David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘alan judge’

Anfield away day heroics can’t halt slide down the league table

Friday, September 13th, 2013

Liverpool Notts County Arquin

Oh dear.

Six weeks into the season, and things are looking very dire indeed for Notts County. Pre-season was quite promising, with good performances against the likes of Steaua Bucharest, Galatasaray, Real Zaragoza and Ipswich.

Despite having lost some of our key players in the close season, such as last season’s skipper Neal Bishop and pint-sized prodigy Alan Judge, the incoming players, like Mark Fotheringham, David Bell and Danny Haynes, seemed promising enough, while the spine of the team was retained – Bartosz Bialkowski and Dean Leacock would continue to lead the backline.

Granted, Notts had a very difficult start in the league. An away trip to Bramall Lane against Sheffield United would kick off the entire Football League season on Friday 2nd August, before a home game against relegated, and still dangerous, Peterborough United. Walsall away followed, before two seemingly easier fixtures again at home, albeit against bogey team Stevenage and last year’s FA Cup tormentors, Rotherham United, back in League One after promotion.

What followed was a catalogue of mishaps.

Gary Liddle, who played every minute of every league game last season, lasted all of fifteen minutes before a clumsy tackle left the referee no choice but to show him the red card. Notts performed admirably with ten men, but couldn’t secure the points faced with such adverse circumstances, losing 2-1.

Now, you may have noticed some glaring omissions, namely the team’s League Cup exploits. Don’t worry, I’ll get to those later.

The game against Peterborough saw Notts face the Posh with a depleted defence, given Liddle and Manny Smith’s unavailability, and it showed, as the away team repeatedly tore through the makeshift backline to score four and snatch the three points, winning 4-2.

Then came the Walsall game, where Notts gave it their all in a much improved performance, but this time, the enemy came in the form of the referee, who disallowed two good Notts goals and cost us two points. 1-1 it finished.

That should have been the end of it, given the next two home league games would be at home against weaker opposition. But by then, morale and confidence was so low that Notts contrived to lose those two games as well.

Stevenage were just as toothless in attack as Notts were in that match, but a defensive error in the final few minutes ensured they would steal all the three points.

Against Rotherham, Notts were superb for the first 35 minutes, before a goal against the run of play – a common occurrence this season – drained the life out of Notts, who couldn’t find a response.

It has to be said that the refereeing standard in both of these games was frankly questionable too, as stonewall penalty shouts were turned down and actions which warranted straight red cards – Stevenage keeper Chris Day, I’m glaring at you – were also let off.

So now, onto the League Cup. This has been a completely different story, as Notts got through a potential banana skin of a tie, beating League Two’s Fleetwood Town – Jeff Hughes’ new club – 3-2 at home to secure undoubtedly the tie of the second round, a trip to Anfield to play Liverpool. Such was the prestige of the fixture that Sky Sports would be screening it on Sky Sports – the second time the Magpies would be live in August alone!

So, fast forward to match day, and the game seemed to be taking a predictable route, as Raheem Sterling scored within four minutes and Daniel Sturridge doubled the lead on the half-hour mark. Notts were capitulating, and a whitewash looked to be on the cards.

But, Notts being Notts and being predictable in their unpredictability, came back all guns blazing in the second half, and managed to pull one back through Yoann Arquin’s header. Liverpool began getting a bit edgy, their lead slashed.

And then, came the unbelievable. Ten minutes left to play, some great counter-attacking play down the right led to Arquin crossing the ball into the middle, before Chelsea loanee Adam Coombes smashed it into the Liverpool net… 2-2. Cue absolute pandemonium, not just from the Notts fans, but everyone watching the game.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be, because Liverpool had just enough in their tank to score two more in extra time, but Notts’ effort couldn’t be faulted. They made their fans proud, and they made their city proud.

But, romantic as this story is, we need to face the facts – we are bottom of League One, below a team that had points deducted for financial irregularities. Our confidence is rock bottom. It’s a shame, because we have shown we can play well when we get into the swing of things.

