Notts County's impressive recent form continued on Bank Holiday Monday as a tight clash against the division's other form team, Hartlepool United, ended in a 3-0 win for Paul Ince's side thanks to a counter attacking master class. The Magpies were without Lee Hughes once again, although he was fit enough to take a place on the bench, so continued with the eleven that had won by the same scoreline at Walsall forty eight hours earlier. For the visitors, who hadn't conceded a first half away goal since April, star man James Brown was rested with Richie Humphreys deployed as a lone striker in a 4-5-1 formation. Dominant centre back Sam Collins also missed out after picking up an injury on New Year's Day.
The game started at a frenetic pace and both sides came close to taking an early lead. Firstly Thomas Ince, in the final game of his loan spell from Liverpool, teased the visiting defence before firing a powerful shot narrowly over the bar. Ben Davies' inswinging free kick also caused problems for United, with Mike Edwards inches away from diverting it past Jake Kean. Hartlepool also threatened though and should've led when a long throw in fell to Anthony Sweeney five yards out, but his header lacked power and was well saved on his line by Rob Burch. He also had to be at his acrobatic best to deny a powerful Leon McSweeney strike. This was to be Burch's last contribution though as he pulled up with an injury and was replaced by Stuart Nelson after just thirteen minutes.
Nelson was nearly called into action immediately, but Sweeney's dipping shot landed on the roof of the net, whilst Craig Westcarr's bending effort had Kean beaten but flew wide of the far post. As the game meandered towards half time it was Notts who finally made the break through though, thanks to Westcarr's endeavour and industry. The ball seemed to be going out of play but Westcarr was able to keep it in and outmuscled Neil Austin before bursting clear to tee up Ince, who took a deft touch before slamming the ball past Kean to notch his second goal for the club. It was the perfect way to finish the half for Notts, who were looking to make it six games unbeaten under Paul Ince.
The second half began at a slower pace, with Hartlepool beginning to dominate possession. Nelson had to be alert to save McSweeney's vicious free kick whilst Westcarr's dipping cross nearly caught out Kean at his far post. The decisive moment was to come soon after though as McSweeney raced onto Evan Horwood's long ball, cut inside Jon Harley and had a sight of goal but could only drag his left footed shot harmlessly over the bar. This let off seemed to reinvigorate Notts, who broke quickly with Miller picking up the ball in midfield and calmly spreading the play to Ince, who moved it wide to Davies. His pin point cross found the head of Miller, who calmly bagged his second goal in two games to complete a sweeping team move. This gave Notts the confidence to dominate the final exchanges, with Jon Harley firing narrowly wide from forty yards before the killer third goal came. A deft flick from Miller found Neal Bishop bursting forward and he had the composure to square it to Westcarr, who took a touch before lashing the ball into the top corner from the edge of the area. Ince continued to torment the Hartlepool defence with his seemingly magnetic boots, but Notts were unable to add a fourth. They will, however, be delighted with an emphatic victory against the division's form side. An FA Cup trip to Premier League high flyers Sunderland now awaits Ince and his side.
Notts Co - Burch (Nelson), Darby, Edwards, Pearce, Harley, Judge, Bishop, Davies, Ince, Westcarr, Miller
Notts County 3 (Ince '44, Miller '70, Westcarr '79)
Hartlepool United 0
Attendance - 6,285 (405)