Nott-So Bad At All, As Hatters Get Off The Mark!
The Hatters’ inaugural away match of the campaign, and first trip to Meadow Lane in just under a dozen years, saw them open their National League account with a well-deserved point.
Elliot Osborne’s equaliser 20 minutes from time also avoided a scenario of ‘two for sorrow’ against the ‘Magpies’ of Notts County, following the opening-day home loss at the hands of identically-nicknamed Maidenhead United.
The Hatters took to the field, showing one change from the starting line-up at Edgeley Park for their curtain-raiser the previous weekend. Osborne replaced Connor Dimaio ‘in the hole’ behind striker Frank Mulhern – meaning that County’s first 11 squad numbers were on show at the outset. A positional swap took place in defence, too, with full-backs Sam Minihan and Dan Cowan moving to the left and right berths respectively.
A quiet opening to the contest produced little of note over the first 10 minutes – whereupon each side caught a first sight of goal in quick succession, only for shots from Mulhern and, subsequently, from Enzio Boldewijn to be comfortably saved.
Home goalkeeper Sam Slocombe would then be thrice tested a little more – and on each occasion by Osborne, who saw a low drive from distance smothered, before being denied by Slocombe’s leg when through on goal, and, around the half-hour mark, delivering a free-kick from the left that was punched away.
By that time, the hosts had lost the services of much-travelled, veteran striker Nathan Tyson to injury – although, with 11 minutes of the half remaining, they produced a dangerous move that led to Kane Hemmings hooking over from close range, following Dion Kelly-Evans’ cross on the right.
And two minutes later they took the lead, after a long throw from captain Mitch Rose was headed out of defence by his opposite-number skipper Paul Turnbull – but only as far as Jim O’Brien, who half-volleyed home from 20 yards.
The goal-scoring midfielder threatened County’s goal from distance again before the half was at its end, albeit with a shot that, four minutes ahead of the break, narrowly cleared the crossbar.
HALF-TIME: Notts Co. 1 (O’Brien, 36), County 0.
The Hatters created the second half’s first opportunity within a minute of the resumption, when Turnbull fired just over from the edge of the box. And 10 minutes later they introduced Nyal Bell and Ben Jackson with a view to refreshing their attack.
County’s players – and typically vocal supporters – proceeded to look and sound rather livelier than their counterparts, as Turnbull drilled a shot from the left across the home goalmouth that fizzed agonisingly shy of the far post.
The hosts responded with a brief spell of pressure that first saw Hemmings produce a shot on the turn that Ben Hinchliffe, at full stretch, tipped around the right post, and, shortly afterwards, substitute Declan Dunn’s volley from the edge of the box flew past the same upright.
But with 20 minutes remaining, the Hatters equalised, after Bell’s through-ball found Osborne – who finally got the better of Slocombe, courtesy of a shot under the advancing ‘keeper.
County’s second-half dominance continued, as Minihan went close with a dipping shot from 15 yards that Slocombe did well to tip over, and, during added time, Mulhern slotted the ball into the net – but only after a flag had been raised against him for accidental handball.
FULL-TIME: Notts Co. 1 (O’Brien, 36), County 1 (Osborne, 70).
Team (4-2-3-1): Hinchliffe; Cowan, Palmer, Keane, Minihan; Turnbull (Capt.), Walker; Thomas (Jackson, 56), Osborne, Kirby (Bell, 56); Mulhern.
Unused Subs: Ormson, Curran, Dimaio.
Attendance: 5,820 (913 representing The Twelfth Man).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.