Up next is an away trip to MK Dons, and hopefully the international break – Notts didn’t play as some of our players were away on international duty – will have allowed Notts time to refocus. We desperately need some points to climb up the table, because now, this is a relegation battle. Come On You Pies… let’s do this!

Written by Giuseppe Labellarte, We Are Going Up’s Notts County blogger

Giuseppe tweets at @JoeJonesHome

Summer of discontent ends brightly for new-look Notts

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

CK

So here we are, what originally felt like an eternity has finally come to an end, the season is due to start just this week! Finally, we will be able to see our beloved Magpies competitively once again!

As has been mentioned before by myself and a lot of fellow Laners, last season followed the standard Notts template of recent years, that is hitting the ground running and being in the promotion places for the first couple of months, before running out of throttle towards the half-way point and finishing somewhere between upper-middle and mid-table.

Last season fell apart a lot quicker than usual however, and though we rallied towards the end, notching up a spectacular win against Doncaster away, it was too little too late.

Where did it all go wrong then? Three things, in my humble opinion: the humiliating and morale-sapping FA Cup defeat to Rotherham, which left us short of much-needed funds for the second half of the season, Lee Hughes’ acrimonious departure, and the failure to replace him adequately.

The results were clearly visible on the pitch – I lost count of the times I wrote about us having no penetration, no eye for goal and other similar phrases in the Pride of Nottingham match reports. It was so frustrating, and despite our good rearguard, we just couldn’t get those all-important goals in, which resulted in loss of points and, ultimately, the slide down the league table.

Once the season was officially over, more trouble seemed on the horizon: Alan Judge, who carried the star player mantle once Hughesy left, departed himself, on a free transfer to his first club Blackburn Rovers. Skipper Neal Bishop, so hard-working and inspirational for us, also left the club, and perhaps most embarrassingly of all, Jeff Hughes decided to leave the Magpies for… Fleetwood Town of League Two. The message was clear for all: “Players would rather drop down a league than stay with Notts”.

However, things have recently turned a corner. We have managed to secure some impressive signings: Mustapha Dumbuya has international football experience, Mark Fotheringham was immense against Galatasaray, Danny Haynes is young and has a good goalscoring record, David Bell was a regular for Coventry City, and Andy Howarth is also showing promise despite previously negative reviews.

In addition, Alan Sheehan deciding to stay on is very pleasing – aside from the fact he’s a top player, it shows that maybe Notts County isn’t that bad an option that players need to drop down a league to get more out of their careers!

All in all, it’s been a make-or-break pre-season for Notts, and the board and backroom staff seem to have handled it well. Good performances in pre-season – including a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder on the Meadow Lane pitch as Galatasaray visited – have reassured the fans further. I for one am certainly feeling a lot more positive than I was just two months ago, that’s for sure!

As for a prediction, I’m going to play it safe and say we’ll finish in the top half, but as we Meadow Lane faithful all know, even if we’re ten points clear by the end of December, it doesn’t matter, because if you’re not in that position by the end of April, then it counts for nothing.

So let’s hope this season is an exception – in a good way – and we can maintain good form all the way until the end of the season, and then who knows! Come On You Pies!

Written by Giuseppe Labellarte, We Are Going Up’s Notts County blogger

Giuseppe tweets at @JoeJonesHome

A bright future to make up for the lacklustre present?

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

And so the curtain closes on another League One season. For Notts County, the overriding feeling is one of disappointing apathy, where the damage was done a long time ago, a season of play-off hopes beginning brightly but falling apart at the seams and ebbing away to nothing.

In hindsight, a team that, between February and April, played fifteen games and won just three, and whose strikers went ten games without scoring a goal at one point – Francois Zoko’s goals against Bury on 22nd February were the last scored by an established forward until Yoann Arquin and Romello Nangle netted against Colchester on 13th April – frankly isn’t worthy of being anywhere near the promotion zone.

Despite a decent finish in April, the highlight of which was the 1-0 win against Doncaster at the Keepmoat which set up one of the most dramatic final day clashes in recent times, when Rovers played Brentford for the final automatic promotion slot, it ultimately counted towards nothing. The season was over and the pressure was off.

So, what has cost Notts this season?

