Notts County finally lost their unbeaten home record, and unbeaten run, on Saturday afternoon, after going down 2-1 to Bristol Rovers. A Junior Mendes goal had equalised for the Magpies after Richard Walker fired the visitors in front, but Lewis Haldane sealed the points for the Pirates just seconds after Mendes' strike. Nearly 6,000 witnessed the game at Meadow Lane, one of few positives to come out of a day that saw Notts drop to 6th in the table, and lose ground on those above them.
Steve Thompson rung the changes after a disappointing start at Field Mill last weekend, as Junior Mendes, Lawrie Dudfield, Gary Silk and Matt Somner fell out of the starting line-up. Jason Lee returned from a one-match ban to lead the line alongside Tcham N'Toya, who made his first league start for the Magpies. Dan Gleeson returned from an illness last week-end at right-back, whilst Stephen Hunt slotted into central defence alongside Alan White, allowing Mike Edwards to partner Ian Ross in midfield. Rovers started the game without £225,000 man Rickie Lambert, missing through injury, as well as Steve Phillips, Ryan Green and James Hunt, who were all forced to watch from the sidelines. Another absentee for the hosts was manager Steve Thompson, starting his two-match touchline ban, so John Gannon was the man charged with leading from the dugout.
It was Notts who got the game underway, in front of 5,797 at Meadow Lane, including 439 from Bristol. The hosts started the brighter of the two sides, and carved out the first-chance within five minutes. A quickly-taken free-kick was played to Ian Ross, who's inviting ball-in was headed narrowly over by Stephen Hunt. Rovers did, however, start to get their foot on the ball, and created their first opportunity soon after, the dangerous Rovers midfield carving open the Notts defence with an excellent through-ball, but on-loan Charlton Athletic striker James Walker could only wildly slice the ball into the Family Stand, not troubling Kevin Pilkington in the slightest. Notts had an excellent opening soon-after, a deep corner from Ian Ross fell invitingly for Stephen Hunt, but his tame header bobbled out of play for a goal-kick, when he really should have done better.
However, Rovers soon showed how dangerous they could be once again, and had the ball in the Notts net on 12 minutes. A delicious cross was played in following a free-kick, and Richard Walker planted a firm header beyond Kevin Pilkington, but as the players and travelling support celebrated, Notts were saved by a correct offside decision from the linesman. This served as a warning to Notts, especially with regards to Walker's aerial threat. Five minutes later, Rovers again created a good chance. A free-kick given in an excellent position for The Pirates saw Notts fail to pick up the dangerous Sammy Igoe, and when the ball was laid off, his low drive could only be tipped round the post by Pilkington.
Andy Parkinson had the final chance of the first-half, the winger, who once again flattered to deceive, curled a shot just wide from the edge of the area. The ref blew up with both sets of fans reasonably happy with what they'd seen, as Notts looked to preserve their unbeaten start at Meadow Lane, and Rovers striving to pick up maximum points on the road for the first time this term.
The second half began as the first had ended, with Notts having a good chance to open the scoring. Mike Edwards hooked the ball back into the box following a cleared free-kick, but Alan White could only guide his header straight at Shearer, under pressure from Elliott. However, Notts fell behind with 9 minutes of the second period gone, as dangerman Richard Walker fired the visitors ahead. Notts will feel slightly annoyed at the harsh free-kick awarded against Mike Edwards just before the goal, but only have themselves to blame for not picking up Walker. A long-ball forward was won by Rovers, and fell for Walker, unmarked, who lashed the ball past Pilkington, who didn't stand a chance due to the power generated by the prolific striker.
Alan White continued to look a serious threat from set-pieces, as Ross' teasing corner was headed wide by the Notts captain, when he really should've scored, or at least hit the target, however, this livened up the Notts faithful, who tried to help the team find a way back into the game. Notts then made a change in options upfront, N'Toya, who had a quiet game in his first league start for the club was taken off for Junior Mendes, who had an immediate impact. His pace livened things up, and he soon forced a smart save out of Scott Shearer after bamboozling the Rovers defence with some clever footwork. Austin McCann then came very close to his first Magpies goal. He showed some excellent skill to turn his marker, before cutting back inside another Rovers player and firing a stinging shot inches wide of Shearer's goal. It would have been a fabulous way for the Scotsman to open his Notts account.
However, Notts didn't' have to wait too long to find themselves on level terms, and once again it was Mendes' trickery that got the goal. He ran at the Rovers defence, causing havoc, before some neat footwork saw him open up some space and fire a rasping shot inside Shearer's near post. The former Coventry City goalkeeper will be disappointed to have conceded at his near post, but take nothing away from Mendes, as it was a fine piece of skill to create the chance, and he took it well. This sparked wild celebrations amongst the Notts fans, and players, but these were short-lived as Notts were delivered a hammerblow within one minute of the restart.
Substitute Lewis Haldane received the ball out wide, before beating Gleeson and firing a low shot across Kevin Pilkington and into the bottom corner, this was a real devastating blow for the Magpies, who had appeared to be in a good position to look to win the game having equalised just seconds earlier. They now had to chase it once again. Haldane, now brimming with confidence, took on Gleeson again, and got the better of him for the second time, but the young strikers' attempt was this time too close for Pilkington for it to cause him any bother. Notts were getting desperate, and it showed with the two substitutions made by the Notts management. Dan Martin and Lawrie Dudfield were brought on, to replace Gleeson, and somewhat questionably, Ross.
The visitors now seemed content to sit on their lead, but almost scored a third as the clock ticked on. A corner was cleared as far as Disley, who did well to fire a shot back in that went just wide of Pilkington's post. Notts continued to push the visitors, but they were holding firm, and had numbers back to defend. Jason Lee was presented with a fine opportunity, as Lee controlled a miscued Mendes shot, but his spin and shot had little power and the ball bobbled into Shearer's arms. Rovers seemed content to frustrate the Magpies, and the obvious play-acting that was on show from the Rovers defence riled the Notts faithful, particularly when no less than four Rovers players went down clutching their heads following an innocuous ball into the Pirates' box.
Tempers began to fray as the clock continued to tick down. Aaron Lescott went down under a nothing challenge, and required a bit of treatment before being lead off infront of an angry Notts crowd, where objects appeared to be thrown at the Rovers defender. Lescott was soon booked for entering the field of player without the referee's consent, and kicking the ball. Jason Lee had the final Magpies chance, as a deep cross was completely missed by the big striker, which almost summed up the Magpies infront of goal. Five minutes of injury time came and went, and the referee blew for full-time to condemn the hosts to their first defeat at Meadow Lane since February.
Notts have a week to mull over their loss before the next League Two outing, a tricky trip to Blundell Park to face Grimsby Town, where a far better performance will be needed if Notts are to bring the points back to Meadow Lane. Notts have to put this behind them, and look forward, with a Johnstone's Paint Trophy tie with Barnet also coming up on Tuesday evening.