Coventry 1-1 Notts County: Controversial Marc McNulty penalty gives Sky Blues draw in play-off first leg
By Ron Walker
Last Updated: 12/05/18 10:29pm
Marc McNulty's disputed late penalty earned Coventry a 1-1 first-leg draw in their League Two play-off semi-final with Notts County.
County had been heading for victory thanks to Jonathan Forte's exquisitely taken backheel from Dan Jones's cross four minutes after the break.
But they were pegged back when referee Gavin Ward wrongly penalised Matt Tootle's tackle on Tom Bayliss four minutes from time, allowing Coventry top-scorer McNulty to net his 27th goal of the season.
A draw was a fair reflection on the balance of play at the Ricoh Arena, where both sides played their part in an entertaining encounter amid treacherous wet conditions.
But County will be hoping Ward's error does not prove fatal when the two sides meet at Meadow Lane for Friday night's second leg.
A sodden pitch looked in danger of not lasting the game early on, but both sides were not deterred from contesting a game played on the deck in large parts.
Coventry were not afraid to mix it up, though, and found McNulty in behind early on, only for the home forward to strike the far post from 20 yards.
Notts County responded when Forte's flick from a corner was kicked away by Lee Burge in the Coventry goal soon after, before Coventry again came close as Shaun Brisley turned Tom Bayliss' cross towards his own goal - but goal-line technology ruled Adam Collin had kept it out at his near post.
The visitors found themselves ahead within minutes of the restart when Jones beat Matt Grimmer to the ball, and Forte executed a superb backheel from his cross to leave Burge scrambling and Kevin Nolan's men in front.
That looked like being as dramatic as it would get with neither goalkeeper tested until the final four minutes, when Tootle was wrongly adjudged to have fouled Bayliss, despite winning the ball cleanly from the Coventry man inside his own box.
McNulty showed no sympathy to step up and fire into the bottom corner to earn Coventry a share of the spoils, leaving enough time for them to claim another spot-kick when John Stead handled in the area moments later - a decision Ward decided against giving this time.
Mark Robins: "I don't think we needed luck, it's nice to get some cause we've only had bad luck, but we've had a legitimate claim for a penalty not given straight after. Maybe that suggests the first one wasn't.
"I've seen it back, it is harsh and I'd be gutted to give that against me. We'll take it as a bit of luck, we've had one off the line and McNulty hitting the post too though so we've been unlucky as well. We've given away one opportunity and they've stuck it in the back of the net."
Kevin Nolan: "I've just said to the lads, you obviously feel robbed and we would've taken a 1-1 before the game if we'd been handed it, but the circumstances have made it more disappointing.
"We've got to make sure we prepare properly for Friday, it upset me for a good seven or eight minutes after the penalty but the assistants are there to calm me down. I feel bad for our lads and for all of Nottingham, we got robbed."
Man of the match - Dan Jones
Jones was a livewire down the Notts County left, fizzing a shot wide before half-time and producing their goal through his sheer desire to win the ball from Grimmer, before crossing for Forte to score.
But he was equally in-form doing his day job at the back, twice taking the ball off McNulty's foot with the Coventry striker about to shoot, and putting in a real shift for his side in testing conditions.
When's the second leg?
Notts County host Coventry at Meadow Lane on Friday night, live on Sky Sports Football from 7.30pm. Kick-off is at 7.45pm