I pinpoint it down to three things: the lack of a cup run, the loss of Lee Hughes and the failure to replace him.

Losing to Bradford in August in the Carling Cup first round didn’t raise a murmur back then, but despite how amazing their run to the final was to witness, I doubt I’m the only one who looked in with just a tinge of regret and longing, imagining us in their shoes, if only Arquin’s chance went in.

Meanwhile, the heavy defeat against Rotherham in the FA Cup second round was possibly our worst display all season, and in addition, missing out on the third round meant we lost out on some much needed funds which we could have invested the team, in the form of improved contracts and signings.

Losing Lee Hughes was a major own goal for the Magpies. The seeds of discontent were sowed early on, with him losing his place in the team and his number 9 shirt. After his failed attempt to force through a loan move to Port Vale in November, his subsequent sick note confirmed what all Notts fans feared: Hughes was as good as gone.

And if that wasn’t enough, the board, short on funds, was unable to replace him, and the existing strikeforce of Arquin, Enoch Showunmi and Francois Zoko failed to rise to the challenge of filling his boots – since Hughes left in January, the three of them have scored six goals between them.

It’s a shame really, since this year’s League One was one of the weakest in recent times, and our backline has been superb for most of the season – Bialkowski and Speiss have been revelations in goal, and a back four of Alan Sheehan, Dean Leacock, Gary Liddle and Julian Kelly is as strong as you’ll get in the division.

Since the season finished, the club confirmed that Alan Judge, our star man in midfield, is to leave the club, Bialkowski is also rumoured to be the subject of interest from teams higher up, and our skipper, Neal Bishop, has relinquished his captaincy – another worrying sign which some have taken to be a precursor to leaving the Lane.

However, the last couple of weeks have seen some great youth players come into the team and prove they’re more than capable of performing in the division. Curtis Thompson, Haydn Hollis, Tyrell Waite, Fabian Speiss, Romello Nangle and Greg Tempest have all enjoyed spells in the first team, and some, like Nangle and Waite, have already contributed goals, while Speiss was so good in goal when Bialkowski was injured that many thought he was going to displace him from the first team spot – not bad for an eighteen year old!

And as an extra bonus, the Notts youth team made it all the way to the final of the Midland Youth Cup Final against a talented Walsall side, and took the Saddlers all the way to extra time before being eventually broken down, suffering a 4-2 loss.

With such promising prospects in the Notts County academy and an increased emphasis by the board on bringing home-grown young talent into the first team, next season should see many of this year’s young stars break through and get plenty of appearances – and hopefully turn in some great performances and score some goals – which I am quite excited about. So let’s hope the future truly is black and white, and as always, Come On You Pies!

Written by Giuseppe Labellarte, We Are Going Up’s Notts County blogger

Giuseppe tweets at @JoeJonesHome

And so the cycle repeats itself…

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Why does this always have to happen?

Notts County have a tendency to start a season well; expectations are built up, talk of the play-offs or promotion arises. Then mid-season, everything just falls to pot. A new manager is brought in, turns things around a bit and ends the season on a decent enough note, before big things are tipped for the following season. And then the cycle repeats itself.

Twelve months ago, Martin Allen was relieved of his duties after saving Notts County from relegation in 2010/11. The 2011/12 season started well enough, but things petered out mid-season and he paid the price. Keith Curle was brought in, to a somewhat cold reception, masterminded five wins and a draw in his first six games, and nearly took us to the playoffs.

Twenty games into the 2012/13 season, we were in sixth place, playing decent football and racking up a decent goal difference. We were also in the middle of an amazing run of away games, having not lost in twenty. Expectations were high. Good foundations were established for the season.

However, instead of building on those, it seems the harsh winter conditions have caused them to crumble to pieces.

There is little shame in having lost to Bradford in the Capital One Cup like we did, because that puts us in the same boat as Aston Villa and Arsenal. In a way we can almost say (tongue in cheek of course) that it’s because of us that they’re in the cup final.

However, the 3-0 defeat at home to Rotherham was nothing short of an abomination. A horrendous game of football from our perspective. It also had repercussions of a financial nature, depriving us of some well-needed funds, which we could have used to strengthen the team in January.

