Full-time: Notts County 1 Carlisle 0
ALAN Judge scored a super goal and Bartosz Bialkowski made three wonder saves as Notts County kept their play-off hopes in League One alive with a 1-0 win against Carlisle United at Meadow Lane today.
Judge netted the winner in the first half – and it was a delightful chip over Carlisle goalkeeper Mark Gillespie.
And then no.1 Bialkowski was the Magpies' hero in the second half with a trio of top saves to make sure they held on for a vital victory that keeps them in the hunt for the top-six.
Notts named a very attacking team.
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They switched to a three-man defence of Gary Liddle, Dean Leacock and Alan Sheehan in front of Bialkowski and Jeff Hughes was restored in midfield alongside captain Neal Bishop, Andre Boucaud and Jamal Campbell-Ryce, while Judge, Francois Zoko and John Cofie started in attack.
The Magpies threatened for the first time on 11 minutes as Zoko passed to Bishop and he flicked the ball into the penalty area for Cofie, but the on-loan Manchester United striker turned down a good chance to shoot first time and tried to cut inside and the visitors hacked the ball clear.
Zoko was clearly revved up by facing his old club and he skipped away from Carlisle defender Frank Simek down the left wing a minute later and cut the ball back to Judge inside the box, but Gillespie held his cross.
Midfielder James Berrett then shot wide for Carlisle on 14 minutes and it took a great tackle by Liddle to stop him inside the penalty area just a minute later.
It was a dire game for 20 minutes after that – and then Judge lit up Meadow Lane with a sublime goal on 35 minutes.
Racing onto a flick from Cofie just inside the Carlisle half, he raced away from defender Jordan Mustoe and then chipped the ball brilliantly over Gillespie and into the net.
Leading 1-0, Notts then wasted a great chance to hit the visitors on the break on 40 minutes, Bishop misplacing an attempted through ball for Judge, and it took a goal-line block by Sheehan to deny Berrett an equaliser two minutes later, after he seized onto the ball inside the box and fired it at goal.
Having survived that scare, the Magpies went close to doubling their lead in injury time at the end of the first half, Sheehan swinging a cross into the six-yard box from the right that Zoko headed just wide of Gillespie's right-hand post.
Notts continued to push for a second goal at the start of the second half and Bishop nearly sent Cofie racing through on 53 minutes, but the striker strayed offside.
Carlisle then threatened to equalise on 57 minutes, striker Lee Miller, who was once on loan at Meadow Lane, powering a header at goal from close range that Bialkowski clawed away brilliantly.
The Magpies' no.1 goalkeeper then made a second good save three minutes later.
Carlisle defender Sean O'Hanlon looked certain to make it 1-1 when the ball broke to him a couple of yards out at the far post from a corner, but Bialkowski made a superb block.
Carlisle striker Rory Loy then rifled a shot just past the top-right corner on 76 minutes, but Berrett was still looking the visitors' biggest threat and he forced Bialkowski into a great save on 81 minutes, smashing a shot towards the bottom-left corner of the net from just inside the penalty area that the Pole stopped at full-stretch.
Boucaud then crashed a dipping shot from 25 yards against the crossbar on 86 minutes and Miller was sent off in the last minute, following a clash with Notts sub Joss Labadie.
NOTTS: Bialkowski, Liddle, Leacock, Sheehan, Bishop, Boucaud, Hughes, Campbell-Ryce (Labadie, 85), Judge, Zoko (Blyth, 89), Cofie (Arquin, 69). Subs: Spiess, Smith, Hollis, Bencherif.
CARLISLE: Gillespie, Simek, Livesey, O'Hanlon, Mustoe (Beck, 88), Noble (Symington, 68), Thirlwell, Berrett, McGovern, Loy (Cadamarteri, 76), Miller. Subs: Collin, Murphy, Welsh, Potts.
ATTENDANCE: 5,553 (393 away).