Jon Stead struck a late penalty to secure a 1-0 win over Port Vale in Notts County's first game of 2018
The forward was bundled over in the area on 86 minutes and dispatched the subsequent spotkick to keep Notts seven points clear of fourth-placed Wycombe Wanderers.
Kevin Nolan made three changes to the team that were beaten 1-0 by Swindon Town.
Dan Jones, Richard Duffy (C) and Jonathan Forte all came into the starting 11, replacing the bench-bound Carl Dickinson, Liam Walker and Terry Hawkridge.
The sides traded tentative blows in the early exchanges, Tom Anderson firing the ball over the bar before Shaun Brisley was inches away from connecting with Jones' inswinging free-kick at the near post.
Duffy did brilliantly to block Ben Whitfield's goalbound effort before Forte, Jorge Grant and Lewis Alessandra all saw efforts deflect out for corners as the sides continued their pursuit of the breakthrough goal.
Notts were up in arms on 23 minutes when Brisley got across his marker in his attempts to meet Hewitt's lofted pass and appeared to be hauled down on the edge of the area. The referee was unmoved and play continued.
The Magpies used that frustration to their benefit moments later, Tootle bringing the ball down superbly on the right and cutting the ball back for Stead. The experienced front man decided to take his shot first time and could only send the ball over the bar.
Notts came close again three minutes later when Forte diverted Jones' free-kick goalwards only for Vale keeper Ryan Boot to get down well to make the save.
Ex-Valiant Duffy was having an interesting battle with Tom Pope, the visitors' top scorer, and the Notts man found himself in the book following an altercation with the forward as half-time neared.
Yates saw a header saved before being clattered by Pope in the centre circle minutes later, much to the fury of the Notts players and fans. The Vale man escaped punishment.
Whitfield fired a bouncing ball over the top and Antony Kay headed wide from a corner shortly before the referee called time on a closely-fought first half.
There were no Notts changes at the break and they quickly resumed their search for the opening goal, Forte running on to a long ball over the top but prodding the ball wide under pressure from two defenders and the onrushing keeper.
Alessandra saw a volley deflect wide before Vale showed their hand for the first time in the second half, Anderson seeing his own deflected effort fly wide before glancing a header off-target from a set-piece.
It was bodies on the line for Notts moments later as Marcus Harness weaved his way into home territory, seeing two efforts blocked.
Pope found his way into the book following another clash with Duffy shortly afterwards, before Grant saw penalty appeals waved away after he went down under Harness' challenge in the area.
Notts' first change saw Callum Saunders replace Forte up front and the forward had an immediate opportunity when the ball looped down to him in the area. In space with his back to goal, he could only nod it wide.
Elliott Hewitt's name was the next in the referee's notebook for remonstrating with the referee after he had collided with Boot and the keeper had stayed down to receive treatment.
A 0-0 draw looked imminent when Vale sub Worrall planted a header straight at Fitzsimons with 11 minutes to play.
But, as they so often do, Notts forced the issue late on. Stead latched on to a ball in the area and was hauled back by Harness, leaving the referee with no option but to point to the spot.
Stead smashed the resultant penalty to Boot's right to give Notts a late lead to protect.
Port Vale came on strong, applying forcing an excellent piece of defending from Duffy as the game entered four minutes' added time.
But, with the help of Alan Smith, on for Stead, the Magpies held firm to start the new year in the best possible way.