As it was, not only did we not sign anybody, with the exception of making Andre Boucaud’s loan move permanent, but we also lost our talismanic striker Lee Hughes.

In an interview with the Nottingham Post, he told the newspaper he couldn’t face sitting on the subs’ bench and felt he had to leave. The word among Notts fans is that there was a rift or fallout between him and Curle which caused the player to depart, but whatever the speculation may be, the hard fact is, Hughes is no longer a Notts player.

If ever there was a bad call, that was it. Since he left, Notts have been struggling up front; the likes of JCR, Jeff Hughes, Boucaud and Judge have been setting up plenty of chances, but the forwards just haven’t been able to make the most of them.

Most frustrating of all was the Stevenage game; 56% possession. Fourteen shots. TEN corners. Yet we lost 2-0. Agonising, frustrating, and worse of all, unsurprising.

Meanwhile, Hughes has four in four at Port Vale, each goal he scores a pinch of salt into the wound of each Notts fan who resents the fact he’s been let go.

Another issue at the moment regards our defence – although playing three at the back has made us more of a threat in the centre and up front, it leaves the team exposed at the back, and we’ve been conceding too early and too often.

Furthermore, our amazing unbeaten away run was cut short at 22, and having lost three away games in four (the only win coming against Portsmouth, a club so in the doldrums you actually feel bad for them when you beat them), it’s pretty deflating.

All this culminated in the sacking of Keith Curle earlier this month. Much like twelve months ago, Notts let a manager go, although this time a replacement hasn’t been installed as swiftly. As of the 7th, development squad manager Chris Kiwomya is still caretaker manager.

However, not all is doom and gloom. When goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski was taken off with a head injury against Leyton Orient, many Notts fans feared weeks of Rotherham-style scorelines. However, young Fabian Speiss has excelled in goal since, to the point where Bialkowski is likely going to have to fight for the first team place once fully fit.

And it’s not that the team is bad. The football has been quite good, as seen in the match against Oldham on the 22nd, Notts comprehensively outplaying the Latics. Our midfield is one of the best in the league, and have been providing plenty of crosses and through-balls which have been begging to be converted. The ammunition is there, we just need a couple more weapons!

So, after an eventful month at the Lane, we’re at a bit of a crossroads. The ambition of the play-offs is ebbing away game by game. We’re still only five points off the top six, but we really need to put our own house in order first before trying to claw it back. However, a couple of loan signings could make all the difference. And we have clawed it back before – just last year, we dragged ourselves back into the play-offs and so nearly finished there but for a couple of tricky fixtures, and with many things from last season repeating themselves this term, who wouldn’t be up for an end-of-season play-off burst? I know I’d love that! So Come On You Pies!

Written by Giuseppe Labellarte, We Are Going Up’s Notts County blogger

Giuseppe tweets at @JoeJonesHome

Same old story as mid-season misery hits Magpies

Saturday, January 5th, 2013

Since the last Notts article, I’m sad to say that our season has taken a turn for the worse. December ended up being a dismal month for the Magpies, who registered no wins during the festive period. On the plus side, our away record is intact, having been unbeaten in 22, but to be honest, it now feels like a mere plaster over the increasingly enlarging wound that is our current form. Our record at Meadow Lane, on the other hand, is nothing short of ghastly. The home game against Brentford was pretty even and should, like our last eight meetings against the Bees, have ended in a draw, but a defensive lapse allowed Clayton Donaldson to steal the win with two minutes left on the clock.

Worse was to come with our home FA Cup replay against Rotherham which was nothing short of shambolic. The League Two side raced into a 3-0 lead in a horror first half that also saw Damion Stewart sent off for an elbow on Alex Revell. A miserly crowd of just under 3,000 watched as the Millers cruised into the third round at our expense as Notts couldn’t find a reply to the away side’s three goals. A chance for instant redemption was then extinguished on the morning of the 22nd of December as the game against Leyton Orient was postponed by the referee around two hours before kick-off, much to the bemusement of the Notts crowd and hierarchy, while another postponement against Stevenage ensured the Shrewsbury game was our last one of the calendar year.

