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