The World’s oldest Football League club marked the beginning of the Football League’s 125th anniversary celebrations with a workmanlike win from a game which Carlisle dominated for long periods without quite managing to find a way through.
A moment of brilliance from Alan Judge and a moment of controversy involving Carlisle captain Lee Miller proved to be the main talking points from a game which left Greg Abbott nursing his second consecutive defeat and a three-game ban for his talisman captain.
“If we play like that in every game then we’ll pick up points,” the manager said. “Their keeper has made some fantastic saves and we’ve missed some very good chances. We dominated the second half and we’re feeling a little bit sorry for ourselves at the moment. Things tend to go against you when times are tough and we need to see the Lee Miller incident again. He said there wasn’t much in it but the card was shown immediately and it’s one we’ll have to see before we can say any more.”
The early pressure belonged to the blue shirts and a neat passing move involving Berrett, Miller and Loy opened up a shooting opportunity for Noble. He tried to curl it from just outside the box but Bialkowski was in place to grasp it.
Jon-Paul McGovern carried the threat from set-pieces for Carlisle United and he smashed his first effort into the wall as he tried to guide one on target from 25-yards. Former-Carlisle hero Francois Zoko looked lively when he charged a Frank Simek clearance down and he fed Liddle on the overlap as the defence struggled to cope. Mark Gillespie stepped off his line to gather the hurried delivery.
A bobbling, spinning shot from James Berrett spun wide when he latched on to a crafty Loy lay-off, and Liddle had a volley from a Cofie nod down blocked when Notts County finally found some space in the area.
But Notts County turned on the style with 35 minutes on the clock when Alan Judge sprinted clear from his own half. Cofie found him with a lovely pass and the spritely midfielder ignored the handball appeals as he used his pace to take himself clear. He needed just two touches to set himself up for a sublime lob which left keeper Mark Gillespie with no chance.
The Cumbrians looked hurt and they pushed men forward in search of an equaliser with County happy to hold their line. Bialkowski caused panic when he misjudged the flight of a McGovern free kick to leave his goal exposed. Noble fed Berrett but Liddle was in the right place at the right time to hook the ball off the line.
The Magpies weathered the pressure and had the last say of the half when Campbell-Ryce found space to cross. Zoko met it with a glancing header and there was a sigh of relief as the ball edged just wide of the upright.
Carlisle stepped up the pace after the break and James Berrett was disappointed when he dragged a low shot wide as he lost his man in midfield. And McGovern floated a lovely delivery into the area from wide on the right moments later as the Notts County defence started to creak. Loy rose majestically to meet it and the best Bialkowski could muster was a two-handed flap as he appeared to be caught by surprise. Berrett reacted first to the spill but he could only find the side netting.
The Cumbrians wasted a fantastic opportunity to draw level as they kept men forward when McGovern fizzed another dangerous ball into the mix. Miller flicked it on, Loy did likewise, and the unmarked Sean O’Hanlon mishit his toe-poke which gave the keeper the chance to recover and scoop the loose ball off the floor.
Notts County had little to offer going forward and United went close again when Loy took matters into his own hands. His left-foot punt had Bialkowski beaten but it whisked past the angle of post and bar. O’Hanlon hooked another volley on the spin into the stands and the afternoon was summed up for the visitors with ten minutes to go when Symington robbed possession on the half way line. He worked a crossing position and picked out Mustoe, and the cushioned header which followed fell perfectly for Berrett. Hid did everything right as he kept his volley low but Bialkowski somehow dived across to complete a wonderful save.
A rare break for the Magpies brought a powerful volley from distance for Boucaud and Gillespie was relieved to see the thunderbolt ricochet high into the air off the top of his bar.
And it all ended in defeat and controversy for Carlisle as their influential captain went head-to-head with Dean Leacock following a meaty challenge. The big defender fell to the floor and referee Mr Bond wasted no time at all in producing the red card.
County accepted the gift of the extra man and stretched their run to five games unbeaten to keep themselves in touch at the top.
Notts County - Judge (35)
Notts County - Liddle (41)
United - Thirlwell (63) - Miller sent off (89) straight red card
Notts County - Bialkowski, Sheehan, Bishop, Leacock, Liddle, Judge, Hughes, Zoko (Blyth 89), Cofie (Arquin 69), Campbell-Ryce (Labadie 84), Boucaud. Subs - Spiess, Smith, Bencherif, Hollis.
Carlisle United - Gillespie, Simek, Livesey, O'Hanlon, Mustoe (Potts 88), Thirlwell, Noble (Symington 67), Berrett, McGovern, Miller, Loy (Cadamarteri 76). Subs - Collin, Murphy, Welsh, Beck.
Referee - Mr Darren Bond
Attendance - 5,553 (393 away fans)