Notts County 3 – 2 Boreham Wood
Sunday 7th May 2023
Meadow Lane, Vanarama National League Play-Off Semi-Final


First half goals from Femi Ilesanmi and Lee Ndlovu weren’t enough to seal victory over Notts County in the play-off semi-final, with strikes at either end of the second half from Aden Baldwin forcing the game into Extra Time which allowed Jordi Jones to pop up at the death and seal the win for the Magpies at an electric Meadow Lane.

It was the Wood who drew first blood when George Broadbent beat the offside trap and picked out Ilesanmi in the middle who bundled the ball over the line, before Ndlovu doubled their advantage after nicking the ball away from Baldwin before keeping the composure to slide the ball past Sam Slocombe and send the Wood into the interval two goals to the good.

Their two-goal cushion would be wiped out mere minutes into the second half when Baldwin made amends for his earlier error by slamming the ball past debutant Joe McDonnell from 25-yards, and this saw the Wood invite an onslaught of pressure throughout the half as a result. One such attack saw Rúben Rodrigues win a penalty after being fouled by Broadbent, but McDonnell proved to be the hero when he guessed the right way and pushed the Portuguese forward’s effort round the post.

The Wood huffed and puffed and came within seconds of a trip to the capital, but the Magpies showed exactly why they challenged for the title and racked up more than a century of points throughout the campaign, ensuring it would be a hat-trick of draws in 90 minutes against the Wood this season when Baldwin popped up at the death to direct Jones’ cross over the line and force the game into Extra Time.

An incredibly tight affair meant there was little action during the final half-an-hour, and although a couple of golden opportunities for substitute Josh Rees went begging, this gave County the chance to win the game at the death when Jones sent a powerful strike from distance beyond McDonnell with seconds to go, sending the Magpies to Wembley Stadium where they will face either Chesterfield or Bromley in the play-off final.

Defeat against the Magpies sees the Wood bow out of the play-offs at the semi-final stage, with the Football League dream over and an eighth successive campaign in the National League set to take place in South Hertfordshire.

Two changes to the side which overcame Barnet in the eliminator round saw Érico Sousa return from injury to replace former Magpie Dion Kelly-Evans, along with the more notable inclusion being McDonnell’s debut following his emergency loan move on Friday from National League counterparts Eastleigh, with Luke Garrard banking on the Spitfires’ league-high clean sheet tally to cover for the injured Nathan Ashmore.

Roared on by a deafening Meadow Lane, it was unsurprisingly the hosts who came out of the blocks quickest and produced their first chance after just two minutes, with Adam Chicksen picking out Rodrigues from the left flank, but he could only turn the cross wide of the near post.

Rodrigues would go close again three minutes later after Aaron Nemane weaved in and out of the Wood defence before creating space to cut it back to the Portuguese forward on the edge of the box, but he couldn’t keep his effort down as it blazed over the crossbar.

A third excellent chance would be on its way before the opening ten minutes were out, with Matt Palmer drilling the ball across the face of goal from the byline, with his delivery bouncing off the far post and away with nobody in the middle to capitalise.

With the Wood keen to gain a foothold of proceedings, they produced a rare chance as Will Evans won a corner with a deflected header following a long Chris Bush throw-in. The resulting delivery from Zak Brunt would find its way back to the Sheffield United loanee after being cleared, with his second attempt being headed over the crossbar by Femi Ilesanmi.

This sparked an improvement in the visitors’ display who grew into it and restricted their opponents to few clear chances. They soon produced their first genuine opportunity when Tyrone Marsh latched onto a long ball from Evans who took it under control before threading it through to Ndlovu, who laid it back to the Wood number ten who’s strike was comfortable for Slocombe.

County responded by forcing debutant McDonnell into his first real save of the game, with Macauley Langstaff getting a shot away in the penalty area which was straight down the throat of the Eastleigh man.

And he would be the hero moments later as some neat interplay in the penalty area saw Sam Austin set Rodrigues away, but McDonnell was equal to it as he denied the strike from point blank range before Bush cleared the danger.

McDonnell’s counterpart on the opposite side would then need to be alert to deny stand-in captain Jack Payne from distance, with his sweetly-struck half volley destined for the roof of the net only to be tipped over the crossbar.

Despite the Magpies’ dominance though, it was the Wood who broke the deadlock against the run of play when Broadbent found himself with acres of space to run into before cutting it back, where a late run from Ilesanmi saw the defender meet the delivery and perhaps fortuitously forced the ball over the line to give the visitors the lead.

