The points were shared at Meadow Lane as The Imps came from behind to take a point from their hosts, Notts County.
It was a competitive clash with goals at either end of a fiery first half settling the result. County got off to a quickfire start, Jon Stead firing home from the spot, before a moment of magic from Bruno Andrade levelled things up on the stroke of half time. City remain two points clear at the summit of SkyBet League Two ahead of two consecutive home games against Northampton Town and Stevenage.
City made three changes to the starting line up from that which kicked off the thrilling 3-3 draw at Bury last weekend, Cian Bolger missed out, while Tom Pett and Harry Anderson took up places on the bench. Michael O’Connor returned against his former side and Bruno Andrade was back following his recent suspension.
The game started at breakneck speed and couldn’t have been much worse for The Imps, the home side won a penalty following a collision in the box, between Harry Toffolo and Jon Stead, and it was Stead who got to his feet to take the spot kick and the Magpies had the early lead. Naturally boosted by the goal, the home side were keen to pour forward at the earliest opportunity to test Grant Smith but they couldn’t find their way past the custodian of the Imps’ goal for a second time as he dived to his right to save Enzio Boldewijn’s low drive.
City gradually regained composure as the atmosphere continued to be electric with over 4,000 travelling fans doing their all to urge The Imps forward, challenges started to thunder in from both sides giving the game a true derby feel. The home supporters quietened as City had more of the ball, even though chances had yet to go the way of The Imps who continued to probe, playing the ball from left to right keeping possession and being patient looking for the chance to strike.
The game became stretched as play went from end to end rapidly, firstly Bruno Andrade’s left wing cross was just cut out and lashed clear which left Craig Mackail-Smith haring after the ball but the footrace was won by O’Connor who got back to block the danger. The Imps then won a corner following a neat link between Neal Eardley and Danny Rowe down the right, and it gave the visitors the chance to level, the ball bounced inside the County area causing panic but somehow the home side managed to just get to the ball first and hack clear.
County rallied, gradually pressing forward and moving higher up the pitch but there was no real threat to Smith’s goal, the City stopper only called upon to claim a left-wing corner confidently.
Patience and persistence was the name of the game for the visitors and just ahead of half time City were close to that leveller, first Neal Eardley’s dangerous curling centre was just deflected away from Frecklington and the resulting corner saw Ryan Schofield save from Shackell’s goalbound header. County then survived another late scare following a second corner in quick succession, a deep ball into the box was first fumbled by Schofield but the follow up couldn’t be forced home by City as County were awarded a free kick.
However the best moment of the half was to come in the dying moments of stoppage time, Andrade who had been growing more influential as each minute passed, took the ball from Toffolo on the left, he cut inside, racing beyond three County players before smashing home an unstoppable effort into the bottom corner to send the visiting fans into delirium.
Notts County 1 The Imps 1
County looked to get back on top early into the second half, a looping header from Stead who connected with Alessandra’s free kick was watched onto the top of the crossbar by Smith who didn’t seem too concerned.
City then went close as Akinde squared the ball back across the face of goal, it seemed to be rolling towards the goal but Mitch Rose cleared at the last, then Anderson made a quick break following a Notts corner, he carried possession for almost half the length of the field before firing a just which kept rising and went over the top.
The Imps were now pressing harder than ever, looking hungry for the lead and Akinde was in the thick of the action, winning a fifth City corner of the game at this point. The corner was half cleared, O’Connor tried a thunderous effort which was blocked, the ball ran to Toffolo who tried his luck but it rose over the top. County were penned into their own half as The Imps closed down quickly, and when in possession they were confident and assured with their passing and it seemed like a matter of time before the third goal of the game was incoming.
City were winning corners with an alarming frequency from a County point of view, but to their credit they were defending them stoutly but James Wilson tried to take things into his own hands as he hit one with the outside of is foot that just curled away from goal and out for a County goal kick. Whilst the game was level, there was of course always the threat that County could nick one up the other end of the field and Stead was disappointed to see his header from a Boldewijn hanging cross just drift wide of the far post.
Virgil Gomis, on as substitute for the hosts, was close to finding space inside the City area but Toffolo was on hand to deny the Nottingham Forest loanee before the ball was again back in County territory as The Imps carried the ball upfront again with boss, Danny Cowley, urging the travelling army of fans to ramp up the atmosphere and provide the perfect backdrop for a grandstand finish to the game.
However, the home side almost had their supporters off their seats as a swift break down the right from Boldewijn and Mitch Rose was close to creating the winner, the pair combining with Boldewijn latching onto the low cross but his effort cannoned off the foot of the post. But The Imps responded quickly as Andrade stepped over the ball, tricking his way into the box before being brought down and the referee pointed to the spot. Akinde however, saw his spot kick roll agonisingly wide of the goal.
It was to be a shot in the arm for the hosts who looked to snatch an unlikely winner of their own, but the game was to end with the spoils shared.
Notts County 1 The Imps 1
27 Ryan SCHOFIELD
6 Ben BARCLAY
7 Lewis ALESSANDRA
11 Enzio BOLDEWIJN
18 Sam STUBBS
21 Jim O’BRIEN
24 Robert MILSOM
26 Mitch ROSE
28 Craig MACKAIL-SMITH
30 Jon STEAD
43 Michael DOYLE
1 Ross FITZSIMMONS
2 Matt TOOTLE
3 Pierce BIRD
4 Elliott HEWITT
8 David VAUGHAN
10 Virgil GOMIS (64’ for Mackail-Smith)
15 Kane HEMMINGS (64’ for Alessandra)
Booked: Boldewijn 19’, Stubbs 71’ Doyle 85’
Goal: Stead 2’ (pen)
21 Grant SMITH
4 Michael O’CONNOR
5 Jason SHACKELL
8 Lee FRECKLINGTON
11 Bruno ANDRADE
14 Harry TOFFOLO
16 Michael BOSTWICK
17 Shay McCARTAN
19 Danny ROWE
23 Neal EARDLEY
29 John AKINDE
1 Josh VICKERS
6 Mark O’HARA
7 Tom PETT
9 Matt RHEAD
10 Lee ANGOL (90’ for Rowe)
15 James WILSON (50’ for Bostwick)
26 Harry ANDERSON (46’ for McCartan)
Goal: Andrade 45’
Referee: Anthony Coggins
Assistants: Graeme Fyvie & Simon Shaw
4th Official: Paul Graham
Attendance: 10,641 (4,285 Imps’ supporters)