence removed the danger.
At 2-0, the Magpies looked comfortable heading into the closing minutes and appeared the most likely of the teams to score next. Campbell-Ryce made good use of the right channel to find Mullins, who fired high into the Kop.
Campbell-Ryce was involved again when he raced into the box and was sent tumbling to the turf. The referee pointed to the spot and Sheehan swept confidently inside the right-hand post to make it 3-0.
Coventry’s best efforts arrived after the third goal, as Bialkowski pushed a low Baker hit around the post with an outstretched fist before Franck Moussa headed over at close range from a Blair Adams corner. Shaun Derry’s men deserved their clean sheet and the three points in front of the second highest home crowd of the campaign.