An action-packed 90 minutes between Notts County and Peterborough United had everything – goals, drama and heartbreak. Sadly for the Magpies, they suffered the latter as Posh claimed a late winner in a 4-3 thriller.
County could not have started the game any better as two goals in the opening seven minutes from Enoch Showunmi and Ronan Murray gave them the early advantage. However, the game was turned on its head when Murray was dismissed for an off the ball incident.
Despite the numbers advantage, it remained an even game but the hosts managed to pull a goal back through Ajose ahead of the interval. Britt Assombalonga levelled on 54 before Ajose put United ahead on 74.
Jack Grealish struck back inside a minute with a tremendous low effort and there was a belief that County would claim something from the game. But, with just six minutes remaining on the clock, Ajose wrapped up the points for Posh and inflicted Notts’ first defeat of 2014.
Following a third consecutive win in the weekend’s encounter with Stevenage, manager Shaun Derry named an unchanged starting-11 for the trip to London Road. The only change was on the bench, following the surprise announcement that striker Kwesi Appiah had joined on an emergency loan from Premier League Crystal Palace.
The Magpies opened the game very well with plenty of passing football, which pushed the hosts deep into their own half. However, it was out wide where Notts looked most dangerous and they were ruthless from the deliveries into the box.
In the fourth minute, Alan Sheehan’s overlapping run into the left channel was met by a perfectly weighted pass from Jack Grealish, who had recovered from a heavy knock in the Saturday fixture. The left-back’s cross fell to Showunmi and the striker rifled unstoppably into the roof of the net.
The away supporters had barely settled when Notts made it 2-0, again from fine wing play, only this time on the opposite wing. On this occasion, Jamal Campbell-Ryce fed Kieron Freeman, whose low centre was volleyed inside the near post by Murray.
Posh almost reduced the deficit shortly after the Magpies’ second through Danny Swanson. The midfielder first had a low hit well blocked by Manny Smith before Bartosz Bialkowski kept out his follow up effort with an instinctive save.
On 17, County were reduced to 10 men following an off the ball incident involving Murray and Swanson. Murray was dismissed and Swanson escaped with a booking.
In the thick of the action, Swanson later went to ground in the area to calls for a penalty in the home sections. In contrast, the away support suggested a dive as they chanted ‘cheat’, after the referee waved play on.
Despite the extra man, United were limited to long range efforts from the likes of Swanson and Lee Tomlin that failed to test Bialkowski. However, on 27, Swanson looked certain to find the top-right corner with a wonderfully hit strike but Dean Leacock came to the rescue with a brave header to divert over.
Two minutes later, Posh pulled a goal back when right-back Mark Little found Ajose eight yards from goal. Before the Notts defenders could blink, the forward fired into the bottom-right corner on the turn.
The earlier dismissal led to a tactical change for the Magpies, as Danny Haynes replaced Showunmi up front. The striker nearly made the perfect introduction as he raced onto a overhead pass from Smith but his low finish was kept out by goalkeeper Joe Day’s outstretched boot.
At the other end, Swanson tested Bialkowski again with a curled attempt, which the stopper plucked out of the air with a leaping save to his left. In quick response, Andre Boucaud threatened to score against his former club with a powerful drive that bounced narrowly wide of the left-hand post.
On 42, Boucaud, following a nice interchange with Campbell-Ryce, picked out another clever Haynes run with a weighted pass. From a tight angle, Haynes unleashed a stern shot but Day got his body in the way to prevent a third Notts goal.
As expected, Posh pushed forward in numbers in the second half and nearly pulled a goal back from a fierce Tomlin strike, only for Freeman to throw his body in front of the ball. A goal did arrive in the 54th minute, as Assombalonga converted a driven Nathaniel Knight-Percival cross with a close-range header.
Assombalonger then turned provider to set up Ajose but Bialkowski batted away the resulting effort. Notts got forward when possible and continued to play attractive football, with one counter attack ending with Mark Fotheringham blasting wide.
Campbell-Ryce, who had worked tirelessly throughout, was withdrawn in the 64th minute and replaced by the new boy Appiah. This saw County switch to a 3-4-2 that utilised Freeman and Grealish as wingbacks.
Peterborough moved in front with 16 minutes remaining on the clock. Ajose found a pocket of space on the edge of the box and found the top-right corner via the woodwork with a thumping hit.
The lead lasted less than a minute, as Notts struck back immediately through Grealish. The wideman raced into the box and, from the tightest of angles, managed to find the far bottom corner with a drilled finish.
As the game moved into the final 10 minutes, there was even more goalmouth action, as Tomlin had two attempts – one blocked by Smith and the other smothered by Bialkowski. For Notts, Appiah was roamed into space in the final third and fired inches wide of the bottom-right corner from 20 yards.
On 84, Ajose struck again, as the Magpies struggled to clear from a corner. Knight-Percival had forced Bialkowski into his best save of the game – a reaction save down to his left – but Ajose pounced on the rebound to make it 4-3 to the hosts.
This was the killer blow but the away fans were more than impressed by the passion and fight shown by their side until the final whistle. It was a performance that deserved more but it was just not to be after an astonishing game of football.