It's six years since we last made the third round of the FA Cup - a gutsy 2-1 defeat at home to then-Premiership side Middlesbrough. However, we've made it again after a gutsy 2-1 win at League Two leaders Bournemouth, securing a glamour tie against the Conference side Forest Green Rovers. Probably the highest placed side in football that no-one is really sure where it is. Or if it even exists. It's not really the reward Notts' players and fans deserved after a fine performance on the South Coast yesterday, but it is the best chance Notts have had to reach the last 32 of the competition since, well, last season when Kettering Town and Eastwood Town stood in the way of a tie against Fulham.
After a 2-1 defeat at Rochdale in midweek Hans Backe opted to make a handful of changes to his starting line-up, though he stuck with the 4-2-3-1 formation that has seen little success recently. Lee Hughes returned as the lone striker, with Ricky Ravenhill coming in for Luke Rodgers and John Thompson in for Brendan Moloney, who isn't being allowed to play in cup matches by his parent club. For the hosts, young 'keeper Dan Thomas was thrown in at the deep end (quite literally - and without armbands) after regular stopper Shwan Jalal picked up an injury. Leading scorer Brett Pitman led the line with Alan Connell.
The match didn't exactly explode into life with both sides trying not to give too much away against similarly placed opposition in the footballing pyramid. Bournemouth had the first shot in anger when Liam Feeney's cross was only half cleared and Sammy Igoe fired a speculative volley that flew wide of Schmeichel's far post. Igoe seemed the only player on the pitch happy to have a pop at goal from long range and on his next try he did force the Dane into a stop, with Schmeichel beating away a shot that was curling wickedly in the wind. Notts' first real effort was, predictably, by Lee Hughes. A long ball forward was defended horribly by Jason Pearce and Hughes stole in to find space to fire over the bar from 25 yards.
The game continued with neither side creating any openings, but with the visitors' extra man in midfield beginning to show in the possession stats. However, it was the Cherries who struck first with a fine break forward. Warren Cummings launched the ball towards the front two and Connell managed to flick it forward, releasing Pitman who had found space away from Graeme Lee and John Thompson, who appeared to be both asleep and glued to the grass. Pitman's finish was still quality though, despite the lack of a challenge, as he measured a left footed volley which clipped the far post and nestled in the net. This seemed to alert Notts to the fact that some attacking intentions might be necessary and they had a good chance to level before the break. Some neat interplay saw Ben Davies release Craig Westcarr, who's low drive from just inside the box was well saved by the rookie 'keeper. This was the last act of a cagy and quiet first half at Dean Court, with one moment of brilliance by Pitman or madness by the Notts defence, whichever way you want to look at it, being all that could separate the teams.
Hans Backe felt this meant it was time for a change of shape and personnel as Matt Ritchie was thrown on to replace Ricky Ravenhill, allowing Craig Westcarr to partner Hughes upfront. This seemed to reinigorate Notts and they wasted no time in pulling level after the restart. Ben Davies' inswinging corner appeared to be heading directly in but was headed off the line by Anton Robinson, but Notts did well to work the ball back out wide to Matt Ritchie, who's teasing cross was volleyed goalwards by Hughes. Youngster Thomas will be disappointed to have let it squirm underneath him, but in truth Hughes took the shot in the blink of an eye and on such a difficult surface it would be hard to blame the young goalkeeper.
Bournemouth responded to this as the dangerous Pitman fired a free kick at goal from 30 yards, which was beaten away by Kasper Schmeichel as it bounced just infront of him. It was to turn out to be a vital save as Notts broke to take the lead. A quick ball forward by Schmeichel was totally miskicked by Marvin Bartley, allowing Ritchie to measure a through ball to Westcarr who took it forward and slid the ball past Thomas, who did manage to get a hand on the effort but couldn't prevent it bobbling into the net. This sparked delirious celebrations amongst the travelling fans and the players, whilst the conditions at Dean Court continued to worsen.
This was demonstrated by the Bournemouth kick off, with the ball barely moving in the puddles that were appearing on the pitch. With the news that Plymouth Argyle vs. Barnsley had been abandoned there was talk this could go the same way and in truth, had the pitch been in such a condition at kick off, the match would never gone ahead. The referee persevered however which set up a thrilling final half an hour in conditions even worse than those at Gigg Lane two weeks ago. As Notts splashed into tackles Bournemouth struggled to get a hold of the ball and the Magpies looked most likely to go on and add a third goal - with Matt Ritchie nearly doing so as he fired a 25-yard effort narrowly wide.
Ben Davies also came close to sealing the win and will feel he should've done as some kamikaze defending in the lake that was becoming Bournemouth's penalty box saw the ball break for Davies six yards out, but he dragged his shot wide of the post when he should've found the net. The home fans were then on their feet as Alan Connell had the ball in the Notts net, but nobody in the ground, or even Bournemouth itself, had missed the striker's 'hand of god' moment in punching it goalwards. He even had the gall to look surprised as the referee dished out a booking. The game ticked down to a tense conclusion as Schmeichel saved well from a low Pitman shot and substitute Steve Fletcher provided a physical presence for the hosts, but Notts held on for a well deserved and hard fought victory at Dean Court. This will give them confidence for a run of games in December which includes another trip to Bournemouth, where Notts will hope for a similarly poor performance from their hosts. Oh, and there's always that third round tie to look forward to...
Notts Co - Schmeichel, Thompson, Edwards, Lee, Clapham, Bishop, Ravenhill (Ritchie), Jackson, Davies, Westcarr, Hughes
AFC Bournemouth 1 (Pitman '38)
Notts County 2 (Hughes '49, Westcarr '58)