This proved to add fuel to the fire as the Magpies reacted by producing a handful of dangerous chances in quick succession. The first one saw Nemane send an effort goalbound which was well-blocked by Jamal Fyfield in the nick of time, before Baldwin twice went close as he looked to curl the ball into the bottom corner as well as drawing another good save from McDonnell on the stroke of half time. This then preceded a glorious chance for Rodrigues, with Austin releasing him and subsequently forcing McDonnell to turn it behind.

With both sides seemingly prepared to go into the break with a one-goal deficit, Ndlovu had other ideas with his 15thgoal of the season certainly not in the script. An under hit pass from John Bostock sold the intended receiver Baldwin short, allowing the Wood number nine to advance unchallenged before calmly slotting the ball past Slocombe, sending the visitors into the interval with a precious lead.

HT: Notts County 0-2 Boreham Wood

Despite gaining the upper hand with a crucial two-goal cushion ahead of the second half, the Magpies couldn’t have got off to a better start after the break as Baldwin made up for his earlier error when he sent a rocket of a shot beyond McDonnell to halve the deficit just two minutes after the restart.

Baldwin almost had déjà vu moments later though, failing to track the lurking Ndlovu who got in behind once more and raced past Slocombe, but the Magpies stopper was able to recover and nudge the ball behind.

The Wood remained resilient at the back as they looked to prevent the Magpies from levelling the score, although Langstaff went close on the hour-mark when he curled his effort inches past the far post after Baldwin’s lay-off.

However they would soon be gifted a route back into the game, with Rodrigues showing trickery to evade Broadbent on the edge of the box before being tripped, and giving the referee no choice but to point to the spot.

It wouldn’t be all plain sailing for the hosts though, as McDonnell managed to save Broadbent’s blushes with a strong hand from a brilliant outstretched dive to push the spot-kick away and keep their one-goal deficit intact.

The Magpies continued to pile on the pressure, with Bostock sending a speculative effort from distance straight down the throat of McDonnell before Langstaff fired over from close range.

Langstaff continued to show why he’s the division’s top scorer with 42 goals, and went close again when he struck an effort wide from just inside the penalty area after being supplied by Rodrigues.

Seven minutes of added time injected hope into everyone around Meadow Lane, giving Luke Williams’ men a chance to put wave after wave of pressure onto the Wood backline, with substitute Jodi Jones going closest when he fired just wide of the far post with a cross-shot.

The clock continued to tick towards 90, but with seconds remaining Baldwin popped up with a crucial blow when he steered home Jones’ cross from close range to send the two sides into Extra Time.

FT: Notts County 2-2 Boreham Wood

An additional half-an-hour was required to find a winner in what was a truly ridiculous play-off semi-final, and it was the hosts who had the momentum after the late equaliser and looked the more likely to nick a winner throughout the opening 15 minutes of Extra Time.

Rodrigues would go close to giving County the lead when he seemed to be through on goal, with a crucial intervention from Bush proving enough to prevent the Magpies from going ahead as the two sides entered the final 15 minutes level.

HT (ET): Notts County 2-2 Boreham Wood

Throwing away a two-goal lead will have proved a real sucker-punch for Garrard’s men, but they continued to show plenty of fight and went close to restoring their lead when a Bush throw-in fell to substitute Rees, who forced Slocombe into a fingertip save to divert the ball over the crossbar.

They would go even closer moments later, with Dennon Lewis finding space to get to the byline before squaring a low ball into the path of the onrushing Rees, but Nemane produced a crucial tackle before he could get on the end of it to deny a certain goal.

And although it looked as if a penalty shootout would be required to find a winner, Jones struck a thunderbolt of a strike at the death that unsighted McDonnell and flew into the back of the net to win the game for County, and end the Wood’s Football League dream.

FT (ET): Notts County 3-2 Boreham Wood

Notts County: Slocombe; Rawlinson, Baldwin (Brindley 107’), Cameron; Nemane, Bostock, Palmer, Austin (Scott 65’), Chicksen (Jones 78’); Rodrigues (O’Brien 103’), Langstaff

Subs Not Used: Mair

Goals: Baldwin 47’, 90+6’, Jones 120’

Boreham Wood: McDonnell; Evans, Fyfield, Bush; Sousa, Payne, Broadbent (Newton 91’), Ilesanmi; Brunt (Rees 68’); Ndlovu (Lewis 61’), Marsh (Ricketts 89’)

Subs Not Used: Agbontohoma

Goals: Ilesanmi 38’, Ndlovu 45+2’

Star Man: Femi Ilesanmi



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