The suspended Elliott Hewitt made way for Rob Milsom in a like-for-like central-midfield switch, while Shola Ameobi returned from injury to take the bench-bound Lewis Alessandra’s place up front.
Notts started the match strongly, Shaun Brisley seeing an effort saved by Scott Flinders before Jon Stead and Grant had efforts blocked. Stead sent an acrobatic effort wide from eight yards following a well-worked corner before Matt Tootle got in on the act, curling the ball goalwards from range but failing to properly test Flinders. Notts eventually – and deservedly – broke the deadlock on 30 minutes when Stead laid the ball off for Grant in the area. The midfielder opened up his body to curl a composed effort across goal and into the top corner. It had been one-way traffic and the Magpies continued to press, Ameobi flashing a low cross into the area without a telling touch. But, out of nowhere, the visitors had an equaliser on 35 minutes when Winchester struck the ball sweetly into the bottom corner from 20 yards. Undeterred, Notts pressed on and almost retook the lead in fortuitous fashion when, after inadvertantly playing a one-two off a defender, Grant’s poked, close-range effort was dealt with by Flinders. 1-1 was how it stayed going into the break and both sides reemerged unchanged for the second half.
Cheltenham quickly set about turning the game on its head, Harry Pell’s looping header clipping the crossbar before Danny Wright beat Ross Fitzsimons to a long free-kick, nodding the ball wide. But Notts dealt their visitors a significant blow moments later when Grant grabbed his second of the game. Nolan’s men won a free-kick 25 yards out and Grant’s effort deflected off the wall, leaving the wrong-footed Flinders with no chance. Sensing blood, Notts immediately pushed for another – and got one. Duffy flicked on a corner and Brisley was waiting at the far post to power the ball over the line with his head, despite the close attentions of Will Boyle and Flinders’ best efforts to keep the ball out. Mohamed Eisa threatened a response from the visitors, sliding in at the back post to turn the ball just wide. But Notts were in no mood to let the Robins back into the match, Grant cutting in from the left and firing the ball over from range. The loanee then had another chance to claim his hat-trick when he was played through one-on-one with Flinders but his touch let him down at the crucial moment and Cheltenham were able to recover.
Grant was involved yet again on 75 minutes as Notts came agonisingly close to a fourth. His free-kick was nodded towards the top corner by Ameobi but Flinders scampered across his line to pluck the ball to safety. Nolan’s first substitution followed, Ameobi making way for Alan Smith, a minute before Stead’s header landed on the roof of Flinders’ net. Cheltenham threatened a late resurgence, Fitzsimons making strong saves from Wright and Pell before the former headed the ball over from a corner. Liam Walker replaced Milsom and Terry Hawkridge made way for Lewis Alessandra as the match entered four minutes’ added time. And Walker could have put the icing on the cake in the dying moments after he was unselfishly teed up by Grant. He could only skew the ball wide, however, and 3-1 was how it finished.
Notts County: Fitzsimons, Tootle, Duffy, Brisley, Dickinson, Hawkridge (Alessandra 93), Yates, Milsom (Walker 90), Grant, Stead, Ameobi (Smith 80).
Cheltenham: Flinders, Moore, Boyle, Grimes, O’Shaughnessy, Winchester, Pell, Storer (Atangana 68), Morrell, Eisa (Sellars 68), Wright.