Full-time: Notts 1 Sheffield United 1
ALAN Judge was the hero for ten-man Notts County against Sheffield United.
The Magpies looked set to lose to the Blades in League One at Meadow Lane until their star midfielder rescued a point with a late goal.
The visitors scored after just 67 seconds through defender Harry Maguire and Notts were then reduced to ten men midway through the first half when Francois Zoko was sent off.
But the Magpies fought back to draw 1-1, with Judge scoring a great header in front of the Kop on 80 minutes.
It was a big surprise when the pitch passed a morning inspection, after overnight snow and freezing temperatures – and then Magpies' boss Keith Curle surprised everyone with his team.
In a brave move, he switched to a three-man defence of Dean Leacock, who returned from a hamstring injury, Gary Liddle and Alan Sheehan, in front of goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski.
Zoko was also given a central attacking role for the first time this season, partnering leading-scorer Yoann Arquin.
Judge started in a position just behind those two and Jamal Campbell-Ryce, captain Neal Bishop, Andre Boucaud and Jeff Hughes were named in midfield.
Notts made a nightmare start, conceding a goal just over a minute into the game.
They were undone from a corner as Nick Blackman swung the ball into the penalty area and Maguire powered a header into the net from close range.
It almost got worse for them on three minutes from another flag kick as Danny Higginbotham headed the ball at goal and Bialkowski parried it over the bar.
Having survived that scare, the Magpies twice threatened to equalise.
Sheehan curled a free-kick into the box on nine minutes that Leacock headed at goal, but straight at United goalkeeper George Long, and two minutes later Hughes hit a shot just over the crossbar from the edge of the penalty area.
They went close again on 16 minutes, Arquin crossing the ball into the box and Hughes directing a header at goal that was deflected over the bar.
Boucaud then fired over the bar from inside the box on 21 minutes and three minutes later at the opposite end midfielder Jamie Murphy raced into penalty area for the visitors and drove a shot at goal that Leacock blocked.
Then came a big moment – Zoko was sent off on 25 minutes, after arguing with ref Mark Haywood over his decision that he had committed a foul on Tony McMahon on the edge of the penalty area.
Despite trailing 1-0 and being down to ten men, Notts continued to put the Blades under pressure.
Judge swung a cross into the box from the right wing that Long punched clear under pressure from Hughes on 30 minutes and Sheehan struck a long-range shot high and wide on 34 minutes.
United striker Dave Kitson then volleyed narrowly wide a minute later – and Judge did exactly the same for Notts on 38 minutes, after seizing onto a flick on by Arquin.
It proved the Magpies' last chance of the first half – and it took them until 66 minutes to threaten again, Judge whipping a cross into the penalty area from the left wing that Arquin met with a header, but the ball hit a defender and deflected wide.
Judge continued to try and drive Notts forward and he swung another dangerous cross into the box for Arquin on 76 minutes, but Long held confidently under pressure from the Frenchman.
The Irishman finally got his reward on 80 minutes with a goal that made it 1-1, steering a brilliant header past Long from Sheehan's inswinging free-kick into the penalty area.
NOTTS: Bialkowski, Liddle, Leacock, Sheehan, Campbell-Ryce, Bishop, Boucaud, J Hughes, Judge, Zoko (sent off, 25), Arquin (Bencherif, 88). Subs: Spiess, Kelly, Smith, Mahon, Labadie, Nangle.
SHEFF UNITED: Long, Westlake, Higginbotham, Maguire, McMahon, Murphy, Doyle, McDonald, Flynn, Blackman, Kitson (Ironside, 61). Subs: Coyne, Cresswell, McFadzean, Whitehouse, Kennedy, De Girolamo.
ATTENDANCE: 7,061 (3,058 away).