Well, Christmas is now out of the way for another year (or more appropriately, another ten months before the build-up starts again). Christmas adverts have been swiftly taken off the air and replaced with talk of sales, celebrating New Year’s Eve, and resolutions. Songs about winter (Gabriela Cilmi’s “Warm This Winter” usually appears after Boxing Day) have replaced the usual yuletide suspects.
In the Football League calendar, the festive period marks the halfway point of the season. Notts County played their 23rd game of the season on Boxing Day, exactly half their fixtures, and as things stand, we are in deep trouble.
Let’s just rewind two months, to the dismissal of Chris Kiwomya. By this point, Notts were rock bottom of the table and had virtually no hope. There was the odd good display, but as the weeks passed by, and the losses kept mounting up, it got to the point where nobody, not even the most optimistic well-wishers, believed he could legitimately keep us up. And so, for the good of the club, he had to go.
The logical step would have been to hire a manager who had what it takes to grab a club and all its players by the scruff of the neck and to haul them right out of the quagmire. A manager with passion; a manager who thoroughly understands the club; a manager who has plenty of experience.
Notts County then appointed Shaun Derry. Not a popular decision by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, he had the passion, and he is Notts through and through, but for all purposes, he was still a player. He had never managed a football club. He may have experienced captaining a team out of trouble, but not managing one out of it.
The start of his reign was nothing short of disastrous. First, a 3-2 defeat at the hands of bottom tier Hartlepool United in the FA Cup Second Round. Then, a humiliating 5-1 defeat away at Oldham Athletic in the Johnston’s Paint Trophy. And finally, three defeats and a draw in the next four league games. Relegation seemed all but inevitable, even at this early stage of the season.
Then, in December, things finally began turning round. Against Gillingham, a solid performance led to a 3-1 victory. A week later, Notts destroyed Colchester United 4-0 away from home. Certainly this would be it; the turning point had come after so many false dawns!
Alas, things then took a turn for the worse a week later. Poor refereeing decisions marred the 1-1 draw against Bristol City. The opposition style of play – ie aggression – also marred the game, as we saw not one, but two players subbed off with injury. One of our best players this season, Gary Liddle, is now facing a long spell on the sidelines.
On Boxing Day, against a high-flying Port Vale side, Notts were unable to maintain their unbeaten run. The 2-1 defeat to the Staffordshire club means the Magpies fall back down to 23rd, on equal points with Crewe Alexandra. Who have a game in hand. Oh, at which point do I mention the fact we lost because of two very harsh penalty calls against Vale?
So anyway, here we are. There is no longer a considerable distance between ourselves and safety as there had been a month ago, but we’re still struggling to drag ourselves out of the danger zone.
The manager seems to know what he’s doing now after his baptism of fire, but with so many refereeing decisions going against us, and with opposition teams gleefully fouling our players out of the game – both Bristol City and Port Vale were particularly rash with skilful on-loan midfielder Jack Grealish – then just what will it take for Notts to actually pull themselves out of peril?
Written by Giuseppe Labellarte, We Are Going Up’s Notts County blogger
Giuseppe tweets at @JoeJonesHome