Red Nose Day inspires Dean Leacock as he keeps Notts County in with a chance
THIS was all about the reds. No, no, not Nottingham Forest, but rather Dean Leacock was inspired by Red Nose Day, Karl Hawley endured a Red Face Day and Notts County now face a few red letter days in League One.
Leacock was the Magpies' hero against struggling Scunthorpe United at Meadow Lane.
Returning from suspension, he was a rock at the heart of their defence as they kept a clean-sheet. And he also scored his first goal for the club in the closing minutes to clinch a dramatic 1-0 victory that puts them just six points outside the play-offs with seven games to go. They can't, can they?
Afterwards, he revealed an unexpected inspiration – Lenny Henry.
Sat at home the night before playing the Iron at Meadow Lane watching Red Nose Day and seeing kids starving in Africa, he said it hit him just how lucky he is.
"You don't realise how bad some people live," he said. "People in this world, they struggle and we have such a good life as footballers.
"We've got to be very grateful for what we have and to not turn out for this club sometimes is disrespectful."
With his reality well and truly checked, Leacock scored the winner for Notts on 81 minutes.
The game looked destined to end goalless until Alan Judge swung a corner into the Scunthorpe penalty area, Jeff Hughes headed it back across the box at the far post, Neal Bishop headed it down into Leacock's path and he swept the ball low into the net from inside the six-yard box in front of the Kop.
Before the game Leacock had tweeted: "Nothing in life is impossible. Gotta stay positive." And his match-winning goal has certainly given Notts a glimmer of hope in the race for the play-offs, though they now face four of the top-six teams in their next four games, in Swindon Town, Brentford, Yeovil Town and Bournemouth. Talk about red letter days in their season. They will ultimately decide their fate this season.
The Magpies certainly rode their luck against Scunthorpe.
Hawley returned to Meadow Lane for the first time since he left Notts last summer and joined the Iron.
He had a miserable three years in Nottingham, scoring just five league goals in 81 games. He has already netted more times for his new club, notching seven league goals this season, but he missed a hat-trick of quick-fire chances in the second half and four in total.
Rather than coming back to haunt his old club, he looked haunted by the memories of playing at Meadow Lane in black-and-white stripes as he missed a near open goal on 61 minutes.
Young Notts defender Haydn Hollis gifted Scunthorpe the chance with a bad mistake just outside the penalty area.
He tried to let a pass from goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski roll across his body and onto his left foot, but Akpo Sodje nipped in to steal the ball, raced unchallenged into the box and squared the ball to Hawley, who was unmarked and had the goal at his mercy, but he somehow miscued a shot wide of Bialkowski's right-hand post from six yards.
That came just a minute after he had chipped a shot just wide from the edge of the penalty area and he completed his unwanted treble on 63 minutes, steering another shot wide.
With every miss, the ironic chants from the unforgiving home fans grew louder and Hawley gave them one last miss to cheer just two minutes after Leacock's goal, directing a header wide with Bialkowski well off his goalline.
He should have left Meadow Lane with the match ball and revenge, but it was Notts celebrating victory after the final whistle.
They too, were guilty of missed chances though, Yoann Arquin especially.
Judge, on his return from injury, crossed into the box in the closing minutes of the first half and Hughes flicked it on to the far post, where the French striker was stood completely unmarked, but he headed over the bar. It was a good chance and a bad miss.
Bishop had gone close to breaking the deadlock just minutes before.
The Magpies' captain once famously beat Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart with a great glancing header in the FA Cup and he so nearly beat Scunthorpe's on-loan City stopper Eirik Johansen on 39 minutes.
Alan Sheehan curled a free-kick into the penalty area from deep and Bishop leapt highest to meet it and aimed a header inside his left-hand post, but he tipped it wide with a full-stretch dive.
Hughes also had a good chance on 22 minutes, but shot weakly at goal from inside the box, after holding off Iron defender Tom Newey, and Judge smashed a long-range shot at goal that Newey stopped with his hand, but ref Carl Boyeson turned down the Irishman's protests for a free-kick.
Bialkowski also denied Sodje with a good save on nine minutes, after the striker had raced onto a pass from Mark Duffy and fired a shot at goal from inside the penalty area, so both sides had chances in a hard-fought game and fortunately for Notts Leacock was in the right place at the right time to take his.
His first goal for the club, talk about timing.
The Magpies' play-off hopes looked to have been extinguished by their 1-0 defeat against Preston on a miserable night at Meadow Lane last week.
But this victory will re-ignite belief they might yet make a late, late charge for the top-six.
It's not quite back on, but it's not all over either. It promises to be an exciting climax to the season in the last seven games.