An unlikely hattrick from Jim O’Brien meant that Notts County solidified their playoff position against a demoralised Maidenhead United side.
The midfielder scored goals on either side of the half to earn the Magpies a deserved three points, whilst Ruben Rodrigues netted late on to bury Maidenhead.
Maidenhead manager Alan Devonshire received a red card on the brink of half time.
The home side opted to make two changes on the night, with the suspended Ryheem Sheckleford and Sam Barratt were replaced by Josh Coley and Seth Nana Twumasi.
Maidenhead United: Lovett; Wiltshire, Massey, Parry, Wells; Twumasi, Ince, Conley, Sparkes; Coley, Orsi-Dadomo
It was a similar story with their opponents, County lining up with two changes of their own. Dion Kelly-Evans returned from suspension and replaced Richard Brindley, whilst Elisha Sam dropped out for Jim O’Brien.
Notts County: Slocombe; Kelly-Evans, Rawlinson, Ellis, Chicksen; Doyle, Reeves, O’Brien; Miller, Wootton, Rodrigues
Story of the match
Ahead of kick-off, Ian Burchnall spoke on what he expected from this Maidenhead side, claiming: “I don’t expect them to defend with a low block, I think they’ll come out and have a go because they’ve got nothing to lose. I imagine it will be a case of two teams who want to attack the game.”
However, even he may have been taken back by the performance of his travelling Magpies, as Notts County got off to a dream start in Berkshire.
Ruben Rodrigues was the main threat for County having a powerful effort maintained by Rhys Lovell and teeing up Kyle Wootton for his 14th of the season, but the former Scunthorpe United forward had his first effort heroically blocked by Alan Massey, and his second flashed narrowly wide.
But this flurry of early chances was quickly rewarded just ten minutes in, courtesy of midfield rock O’Brien. The Scotsman latched onto a teasing ball from Michael Doyle, before calmly disposing of the ball from close range to the dismay of Lovett and his manager, Devonshire.
Rodrigues continued to be a spark in the County attack, first linking up with Miller, who could only fire over from close range, and then the roles were reversed but this time Rodrigues’ first time effort was smothered by Lovett.
In fact, Lovett was the only thing keeping this scoreline down, as the shot stopper, who had only signed from National League North side Gloucester City two months ago, was called into action again. This time, he once again faced Rodrigues, valiantly tipping his header around the post before requiring treatment from the Maidenhead physio team.
But as the referee brought the game through stoppage time and to the half way point, tempers flared, and not only did Massey and Coley pick up bookings, but Maidenhead manager Devonshire received the red card, adding to the yellow card he received on Saturday against Hartlepool United.
Into the second half and matters somehow worsened for Maidenhead, as Lovett couldn’t continue and was forced off of the pitch to injury. However, with no replacement available on the bench, midfielder James Comley put on the gloves and began a bizarre experience for himself.
Comley didn’t have the best start to his goalkeeping career unfortunately, as he was left no chance through O’Brien’s second. An excellent low cross from Miller fell to the experienced midfielder, who applied a cool finish into the bottom corner to double County’s advantage.
Just ten minutes later and Comley was once again picking the ball out of the back of the net, but this time with his teammates to blame. Wootton was dragged down inside the box, forcing the referee to the point to the spot. Whether if it was out of novelty or to reward O’Brien, he was given the responsibility, and completed a fantastic hat trick by rocketing the ball into the top corner.
Notts County weren’t done yet however, and one man who deserved a goal got it. Rodrigues burst past his man before finishing low into the corner, before reeling away in jubilance as this Magpies side rose to 5th place in the table.
Notts looking strong for play-offs
After falling at the final hurdle last season, Notts County will be hoping that performances like tonight’s can take that step further, and to the EFL.
A reassuring performance and result against a Maidenhead side who had it all to play for, but Burchnall’s side remained resilient and play-off standard.
Is the dream over for Maidenhead?
Whilst a win tonight would’ve been a real statement of intent, it just wasn’t meant to be tonight for the Magpies.
Devonshire’s sending off, the lacklustre defending and Lovell’s injury, in the end, punished Maidenhead and denounced their chances of a victory, but it looks increasingly unlikely now that Maidenhead will settle for anything other than a mid-table position.
A hat trick from central midfield basically confirms the star man from any game, and therefore O’Brien deserves the accolade.
But full credit to Rodrigues and Wootton too, who were in inspired form. Lovell was also solid before his injury ended his night early.