It was a tale of two penalties at Meadow Lane as a controversial clash ended 1-1 between Bristol City and Notts County.
New City boss Steve Cotterill, who led the Magpies into League One in 2010, and Sean Derry were both desperate to navigate their sides north of the relegation zone, with three points today the top of the pairs’ Christmas lists.
County started the stronger. Jamal Campbell Ryce’s deliveries from the right touchline proved hard work for the Bristol defence to deal with, before the Jamaican international fired over the bar in the 15th minute.
Minutes later, centre-half Gary Liddle hobbled off after a robust challenge from Greg Cuinningham as he tried to square a ball inside the City box.
Bristol City grew into the game and had their first real opening in the 33rd minute. Jay Emanuel Thomas played in captain Sam Baldock, who was foiled by the onrushing Bialkowski.
But five minutes before half time controversy reigned in front of the Kop.
A melee broke out at a corner and referee Charles Breakspear punished Conuty captain Dean Leacock. Baldock duly dispatched from twelve yards to make it one nil to Bristol City.
Things went from bad to worse for County as the on-loan Callum Ball was stretchered off after a clash of heads with Derrick Williams.
Referee Breakspear was greeted by deafening boo’s from the home support and an incensed Sean Derry as he blew the half-time whistle.
County came out after half time with nothing to lose as a siege mentality roused the home support. McGregor and Murray went close early on.
The Lane quickly developed into a cauldron of clamour, as the second half sunk into a messy affair with an array of fouls and flashes of yellow.
In dubious circumstances referee Breakspear gave a replicate penalty to County with minutes to go. Alan Sheehan placed the ball past Eliot Parish to give the Magpies a share of the points.
After the game, manager Sean Derry said: “There is a change in mentality at Meadow Lane and its important to keep momentum going in the right direction.
“I’m pleased with a point in the end as it was a big game for us today. I’m delighted with my players.”
He continued: “I want players to express themselves and I felt we did that. You can’t change things overnight and it’s going to be a long battle. You learn a lot about your players on day’s like this.”
It will be a game that County will feel they could have won. But Derry can take heart from the guts and desire that County showed, as the game seemed to be going away from them.
A point keeps the Magpies in the relegation zone with important fixtures away to Port Vale and Crawley Town to play over Christmas.