The alleviation of the congested festive fixture list didn’t prove a tonic for Notts’ form, as the new year started with yet another home defeat, against the Milton Keynes Dons. If it’s not late goals which are proving our undoing, it’s conceding multiple early goals which prove too difficult to claw back, as it happened on New Year’s Day. Even though the Pies improved in the second half and grabbed a goal from the penalty spot, the damage was done in the first fifteen minutes as MK scored twice.

So as it stands, it’s a similar story to many seasons gone past – County’s form in the first few months is impressive, establishing us as promotion candidates, before it unravels around December time and drops us into mid-table mediocrity. This happened last season, the slump in form between November and February proving the demise of Martin Allen. The same seems to be happening this season with Keith Curle, whose tactics, performances and results over the last couple of weeks are coming under increasing scrutiny by the Notts faithful and have seen us drop from 6th to 13th. Confidence is lacking, while some reported behind-the-scenes issues with Lee Hughes and Yoann Arquin have also proved unsettling for team and fans alike. Those two players have goals in them, something Notts is missing at the moment, as the likes of Enoch Showunmi and Chris Iwelumo just haven’t done it for us.

January will be a crucial month for the Magpies, as results need to be pulled back, with home wins essential to supplement the away form, while our dealings in the transfer window will also make or break our season – Lee Hughes would be at Port Vale right now if the Football League paperwork went through just a couple of minutes earlier, and question marks still arise over his future at Meadow Lane, while Andre Boucaud is currently the subject of negotiations between Notts and parent club Luton Town. Other players who have been impacted include Jordan Stewart and Damion Stewart, who have been offered new contracts, and Tom Williams, Carl Regan and Chris Iwelumo, who have left the club. Top priority for the club is a good striker, with Jonathan Forte’s name on the lips of many fans, while retaining our prized assets is also a must if we’re to work our way back up the table.

With no game now until the 12th of January, Notts fans will have a weekend to feast over the FA Cup third round as neutrals (or enjoy a slice of nostalgia with the old Anglo-Italian Cup win over Ascoli in 1995 on the official website), as our old rivals Mansfield entertain Liverpool, while a jealous eye will be cast on the fourth round draw as the winner of Aldershot v Rotherham ends up drawing Chelsea or Manchester United…

Well, let’s not beat ourselves down too much. Let’s stay positive and hope the Notts hierarchy can successfully negotiate the winter transfer window, regarding both transfers in and out, while Curle and the boys can make things happen again on the pitch. As always, come on you Pies!

Written by Giuseppe Labellarte, We Are Going Up’s Notts County blogger

Giuseppe tweets at @JoeJonesHome

150 years old, 20 away games unbeaten – one great club!

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

Twenty games into the season, things are looking pretty good for Notts County. Keith Curle’s team is currently in the play-off positions occupying sixth place, playing good football and with a goal difference of +12. The league, as per most years, is incredibly tight – only four points separate second from eighth, and Stevenage, our bogey team, are breathing right down our necks, so Notts must be careful.

Recent results, however, have been impressive – the number twenty once again of significance, relating to the number of consecutive unbeaten games played away from home – the 1-1 draw away against Rotherham at the New York Stadium ensures the continuation of this amazing run, and also means we get to know who the winner of this tie will play in the FA Cup Third Round. Meanwhile our win against promotion rivals Swindon at the Lane will hopefully mark the turning of a corner with regards to our relatively mediocre home form. Paolo Di Canio compared goalie Bartosz Bialkowski to legend Peter Schmeichel after his commanding display between the posts against the Robins, while the Irish Messi Alan Judge worked his magic once again to net the spectacular winner.

28th of November 2012 marked Notts County Football Club’s 150th birthday, and the club marked this occasion with a special celebration at the 1862 Suite, an event followed by the national press, in which Jimmy Sirrel, our finest ever manager, was the first inductee into the NCFC Hall of Fame.

