Notts fight for priceless victory

After the brave performance in defeat at Manchester City in the FA Cup last week it was back to league action on Friday night for Notts, as Paul Ince's side entertained play-off chasing Charlton Athletic at Meadow Lane. Chris Powell's side travelled north on the back of two consecutive defeats, leaving them in 7th place and just outside of the play-offs, albeit with the games in hand to get back inside the top six. For Notts, a win would see them stretch the gap between the Magpies and the bottom four to eight points, with Notts still possessing a number of games in hand on their rivals.

Notts were forced into a defensive reshuffle, with Stephen Darby ruled out after picking up a knock at Eastlands and Jon Harley withdrawing late on with an illness. This saw Carl Regan slot in at left back for his debut and John Thompson return at right back. Kevin McDonald returned in midfield after being ineligible for the cup tie, with Lee Hughes rested allowing for a front three of Westcarr, Gow and Hawley. For the visitors, former Magpie Johnnie Jackson lined up in midfield whilst Bradley Wright-Phillips and Nathan Eccleston provide one of the division's most potent goal threats.

It was Notts who threatened first, with a neat move on the left flank seeing Regan fizz a ball across the six yard box, which Westcarr came within inches of converting. The Addicks responded and Jackson lashed a long range free kick high into the stands. Notts were doing most of the pressing early on however on a horrendous pitch at Meadow Lane, with Westcarr fashioning the first real chance of the game for himself. He smartly turned inside experienced centre back Christian Dailly and bent a shot from the edge of the area which Rob Elliot had to be alert to tip wide. After an impressive performance at Eastlands Notts goalkeeper Stuart Nelson appeared shaky in the opening stages and may have found himself lucky to remain on the pitch when he pole-axed Joe Anyinsah as the Charlton forward raced clear. He then spilled a dangerous cross at the feet of Wright-Phillips, who couldn't quite force the ball over the line.

Notts were able to fight back however and Alan Gow forced Elliot into a smart save with a bending left footed effort from long range. Gow had two further long range efforts towards the end of the half but it was Charlton who created the best chance of the game so far on the stroke of half time. Some neat play on the half way line released Liverpool loanee Eccleston, who raced clear but found himself thwarted by a superb Stuart Nelson save. The sides went in level at the break after an evenly matched half, in part down to the pitch spoiling most attempts at passing football from both teams. There was delight within the first two minutes of the restart though as Notts made a fortunate breakthrough befitting of a scrappy game. Gow whipped in a free kick from a wide position and Neal Bishop managed to force it goalwards with his backside, the ball then flicking off former Notts trainee Simon Francis and into the bottom corner.

Charlton responded and Scott Wagstaff, who had replaced the injured Jackson at half time, forced a smart save out of Nelson with a volley from inside the box. Dailly then fired over from a corner and Hawley nearly pounced on a shocking Carl Jenkinson backpass, before the Addicks' golden chance came. Anyinsah burst into the box and cut inside before being tripped by an inexplicable Mike Edwards challenge, the referee being left with little choice but to point to the spot. With regular penalty taker Jackson off the pitch the responsibility fell to the division's leading scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips, but his penalty was weak and easily saved by Nelson diving low to his right. This seemed to give Notts more momentum and Gow tested Elliot with a free kick before Hughes was introduced in place of Hawley. Charlton pressed in the closing stages but were unable to fashion any clear cut opportunities, with Therry Racon and Jenkinson guilty of blazing high over the bar. Westcarr almost sealed the win in injury time with a rasping 25 yard volley, but Notts will be content with a 1-0 victory that takes them towards the realms of mid-table obscurity.