David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘Lee Hughes’

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

How to break the habit?

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Sitting pretty at the top of the league, a win at previous league leaders Gillingham, and new signings coming in, suddenly there is an air of positivity around the previously dark halls of Port Vale.

While Lee Hughes is a name that polarizes, there can be no argument that the addition of him, Darren Purse, Chris Birchall and Daniel Jones have added experience, quality and cover in positions that we needed them. But not only that, we have been told the signings haven’t stopped! I don’t know how to react to this.

I’ve been supporting Port Vale for the best part of 15 years (more than half of my life!) and it has been bleak for most of them. Under the previous regime, we were treated to relegations, and no real hope. This has been the life of a Port Vale fan, and it’s a tough thought process to break.

Picture the scene. In years gone by, our managers list has read like a who’s who of no-hopers. Names such as Dean Glover, Lee Sinnott, and the ever popular James (Don’t call me Jim, especially not on a bus) Gannon have graced the dugout, and each destroyed the faith that I had in my club a little bit.

I don’t want sympathy; I know that this is the curse of being a lower league football fan. We don’t have the continued highs of a Manchester United, but they don’t get to share the crippling roller coaster of emotions that we consider a normal season. We consider a trip to Wembley a unique experience (I’ve been to two finals while a fan, the LDV Vans and the Anglo Italian Cup) and winning a title is a once in a lifetime thing.

This new turn of events, leading a league, bringing in signings that the footballing world has actually heard of, I didn’t see it coming. I don’t know how to react to it at all! I appreciate that many fans would give their right arm to have some form of success, but I just don’t know what to do!

Seeing us take 2000 fans to Fleetwood, winning at top of the league, beating Rotherham at Rotherham. These are things that just don’t happen to little Port Vale! I got so used to the misery, it became normality. The ups and downs of a single season in the Football League would make most people crack.

But you know what, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m hooked on the emotional ride. I crave the highs and the lows. I spend my time searching for my next fix of terrible stadiums, awful pitches, route one football, and starting a season knowing that promotion or relegation are both distinct possibilities.

Written by Steve Donaldson, We Are Going Up’s Port Vale Blogger

Steve tweets at @the_vogster

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

 

On-form strikers propel Magpies into play-off position

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

It’s been six weeks since that friendly against Juventus. You’d have been forgiven for thinking that Notts County would have slumped into apathy and discontent following that magical night in Turin, much like someone who’s just returned from a great holiday and has to report back to their miserable, mind-numbing job the following day, and for their focus to slip in the following several weeks.

Instead, the Pies have been in scintillating form. After the impressive 2-1 victory against Walsall, a midweek game away to Exeter ended in a 1-1 draw which, bearing in mind it was the Pies’ third game in six days, and (a long way) away from home was more a case of a point earned rather than two lost.

Three whole days without a match followed, before another away game ended in a 2-0 win for Nottingham’s bianconeri. The game following that must have felt like a huge relief to County’s by-now-surely-exhausted players, as it came a whole week after the last one, and back on home territory. Rochdale were dispatched 2-0, Lee Hughes and Sam Sodje getting the goals.

October began with a 3-0 defeat away at Milton Keynes, the Dons playing against ten men for all but four minutes of the game. A bad result for County, but playing a team which Martin Allen has tipped as this year’s League One champions at their own ground, was always going to be hard with a full team, never mind a man down. This blip continued into the next game, the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy clash against rivals Chesterfield. Three more goals conceded by the Pies in a single match, this time in front of the County fans, meant the Spireites would progress in the competition at their expense; another rival team beating them in a cup clash this season. Here’s hoping County don’t get Mansfield in the FA Cup.

Whatever words Mad Dog administered to the players following that cup tie must have worked as three proved to be the magic number again against Hartlepool – luckily it was Jeff Stelling’s boys picking it out of their net, courtesy of two from Karl Hawley and one from the brilliant Cristian Montano, who unfortunately is no longer at Notts, having been recalled by West Ham before being loaned out to Paolo Di Canio’s Swindon.

Redemption against bitter rivals Chesterfield came quickly, as County smashed another three (with a little help from a Drew Talbot own goal) against the Spireites at their own ground. The Sheffield derby the following day meant Magpies fans couldn’t brag about being in the top three for too long as Wednesday moved above them in the table, but nevertheless, the club are sitting comfortably in the play-off positions, which is a welcome relief from last year’s struggles. Last weekend the Pies earned another point in a game against Brentford, courtesy of a penalty from the other great Hughesy in the team, Jeff. So impressed is Mad Dog with the Northern Irishman, he’s declared to the media for him to be recalled to the national team.

Just over two months into the season, it’s a good time to be a Pies fan. The football is attractive, the strikers are all scoring, the atmosphere both in the team and at the ground is buzzing and the results speak for themselves. Although I’m still very cautious at the moment, should the team keep playing and notching up points the way they are – and manage to cement ourselves in the play-off positions – then this season could definitely be a memorable one! I’m a few weeks too late to talk about swapping leagues with our great rivals Forest, but wouldn’t it be nice to get the chance to play them in the Championship next season? We’ll see how things get on!

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

Giuseppe tweets at @JosephGoodart

Glamorous reunion with long-lost Old Lady galvanises Pies

Monday, September 12th, 2011

Imagine. You work long hours in an unglamorous, unattractive environment. It’s a bit of a slog. It’s not pretty, it’s not big, but it’s got to be done. Supports your nearest and dearest. You live in a pretty big pad, but it never lives up to its full potential; at public occasions it’s no more than about a third full. You have to share with a gruff tenant who often ruins the carpet when his lot come round.