150 years of emotions, highs and lows, ups and downs, many amazing occasions, some worrying times and some downright bad times. I’ve only supported Notts for around ten years but in that time alone I’ve experienced the  amazing highs, such as the win against a Middlesbrough containing Robert Huth, Gaizka Mendieta and Mark Viduka in 2006, and being ten minutes away from winning against a stellar Manchester City side in 2011, who went on all the way to win the FA Cup, as well as lows. Nearly being relegated from the Football League altogether, the financial problems several years back – and the downright bizarre, such as Munto’s takeover and witnessing the likes of Kasper Schmeichel, Sol Campbell and Sven Goran Eriksson turning up at the Lane.

But it’s been a rollercoaster ride which I wouldn’t change for the world. There’s a picture on Facebook doing the rounds at the moment declaring that “if there are no ups and downs in your life, that means you’re dead”. If that’s the case, then nothing can make you feel more alive than being a Magpies fan, and I can vouch for that! Now here’s to many more years of Notts County Football Club, and let’s turn the amazing foundations we’ve built this season into something more concrete! Come on you Pies!

Written by Giuseppe Labellarte, We Are Going Up’s Notts County blogger

Giuseppe tweets at @JoeJonesHome

You sexy-centennial Pies!

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

2012 has been an incredible year for sport. The thrilling finale to the Premier League, culminating in an absolutely unbelievable finish for Manchester City against QPR which will go down in the annuals, Roberto Di Matteo dragging Chelsea kicking and screaming to the Champions’ League, an exciting Euro 2012 which confirmed Spain as one of the all time greats of football (not very nice final to watch as an Italian though!), and of course the London Olympics, which may very well go down as the greatest Olympics of all time.

Closer to home, it’s also a great year for Notts County Football Club, as we celebrate our sesquicentennial! That’s a 150th anniversary by the way – and yes, I have just Googled it! So happy birthday you sexy Pies! You’re not bad looking for a 150 year old!

Rewinding back a year, an absolutely whirlwind 2011-12 for us saw the season starting with an epic derby game against Forest, took us into a historic friendly at Juventus’ new ground, then saw us flirt incessantly with the top seven and finish just a handful of goals away from a play-off position.

At the beginning of our 150th season, things seem a little bit calmer this time round. The much-touted friendly against Juventus at Meadow Lane never materialised, but nevertheless County had some good pre-season fixtures lined up, including the Gibraltar national side, AEK Athens, and of course the yearly meeting with our neighbours on the red side of the Trent – just a friendly this time, rather than the competitive cup classic that saw 120 minutes of fast frantic action followed by a nerve-jangling penalty shootout.

Keith Curle has been very busy in pre-season, having released twelve players and brought in eleven new ones so far. In Francois Zoko, Manny Smith and Gary Liddle, the club have managed to net themselves three of the best League One players from last season. Jamal Campbell-Ryce is also a good signing, having had an impressive loan spell at Leyton Orient in 2011/12, while Bartosz Bialkowski is a former Poland Under-20 international from Premier League new boys Southampton.

One issue, however, is the future of Alan Judge. The “Irish Messi” was in outstanding form in the second half of last season, but recently told the Nottingham Post that he feels he deserves a better contract deal, and is waiting to see if the Magpies make him an improved offer. If we can hang onto him, it would prove a positive boost.

Competitive action began against Bradford City in the League Cup. Unfortunately, their failure to take their chances cost them dearly as the Bantams, fallen giants currently scrapping in League Two, prevailed in extra time.

The focus this year, however, is clearly on promotion from the league, as last season’s target of consolidation was well and truly smashed with a play-off challenge up until the 46th game, and the Pies got off to a good start, getting all three points away at Crewe. Yoann Arquin had a mixed debut, scoring the winner in their 2-1 win, but was sent off just a few minutes later. The final few minutes were agonising as seven minutes of injury time were played and Crewe skipper Ashley Westwood had a shot cleared off the line by Lee Hughes in the 94th minute, but Notts survived.

It’s way too early to make any judgements, but a good start is a good start, and Tuesday sees the Pies take on Jeff Stelling’s Hartlepool in their first home league game this season. Watch this space, and of course, Come On You Pies!

Written by Giuseppe Labellarte, We Are Going Up’s Notts County blogger

Giuseppe tweets at @JoeJonesHome