It was a classic ‘game of two halves’ at Meadow Lane this afternoon, as Notts County made the most of a superb first-half performance to finish as 4-2 winners against Bradford City. Notts manager Luke Williams made three changes to the starting line-up from last week’s game at Crewe, replacing Macari, Austin and the suspended Jones (also away on international duty) with Brindley, Randall and the fit-again Bostock. After a six-game absence, Notts fans were keen in particular to see whether Bostock would have a positive impact on a team that had slipped to their first-ever back-to-back League defeats under Luke Williams.
Bradford came into the game under their new manager Graham Alexander, who last week saw his new team lose his first game, at home to Barrow.
Notts got off to the perfect start when, after just four minutes, Dan Crowley found space down the left and slipped the ball in to Aaron Nemane, who crossed low into the middle for David McGoldrick to score. Macauley Langstaff came close to adding a second goal, when he shot just wide of Bradford keeper Harry Lewis’s left-hand post after Nemane had capitalised on a mistake by Bradford defender Lewis Richards, and Notts were controlling the game.
The first time that Bradford threatened was after 14 mins, when Bradford’s talisman scorer Andy Cook headed wide. Cook was in the action again after 21 minutes, first swivelling and then shooting across the goal towards the far post.
Notts were enjoying by far the greater possession, and on 27 minutes Harry Lewis needed to pull off a reaction save to deny Langstaff. However, Bradford then started to come into the game, and Cook ought to have done better with a header from 6 yards out.
But on 36 minutes the game took a critical turn. Slocombe, looking solid in goal, set up a Notts counter-attack. Crowley played a perfectly weighted ball to McGoldrick. McGoldrick’s shot was parried by Lewis, but the ball came out to Bostock, whose shot went goal-wards, hitting Langstaff’s thigh on the way in. There was no doubt about Langstaff’s right to claim the next goal as his – after 42 minutes, the Notts sharpshooter scored a superb goal after an excellent pass from Crowley. It was his second goal of the game, and his 14th of the season. And it put Notts 3-0 up.
Bradford, to their credit, didn’t lose heart, and Cook – always in the thick of things for Bradford – produced a good save from Slocombe with Notts caught out at the back.
But then, in first-half injury time, Notts added a fourth goal. Crowley, who had had a hand in all of Notts’s goals, scored an exquisite goal, showing great composure to put the ball into the top right-hand corner of Lewis’s goal. It meant that Notts went in to the break 4-0 up.
But Bradford made two changes for the second-half, Platt and Kelly coming on to replace Taylor and Pointon, and manager Graham Alexander changed his side’s shape. Notts looked unsure of themselves, and it wasn’t a surprise when Bradford got a goal back after 57 minutes, a long-range shot from Alex Gilliead threading its way through a number of players to go into the net. 4-1.
It was yet another occasion on which Notts were failing to carry their first-half superiority into the second-half, and Luke Williams made a triple substitution in order to try to head off the threat that Bradford were now posing. Rawlinson, Austin and Adebayo all came on, replacing Bostock, Cameron and Randall. The changes seemed to work, as Notts started to assume an element of control of the game again, with McGoldrick twice coming close.
Still Bradford threatened though, and they scored again, when, on 75 minutes, Jamie Walker drove a powerful shot across Slocombe’s goal. That made it 4-2, and with 15 minutes to go a Bradford comeback didn’t look impossible. It was to be another tense end to a Notts game.
As Notts fans’ nerves frayed, Cook had a marvellous chance at the back post to reduce Bradford’s deficit to just one goal and set up a frantic finale, but he headed over. As the game swung back and forth, Langstaff had a chance to complete his hat-trick, but his effort went wide of the near post. Notts enjoyed their best spell of the second-half in the dying minutes of the game and in the end ran out as comfortable winners.
It was a game in which Notts can take pleasure from a much-needed win and an excellent first-half performance, but the rather wobbly second-half performance will give manager Luke Williams some cause for concern.
Starting XI: Slocombe - Cameron (Rawlinson 61'), Baldwin, Brindley; Randall (Adebayo 61'), Nemane - Bostock (Austin 61'), O'Brien (Gosling 74') - Crowley, McGoldrick (Morias 81'); Langstaff
Subs Not Used: Stone, Macari