Then out of the blue, your distant cousin, who you were close to when you were very (and I mean VERY) young, and who is now top of his field, rich, glitzy, glamorous with accolades and titles to boot, invites you round to his brand new gaff for an evening of entertainment. For one night, you’re no longer mixing with the other has-beens and never-weres that you have to deal with on a weekly basis. You’re the guest of honour at one of the biggest housewarming parties of the decade! And even though you have work less than 2 days later, you still go along with it, because it provides a glimmer of joy in an otherwise mundane existence.

Notts County Football Club are in the above boat. The great Juventus, not forgetting the contribution made by John Savage over 100 years ago who arranged for the Pies’ black and white strips to be shipped over to Turin, invited County to play at their new 41,000 seater stadium this week. They could have invited pretty much anybody in the footballing world. Barcelona? Real Madrid? Ajax? Boca Juniors? Even a European or World XI? All of them would have been privileged to be the first team to face Juve at the new home. But they decided to recognise the club which gave them the legendary black and white strip, with whom they share a distant, ill-maintained but strong, unforgettable bond. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity allowed County to forget, for one night, their status as a mid-table League One team (that said, as many fellow County fans know, it was so much worse just a few years back, when our very league status was on the line).

Occasion aside, many thought Notts County would get destroyed on the pitch by a world-class team featuring the likes of World Cup winners Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro Del Piero, Andrea Pirlo and Luca Toni. However, after falling behind courtesy of a Toni rebound from a well-saved Fabio Quagliarella penalty, the ever-reliable (Forest penalty miss aside!) Lee Hughes smashed in the equaliser three minutes from time and the game finished a very respectable 1-1.

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against a rival one division higher who has made the Championship play-offs in two years is one thing; however, a draw against one of the top teams in the world (away, no less!) is another. Snippets of history were made by County – Rob Burch saved the first penalty at the new Juve stadium, and Hughes scored the first goal against the home team there. Everyone connected with the club was clearly buzzing after the game.

And even though there were plenty of cynics claiming the friendly would impact negatively on the Walsall game back home two days later, in the plodding reality of League One, it proved the opposite. Two minutes into the game, Cristian Montano struck the Walsall post, and a Hughes header was just wide. After 37 minutes, a brilliant volley from – who else – Hughes made it 1-0 to County and despite a sloppy start to the second half which culminated in an Andy Butler equaliser for Walsall, some great play from skipper Neal Bishop set up Montano, who scored past Walsall keeper David Grof, guaranteed the three points and capped off a truly momentous week for the Magpies.

The big occasion may now be over, but County’s players, managers and staff have, for one night, lived the dream, proved their worth against one of the world’s premier teams and have proved wrong all those who mocked them for playing a friendly two days before a league game. Here’s hoping the Pies can build on this crazy (in a good way, unlike other crazy weeks we’ve had at the club in recent years) week and climb up the table.

And for anyone who’s wondering, a return fixture is scheduled for before the start of the 2012-13 season at Meadow Lane as part of the club’s 150th anniversary celebrations. We have an away goal from the first leg, so come on Pies, let’s win this tie!

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

Giuseppe tweets at @JosephGoodart

Hughesy’s Giggle

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Lee Hughes walked back from the penalty spot towards the halfway line, having shanked his penalty into the Trent End, and missed the chance to give Notts County a second consecutive win over Forest – albeit 17 years apart.

He was laughing.

I wasn’t.

I wasn’t doing anything… just staring.

Well, staring and trying not to swear at the 10 year old boy who was sat infront of me and making faces – after my mate had got me a ticket for our big local derby game in with the Forest fans.

It had been an amazing match:  2-2 at full-time; Notts 3-2 up until Forest’s hopelessly lumbering centre-half Wes Morgan (a man who I can only assume took up football because he was rejected from WWE Wrestling for being too much of a meat-head) smashed in a 20 yarder with the last kick of extra-time; then 3-3 on penalties when our legendary striker Lee Hughes stepped-up to win the match.

Except he didn’t.

And he laughed.

What did it mean?

Was Lee merely chuckling at the absurdity of how 20,000 people could be so emotionally invested in this one simple act of kicking a ball, whilst the country seemed to be ripped apart by riots?

Did it take a man with a different perspective on things, someone who was banged-up for killing a man through drink-driving, to show that this simple game was not as important as the Nottingham police station currentlybeing firebombed a couple of miles down the road?

Maybe he just farted as he kicked the ball… I don’t know.  Hughesy strikes me as the kind of guy who would be greatly entertained by that.

All I do know is that if that penno had gone in, I would not have to put up with all my Forest-supporting mates’ smug condescension towards me for the next God-knows-how-long til we play next.

But you know what?  It doesn’t matter, because us Notts fans can handle it – we’ve been bred to.  We will forever be in the shadow of the two-time European Cup winners over the river.  Whatever victories we earn over them will be few and far between, and will be far outweighed by the defeats we suffer.

But when it does happen, like Sir Charlie Palmer Day (12.2.1994), when our own lumbering defender won the game with a superb header, it tastes sweeter than anything Forest fans will ever know.  I know they love beating Derby County, but they will never be the underdogs against the Rams – we always will be against Forest… and so when we win, it is amazing.  I have been savouring the sweet taste of Charlie Palmer’s winner for 17 years, and I may have to wait another 17 for a similar feeling.

But we will wait, and it will happen.  Maybe Hughes was right to have a giggle… he knew that by missing that penalty, he was delaying Magpies fans’ delirium for another decade or two – but that when it happens, it will be even more magical.

Hughsey, you cunning genius, you.  I still love you.

Written by Dan Dawson – We Are Going Up’s Notts County Blogger