It seems like ages since we had our last away game - the frustrating 0-0 draw at Rotherham United immediately after Ian McParland's departure from the club, so it was quite refreshing to be back on the road for a trip to Bury's Gigg Lane for a game that was exciting, entertaining and more kamikaze gung-hoball than football. Any football fan would've appreciated the ninety minute of sheer chaos between the sides who boast League Two's longest unbeaten runs, with the amount of incident and action meaning this is going to be a long match report, so bear with me! Notts were hit by a mystery virus overnight, meaning that Danny Jones, Johnnie Jackson and Ben Davies were ruled out and the line-up had a very makeshift look to it. Brendan Moloney returned from injury, whilst Jamie Clapham found himself in central midfield. Lee Hughes and Luke Rodgers returned to front the Notts attack, however. For Bury, loan signing Daniel Nardiello made his debut and Andy Morrell shook off fitness issues to partner him upfront.
The game started as it meant to go on, at a ferocious pace with both sides completely abandoning the art of defending. Luke Rodgers, playing on the right wing in something resembling more of a lake than a football pitch, immediately looked dangerous and fired a low cross in that just evaded the boot of Lee Hughes. Bury made much more of their first opening however as Nardiello immediately endeared himself to the Gigg Lane crowd. The ball bounced around midfield and Stephen Dawson managed to lob it in behind Graeme Lee, allowing the pacy Nardiello to race clear and pick the ball up from a puddle and round Schmeichel to give Bury the lead. It was a fine finish from a man who has been linked to Notts plenty of times in the past.
This got the hosts' confidence sky high and they began to pour forward in numbers. A clever passing move saw Mike Jones set up Andy Morrell, who dragged a left footed shot just wide of Schmeichel's near post. Notts retaliated as the match started to take a relentlessly end-to-end nature. Neal Bishop was played in by Rodgers but struck straight at Wayne Brown from six yards, but his blushes were saved by an offside flag. This allowed Bury to come forward once again and they doubled their lead. Graeme Lee's loose pass presented the ball to Nardiello, who took on Moloney before firing the ball across the six yard box for Morrell to tap in to put Bury in control of the match.
This seemed to galvanise Notts, who began to throw caution to the wind and throw men forward. Rodgers, who by this point had found some armbands to help him cope with the flooded right touchline, emerged from a puddle and swung in a delicious low cross that Hughes fell on to pull one back for the Magpies. This lifted the players and the away end no longer seemed like such a cold and miserable place to be. Notts streamed forward and the unlikely figure of Stephen Hunt pulled out the tricks to skip past two men before clipping a cross into the path of Hughes, who's firm volley seemed to be flying in but was beaten past the post by Wayne Brown. The corner came to nothing, but as Notts fans who'd been stuck on the M1 began to arrive, Hughes did get his second and the Magpies leveller. Matt Ritchie stopped losing the ball for long enough to swing in a cross which bounced over Efe Sodje and Hughes guided a superb header back across goal which clipped the base of the post and went in to send the 632 travelling Magpies into raptures.
Whilst all this excitement had been going on down the other end though, strange things were taking place in the Notts goalmouth. Guardian reporter Matt Scott, disguised as a ball boy, had been hurling clumps of mud at Kasper Schmeichel whilst screaming "you haven't cost much money yet!", which had begun to form a swirling puddle of sticky mud in the goalmouth. This came to the rescue of Ricky Ravenhill as he presented the ball to Nardiello (something which Notts really should've stopped doing), who raced past Edwards and slid the ball past Schmeichel and goalwards. Gigg Lane erupted and Nardiello ran off to milk another debut goal, but the ball squelched to a halt on the line in the quagmire, sparking a huge grin from Kasper, a sigh from Scott and delirious scenes from the Notts fans.
This just about wrapped up an enthralling first half at Gigg Lane, with the scores being level just about a fair reflection of a breathless forty five minutes. Bury's sense of injustice at mudgate seemed to send them flying out of the traps in the second half and they nearly went back infront when Brian Barry-Murphy's shot was brilliantly tipped over the bar by Schmeichel from long range. The next time they had a pot shot the Notts 'keeper had no chance, however. Former Mansfield man and Bury captain Steven Dawson picked up the ball, wasn't closed down and lashed the ball into the top corner from 25 yards for his first goal at Gigg Lane, a strike that was well worth waiting for.
As every goal in this match seemed to, it provoked a response from Notts. Jamie Clapham, who had tidily pinged the ball around midfield all afternoon, drove a low shot from the edge of the area which had the pace taken out of it by the muddy pitch, allowing Brown to dive onto it. Notts raced forward again and Rodgers terrorised the Bury left back again, this time firing the ball right across the six yard box where neither Hughes or Ritchie could get a touch. Hughes recycled the ball though and pulled it back for Ritchie, who could only stab it over the bar from six yards out. Notts made the first change of the game, throwing Craig Westcarr on for Ricky Ravenhill and going even more attacking. It nearly worked straight away as the ball broke to Ritchie on the left but he rushed his shot, dragging it wide of the far post.
Westcarr injected more urgency into Notts' play though and they levelled soon after his introduction. His tricky run saw the ball break to Hughes, who lifted a delightful cross to the far post where Dave Buchanan helpfully chested it into the path of Ritchie, who finally got his goal by toepoking the ball into the far post, cue more celebrations behind the goal. For the first time the Magpies were really looking like taking the match by the scruff of the neck and where denied a fourth by the brilliance of Wayne Brown. Moloney played in Hughes, who did everything right, lifting the ball over Brown and goalwards. Somehow the former Hereford man managed to claw the ball back from the goal though to deny Hughes yet another hat-trick.
After this the game finally seemed to fizzle out and the final ten minutes weren't as exciting, Danny Racchi nearly won it for Bury as his deflected shot looped inches wide of Schmeichel's top corner, whilst Clapham had the final effort, blasting just wide from 30 yards. A 3-3 draw was almost an anti-climax after a pulsating match, but both sides deserved a point after a superb football match. The ovations that both sides gave to their players were testament to the entertainment on offer at Gigg Lane. The police decided to lock us behind for ten minutes after the game, with the notorious Bury aggro baying for blood outside, but we did get out of Lancashire alive and back home after a superb day's action.
Notts Co - Schmeichel, Moloney (Thompson), Lee, Edwards, Hunt, Bishop, Ravenhill (Westcarr), Clapham, Ritchie, Hughes, Rodgers (Akinbiyi)
Bury 3 (Nardiello '9, Morrel '19, Dawson '50)
Notts Co 3 (Hughes '26, '38, Ritchie '77)
Attendance - 3,602 (632 Notts)