Uwe Rösler holds fond memories of Notts County and now he has another. In 1995, playing for Manchester City, he scored four in a 5-2 FA Cup victory at Maine Road. On Saturday, as manager of Brentford, he saw his side grab an 88th-minute winner at Meadow Lane that took them to second in League One, level on points with the leaders, Tranmere Rovers. It was their fourth win in four, all against top-eight teams.

Next Saturday they face a fifth, Stevenage, lying sixth. There is no let-up nor scarcely room to breathe. Six points cover the top 10. And first they must play Bradford City, killers of once-giant Arsenal in the League Cup last week, in what Rösler called "an unexpected FA Cup tie waiting on Tuesday". Brentford were initially put through by the Football Association's disqualification of City for fielding an ineligible player in the 1-1 draw. But the FA changed its mind and punishment on Thursday and, as Rösler implied, in terms of mindset punished Brentford instead.

The carrot is a tie at Southend United, who this month dispatched them from the Johnstone's Paint Trophy. "When you see my budget, we need a Cup run," he said, "to get money in for players and wages." Gates average 5,623 and on Saturday they are trying a "Pay What You Can" scheme in the hope of showing a wider audience how good things are at Griffin Park before temptation comes through the window in January. Brentford have the youngest squad in League One at an average age of 22½, though who would leave a swarm enjoying the current buzz of the Bees?

Before the match Paul Hayes, a veteran of 29 in this company, said: "Our goal is obviously promotion but we know it is going to be hard to get into the top two. We are starting to have an understanding of each other as players, as a team and our structure. We've got a manager who believes in us. He is bonkers but he is passionate." He is also significantly canny.

County took the lead after 20 minutes. Rösler blamed lack of awareness at a throw, leading to Tony Craig slicing Julian Kelly's cross into his own goal. More importantly he identified the source of the Magpies' early control in midfield and altered his 4-1-4-1 to 4-2-3-1, pulling Jonathan Douglas deeper beside Rob Kiernan, putting Adam Forshaw behind the striker Marcello Trotta and raiding from the flanks through Clayton Donaldson and Harry Forrester.

By half-time Trotta had sent Forshaw clear on the right for an angled shot too hot for Bartosz Bialkowski and the momentum was set firm as Brentford trusted their defensive unity and the aerial dominance of Craig and Harlee Dean to play a remarkably high line behind approach work full of flicks and feints and deft surprises. Ultimately they caught County napping at a corner and Donaldson forced the ball into the net, where it lodged with the keeper and Neal Bishop for his fifth goal in four league games and 12th this season.

"I don't know how many times we have scored in the last minutes," Rösler said. "Not many strikers would go in for such a ball with the post there. It was very brave." The manager would appreciate that. His playing career ended in Norway with diagnosis of lung cancer. In remission after chemotherapy he got his coaching badges. Brentford is his first position here. In 2010 he saved Molde from relegation before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over.

For the moment he looks to have the club going places – not just to the second tier for the first time in 20 years but, thanks to the purchase of a 7.6-acre site at Lionel Road in June, to a new stadium projected for 2016-17. This victory ended an eight-match stalemate of draws between the sides and was Brentford's first at Meadow Lane this century. County, managed by Keith Curle, a team-mate of Rösler in that 1995 cup match, are celebrating their 150th anniversary as the world's oldest professional club with hapless home form – one win since September – while being unbeaten away in 21 since his arrival.

At the end the away fans could fairly celebrate in the stand named after Jimmy Sirrel, first into County's Hall of Fame, who started his managerial career at Brentford. But the Magpies were more like mince pies.