Kevin Nolan was forced to make one change from the team that sprung an Emirates FA Cup surprise at Brentford last weekend. Ryan Yates, recalled from his loan spell by Nottingham Forest earlier in the week, was replaced by new loan signing Matty Virtue, the Liverpool midfielder making his senior debut.
Within seconds of the start, Notts had an opening when Stead capitalised on a poor pass to run towards the edge of the area with the ball. He had an opportunity to shoot early but opted to continue his run and the danger was smothered. Grant sent the ball over with a header and, minutes later, with a speculative long-range effort as the Magpies kept up their bright start at a sold-out Sincil Bank. It was proving to be a physical affair and imposing striker Matt Rhead had his name taken on the half-hour after leading with his arm in an aerial battle with Elliott Hewitt. But it was a Notts forward who next took the spotlight – and for all the right reasons – as Stead nodded the Magpies ahead. The ball came to him after Virtue persevered on the byline to work it to Lewis Alessandra, who stood it up beautifully at the back post. Imps boss Danny Cowley was sent to the stands after remonstrating with officials as Notts celebrated. But the manager barely made it to his seat before his side struck the leveller, new signing Lee Frecklington firing the ball home after it had dropped to him in space inside the Notts box. It looked like the scores would be locked at 1-1 heading into the interval but, inside two minutes’ added time, Stead had a glorious chance to bag his second of the day. It came courtesy of a cleverly-worked free-kick, Grant deftly stroking the ball into the area for Stead to peel on to, Lincoln keeper Paul Farman made an excellent save with his legs to deny the forward from eight yards.
Rhead had a golden opportunity of his own early in the second half, spinning in the area and flashing the ball just wide. Jordan Williams – another new signing for the Imps – was next in the book when he was retrospectivey punished for a foul on Alessandra minutes before Ross Fitzsimons was well positioned to hold Matt Green’s overhead kick at a corner. Virtue’s debut came to an end on 59 minutes when he made way for Liam Noble and, shortly afterwards, Hawkridge was booked for a foul on Williams. It was an edgy second half but the tension could – and probably should – have been broken by Green when he broke Notts’ offside trap to head the ball goalwards from six yards. Fitzsimons held on to his weak effort, however. Hewitt and Brisley both required treatment in the aftermath but, despite being deemed fit to continue, were helpless to prevent City taking the lead via the man who had just spurned a brilliant chance. Green raced on to a ball in the area and rolled the ball through the legs of the sprawling Fitzsimons, who was trying to narrow the angle of the forward’s shot. Alessandra went into the book for a cynical foul and both Danny Rowe and Green blazed efforts over as Notts struggled to compose themselves after going behind. Nolan’s second change saw Shola Ameobi replace Hawkridge. Moments later, the substitute was celebrating with his team-mates when Grant composed himself in the area before crashing a shot off the underside of the bar and into the net. Grant was centre of attention again straight after the restart when, after appearing to be tripped as he led a Notts counter attack, he shoved his counterpart to the ground. The referee deemed a booking sufficient punishment for the Notts man. Tensions were running high as the game neared its end Lincoln sub Ollie Palmer was the next man in the book for a heavy challenge on Hewitt. With minutes to play, Jones and Duffy both had to make heroic clearances from within their own six-yard box. Brisley, who had been struggling with a knock for a large period of the half, made way for Alan Smith, Hewitt slotting in at centre back, shortly before six added minutes were indicated by the fourth official and the Magpies stood firm to claim a valuable draw.
Lincoln City: Farman, Eardley, Waterfall, Bostwick, Habergham, Rowe (Arnold 72), Frecklington, Woodyard, Williams (Whitehouse 84), Rhead (Palmer 79), Green.
Booked: Waterfall, Williams, Rhead.
Notts County: Fitzsomons, Tootle, Brisley (Smith 90), Duffy, Jones, Hawkridge (Ameobi 75), Hewitt, Virtue (Noble 59), Grant, Stead, Alessandra.
Booked: Fitzsimons, Hawkridge, Grant, Alessandra.