Late Goals Punish County
A late double-salvo by Oxford United denied Notts County a point in the first game of 2016 as the U's ran out 4-2 winners at Meadow Lane.
Liam Sercombe's penalty at the end of the first half had given Oxford the lead, but Jon Stead's header just past the hour levelled things up.
Curtis Thompson, on as a substitute, put the Magpies ahead with a terrific finish from 12 yards, only for Alex MacDonald to equalise from close range.
It seemed as though Notts were going to earn a good point against a side who started the day in the automatic promotion places, but Callum O'Dowda's winner as the clock struck 90 minutes was a cruel blow.
Kemar Roofe added the gloss with a fine finish from the edge of the area as Notts fell to an undeserved defeat.
Following the departure of Ricardo Moniz as manager following Monday's 2-2 draw with Morecambe, Mick Halsall and Richard Dryden took charge of their first game, making just two changes as Wes Atkinson came in for his Notts league debut and Haydn Hollis took a place at the heart of the defence. Mike Edwards missed out after suffering from illness whilst Thierry Audel dropped to the bench.
It was the visitors who threatened first with full-back George Baldock rifling the ball across the face of goal but no player in yellow was on hand to divert it into the net., nobody to touch it in
Roofe wriggled past a challenge, opting not to go to ground, before crossing to the back post where Chris Maguire saw his volley blocked by Roy Carroll's legs as the promotion-chasers looked to assert themselves in the early stages.
The pressure continued as Alan Smith blocked Ryan Taylor's goalbound effort after turning inside the area with John Lundstram lashing the rebound high over the bar.
Stead advanced before dragging a shot wide from 25 yards before Stanley Aborah's dangerous, inswinging free-kick was headed out for a corner by Johnny Mullins.
Oxford top-scorer Roofe twisted and turned to make space for a shot which was palmed out by Carroll with Aborah and Hollis on hand to mop up the remaining danger.
The breakthrough came in the final moments of the half after Carroll was adjudged to have felled Sercombe as the midfielder raced across the penalty area towards the corner flag with referee Carl Boyeson having no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Having won the kick, Sercombe took it after a short delay and sent the goalkeeper, who was booked for the foul, the wrong way to open the scoring in first-half stoppage time.
Aborah headed over from Milsom's cross early in the second half as the Magpies looked for a quick response to going behind.
MacDonald's swerving 20-yard effort forced Carroll into action, parrying out into the area where Atkinson before Baldock's drive had to be tipped over the bar.
The U's continued to pile forward. Lundstram's speculative shot from distance was caught by the goalkeeper before the Northern Ireland international stretched to push Sercombe's shot wide at the near post.
Taylor's flick set goalscorer Sercombe racing through on goal but Hewitt showed good pace to catch the midfielder up and block his effort.
Shortly before the hour, County brought on Thompson and Ronan Murray for Burke and Smith but almost fell 2-0 down as Baldock hared into the area but saw his slide-rule finish cannon back off the post.
However, the Magpies made the most of that reprieve as they went up the other end of the field and levelled. Aborah crossed to the far post where Stead rose highest to head back across goal and into the far corner.
Notts were starting to turn on the style and put together a superb move with Adam Campbell, Aborah, Stead, Atkinson and Murray all involved. It would have been one of the goals of the season but McLeod side-footed past the post to the despair of those in black and white.
Roofe whipped a free-kick off-target as the match became an end-to-end contest. United boss Michael Appleton shuffled his pack, sending on O'Dowda and Patrick Hoban with just over a quarter of an hour remaining.
The U's threatened again when Murray's loose pass fell to MacDonald, who brought a good save from Carroll low down to his left.
The pendulum swung in favour of Notts as substitute Thompson showed great skill to beat a man, exchange passes with Stead and finish smartly past Sam Slocombe from 12 yards to put Notts ahead.
The lead didn't last long though, as MacDonald turned to squeeze a shot past Carroll from a few yards out to level up at two goals apiece after the Magpies failed to clear a corner.
The winger then tried for his second of the afternoon, Carroll's fingertips pushing the ball wide before the goalkeeper made himself big to deny Sercombe from close range.
In the closing stages Mullins looked certain to give Oxford the lead as he met a cross at the back post but Stead's block turned the ball wide, seemingly preserving a point.
There was to be one more chance and it was taken to break County hearts. Carroll smothered a shot by Sercombe but MacDonald laid the ball into the path of O'Dowda, who clinically curled into the top corner from the edge of the area to steal three points.
With men committed forward to try and rescue a point, Notts were exposed at the back and Roofe arrowed a shot into the bottom corner from 20 yards to seal victory for the visitors.
Notts: Carroll; Atkinson, Hollis, Hewitt, Milsom; Campbell, Smith (Thompson, 59), Aborah, Burke (Murray, 59); Stead, McLeod (Spencer, 80).
Subs not used: Loach, Sharpe, Audel, Valencic.
Attendance: 5,877 (1,350 away)