Harry Kewell made five changes to the team that faced Exeter last weekend. The Australian handed debuts to Jamie Turley and Cedric Evina, who slotted in at right back and left back respectively. Rob Milsom partnered Noor Husin in central midfield, with Lewis Alessandra taking Nathan Thomas’ left-wing slot. Stead captained the team, lining up alongside Hemmings up front. Kristian Dennis and David Vaughan had to settle for a place on the bench, while Elliott Hewitt and Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain were absent from the squad.
It was an even start to the contest but Dean Farman was the first keeper to be tested, denying Stead after the skipper had shown neat footwork in the box. Fitzsimons was called into action for the first time moments later, hanging on to Michael Timlin’s shot before both Revell and Ben Kennedy saw efforts go over – the second courtesy of a deflection. It had been an entertaining start and Hemmings twice went close to giving the Magpies faithful the opening goal they so craved. First, his header from Evina’s cross went just wide before, on 21 minutes, he latched on to Stead’s knockdown 12 yards out but saw his effort diverted over by a heroic Stevenage defender. But Notts didn’t have to wait much longer as Stead was hauled down from the resultant corner before converting the penalty calmly to make it 1-0. Kewell’s men pressed on in search of a second and there were further glimmers for Hemmings before Elliott Ward sent a half-volley over the bar following a corner. Shaun Brisley and Alessandra both entered the book for late challenges before Boldewijn went agonisingly close to a spectacular goal, cutting in on his right foot – having earlier swapped wings with Alessandra – and whistling an effort just wide of the far post from the edge of the area. Cruelly, Notts were then pegged back – and there was certainly a stroke of luck in the build up as Brisley’s well-excecuted sliding challenge saw the ball bounce fortuitously into an opponent’s path down the left. Kennedy made no mistake at the back post, meeting a low cross to guide the ball beyond the wrong-footed Fitzsimons. The Magpies’ frustrations were short-lived, however, as Boldewijn found the net with a similar effort to that which went just wide minutes earlier. He had to work harder to get his shot away for this one, coming back on himself to earn the room to send a low, curling effort into the bottom far corner. It looked like Kewell’s side were heading into the break with a priceless advantage but the visitors had other ideas, standing the ball up at the back post for the imposing Revell to nod the ball back across goal and into the net. Three minutes were added on at the end of a frenetic first half, deep into which Stead pulled the ball back for Alessandra, who scampered to meet it before a Stevenage defender. Under pressure, he could only guide it wide.
Kewell’s first change came at half-time as fit-again Matt Tootle replaced Turley at right back. Shortly after the restart Notts could – and perhaps should – have restored their lead as Alessandra did brilliantly to supply Stead, who took the ball in his stride to go one-on-one with Farman. The keeper was equal to his effort, however, and a golden opportunity was gone. It wasn’t to matter, however, as more terrific work from Alessandra moments later provided Hemmings with the opportunity to control the ball expertly in the area before guiding it past Farman in the Stevenage net. The visitors once again threatened an equaliser, Newton sending a fierce effort over before Fitzsimons turned Revell’s shot behind. But it could well have been 4-2 to Notts moments later when brilliant work from Boldewijn resulted in him drifting a cross to Stead at the back post. From a tight angle, the forward could only side-foot his effort wide of the target. Boldewijn was flagged offside as he tried to turn the ball home. The game then entered a quiet period as the Magpies, while still showing intent to extend their advantage, protected their lead. But, unfortunately, they were pegged back yet again with a quarter of an hour to play when the ball was cut back from the byline for Newton to guide beyond Fitzsimons from near the penalty spot. Kewell’s second change came with 11 minutes to play when Husin made way for Thomas, who went to right wing. Alessandra slotted in next to Milsom. The game was anyone’s going into the dying stages and Kennedy’s eyes lit up when Notts’ botched clearance presented him with a chance to shoot from just outside the area. He could only send the ball straight at Fitzsimons, however. Five minutes were added on at the end of an exhausting afternoon, during which the outstanding Alessandra stung Farman’s palms with a speculative low effort from range. But that was to be the last of the goalmouth action as the teams had to settle for a share of the spoils.
Notts County: Fitzsimons, Turley (Tootle 45), Ward, Brisley, Evina, Boldewijn, Husin (Thomas 79), Milsom, Alessandra, Stead, Hemmings.
Booked: Brisley, Alessandra.
Stevenage: Farman, Wildin, Cuthbert, Nugent (Henry 45), Seddon, Ball (Sonupe 52), Byrom, Timlin, Kennedy, Revell, Newton.