Report: Notts County v Bury
FRANCOIS Zoko was Notts County's super-sub last night.
The Ivorian striker had not scored a goal at Meadow Lane since way back in September, but he came off the subs' bench against Bury and netted two quick-fire goals in the second half to inspire the Magpies to a 4-1 win.
Notts trailed 1-0 to the Shakers at half-time, after the visitors' captain Steven Schumacher seized onto a bad mistake by Julian Kelly and scored midway through the first half.
But Kelly made amends with an equalising goal early in the second half and then Zoko hit two goals in five minutes to fire Notts 3-1 up and Jamal Campbell-Ryce completed a stunning comeback from the penalty spot.
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It was a big night for Notts, as they attempted to keep their fading play-off hopes in League One alive, and for their caretaker manager Chris Kiwomya, in his ambition to be the club's next permanent manager.
In caretaker charge for a fourth game, following a defeat at Stevenage and draws against Crewe and Walsall, he made two changes from a 1-1 draw against the Saddlers.
Firstly, Yoann Arquin, who came off the subs' bench and scored a second-half equaliser at the Bescot Stadium, started in attack alongside on-loan Manchester United striker John Cofie.
And secondly, Kiwomya reverted to a back-four, restoring Kelly at right-back and he joined Dean Leacock, Gary Liddle and Alan Sheehan in defence, in front of No.1 goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski.
Captain Neal Bishop, Andre Boucaud, Campbell-Ryce and Alan Judge started in midfield.
It was a team full of attacking threat, but, on a freezing cold night close to the Trent, the Magpies did nothing to warm their fans in the opening stages.
Liddle surged forward unchallenged on eight minutes and passed to Campbell-Ryce, but he was tackled inside the penalty area, and then Judge dinked the ball into the box for Arquin on 11 minutes, but he could not turn his marker Eastham, who spent a month on loan at Meadow Lane earlier this season.
The game finally burst into life on 14 minutes as Notts threatened for the very first time. Campbell-Ryce attacked down the right wing and then passed to the overlapping Kelly, who swung a cross dangerously into the six-yard box, but it was too high for Arquin, frustratingly.
It did not spark an onslaught on the Bury goal, however. Quite the opposite, in fact, because the Magpies gifted the visitors a goal on 24 minutes. Kelly was the culprit, misplacing a pass straight to Schumacher, the Shakers' captain, 30 yards out and he promptly strode forward unchallenged and smashed a 25-yard shot past Bialkowski and inside his left-hand post.
Talk about pressing the self-destruct button. Kelly's head was in his hands and, losing 1-0, Notts once again had to try and stage a fightback.
And try they did. Arquin drove a low shot at goal from 20 yards that Bury goalkeeper Trevor Carson blocked at his near post, Judge fired straight at Carson from 30 yards two minutes later and then forced him into another save on 35 minutes with a low shot aimed for the bottom-left corner of the net.
It was hardly a stirring response to their setback though, in truth, and, in fact, Bury went closer to scoring a second goal before the end of the first half, Shakers' winger David Worrall crossing into the Magpies' penalty area from the right and midfielder Ethan Ebanks-Landell directing a header just wide from close range in front of the Kop on 38 minutes.
Cofie then headed narrowly wide at the opposite end two minutes as Notts trailed 1-0 at half-time for the fourth successive game.
Some of their fans booed as the players exited down the tunnel and Arquin never re-emerged. He was subbed for Zoko and he joined Cofie in attack.
Bury were first to threaten in the second half, however, as Nicky Ajose rifled the ball at goal from the edge of the penalty area, forcing Bialkowski into a good save.
Zoko was then presented with his first chance by Bishop, but scuffed a shot at goal from 20 yards that was easy for Carson to save.
That weak effort was soon forgotten, however, as Notts scored three goals in eight minutes to put them 3-1 ahead.
Kelly equalised, or rather atoned, on 58 minutes, seizing onto a pass from Cofie inside the box and hitting a shot that took a big deflection off defender Joe Skarz on its way past Carson, then Zoko took centre stage with two quick goals.
Boucaud made them both and Zoko was ruthless, burying the first into the bottom-left corner of the net on 61 minutes and then rounding Carson four minutes later and prodding the ball into an empty net. What a turnaround. And the Magpies were not finished, scoring a fourth goal from the penalty spot on 74 minutes.
Judge was fouled inside the box by Eastham and Campbell-Ryce stepped up and drove the spot-kick straight down the middle of the goal as Carson dived to his right. And with that the game was all over and Zoko went so close to completing his hat-trick in the closing minutes, racing into the penalty area from the left and driving a low shot at goal, but Carson blocked it at his near post.
It would have been a fitting end note to the game for Zoko, but it didn't matter. He was still the Magpies' hero in a victory that lifts them up to ninth and keeps them in the play-off hunt.
It must also better Kiwomya's chances of getting the top job permanently, it being his first win in temporary charge.
REFEREE: Geoff Eltringham (County Durham). Had one big call to make, giving Notts a penalty in the second half when Alan Judge was fouled inside the box by former Magpies' loanee Ashley Eastham. Got it right.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Francois Zoko. The Ivorian striker came off the subs' bench at the start of the second half and sparked a stirring second-half fight-back with two quick-fire goals.
NOTTS: Bialkowski, Kelly, Leacock (Hollis, 85), Liddle, Sheehan, Campbell-Ryce, N Bishop, Boucaud (Hughes, 77), Judge, Cofie, Arquin (Zoko, 46). Subs: Spiess, Smith, Bencherif, Blyth.
BURY: Carson, Regan, Eastham, Zubar (Soares, 46), Skarz, Ebanks-Landell, Worrall, Schumacher, Thompson (Carrington, 85), Ajose (Fagan, 81), A Bishop. Subs: Belford, Jones, Healy, Carole.
Attendance: 5,795 (297 away).