David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘Meadow Lane’

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

I Never Want to Come Home

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Get rid of Meadow Lane.

Sell it.

Rent it out to the rugby club.

Turn it into a block of flats or a massive statue of Mark Draper… or something.

We don’t need it anymore.

It is not that I do not love the place – I do.  It is just that we would be better off without it, such is our form away from home.

Like a university graduate forced to live back with his folks until he gets a proper job, much of Notts’ fun this season has been away from home – preferably a long way away.

Notts are currently unbeaten in 14 games on the road: a record for the club that also means Keith Curle has only lost at Meadow Lane since taking charge.

Compare that with our home form, where we have lost three of the seven so far in League One this campaign.

It is not hard to see why Notts are so good at playing as the visitors:  they have some players with pace, who are happy to run at the opposition.  The additions of Zoko, Campbell-Rice and Arquin have been pretty successful ones.

Similarly, the back-line has been strengthened, with Leacock and Liddle being particularly successful, and Manny Smith yet to have an extended run in the side.

These two points combined mean Notts are able to soak up pressure from the home side, and then hit them on the break with the likes of Zoko.

It is slightly puzzling as to why they have not enjoyed similar success at home, especially as we are finally able to keep hold of the ball, now that Curle has got the team passing it along the floor.

But it is no bad thing, really.   The benefits of an away day out in some big city like Sheffield are already pretty obvious; but it is much easier to convince yourself to make a drizzly trip to Bury, Scunthorpe and Coventry (all away wins this season) when you think there is a decent chance of returning with all three points.

We have got Portsmouth at Fratton Park in the FA Cup, followed after by a trip to Colchester.  Tell your ma not to wait up for you.

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

Dan tweets at @DanDartsDawson

Humble Pie: How Keith Curle won over the County faithful

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

Well, I must say I can hardly believe it.

Just three weeks ago, Notts County fans were shellshocked by the announcement that Martin Allen had been sacked by the club. After all, he was a popular coach who helped save the club from relegation last season and was producing decent results. Even more bewildering was the fact he had been replaced by Keith Curle, a manager with an unimpressive record to say the least. However, the results have been completely astounding, and have convinced the County faithful that he’s definitely good enough for the job.

First was the Stevenage game at Meadow Lane. Curle was warmly greeted by the County faithful from the start, despite their doubts and the dark cloud still lingering over Allen’s sacking. Their warm welcome and cordiality was rewarded in the form of a Zona Cesarini goal (Google it: this is the first of several Italian references in this article) from Jeff Hughes. It ended 1-0 County.

The weekend game, against local rivals Chesterfield, was a fairly open affair which could have gone either way, again settled by a late goal, this time from on-loan Southampton striker Jonathan Forte.

Tuesday the 28th brought win number three, with Hamza Bencherif netting in injury time – in the first half on this occasion – to grind out another 1-0 win. Lee Hughes’s red card after 89 minutes, combined with five minutes of injury time to play tested the Pies to their very limit, but they hung on. Three wins, three goals scored, none conceded. The word catenaccio springs to mind! Comparisons to Steve Cotterill, engineer of 14 wins from 18 games in 2010 en route to the League Two title, were already being made.

Win number four came at home against Carlisle United. Amazingly, there was another clean sheet for County as they put two past the Cumbrians courtesy of Forte and Alan Sheehan.

Cruelly, Zona Cesarini (that’s injury time if you’re still wondering) proved County’s undoing away to Tranmere. Jamaican international Damion Stewart netted his first for the club after five minutes, but holding a lead for that long often proves a huge feat and in the 93rd minute, Tranmere captain John Welsh broke County’s hearts with a header past County keeper Stuart Nelson. Even though four wins and a draw from five is nevertheless an amazing feat, it is truly frustrating to be denied the even grander achievement of five wins from five with none conceded right at the very end of the fifth game.

The following three fixtures would have struck fear into the heart of any fan of a League One team: Charlton Athletic, runaway leaders of the division, away, then home games against Sheffield Wednesday, third in the table and Sheffield United, who are currently second.

What happened in the Charlton match was beyond the wildest expectations of not only every County fan, but everyone interested in the Football League. Judge opened the scoring on 16 minutes, then Forte scored with his right foot on 18 minutes, followed by his left on 35. Then with his head on 40 to complete a 22 minute hat-trick.

4-0 up, Against runaway leaders Charlton. Away. In the first half. Even if you use the strict German definition of hat-trick, which involves three goals scored by one player in one half of a match, with no other scorer in between, it fits. Truly a perfect hat-trick, and a perfect first half to cap off a near-perfect first three weeks in charge for Keith Curle.

Predictably, Charlton gaffer Chris Powell have issued some stern words to his players at half time, who duly came out all guns blazing in the second half. Bradley Wright-Phillips netted on 51 minutes, and four minutes later came a second, as Scott Wagstaff headed past Nelson. County, however, survived the relentless pressure and finished the game 4-2 winners.

So there we have it. Six games, five wins, one draw, ten scored, three conceded. That’s championship-winning form. Of course, talk of promotion is still very much premature. The two teams below the Pies, Carlisle and Stevenage, have two and three games in hand respectively, while the MK Dons are six points ahead in fifth place. Much rests on County’s following two games and those in hand of the teams below. Cementing a play-off position is a realistic objective and definitely back on the agenda, one thing is for sure though; County have the ability to split the League promotion race wide open if results go their way against the Sheffield clubs, which potentially could make for an amazing finale to the season.

And here’s a little more trivia; Forte, the surname of Saturday’s hat-trick hero, means strong in Italian, and is colloquially used to describe brilliance or affection – “sei forte!” translates to “you’re great/ace!” It stems from “forza” which, again, literally means “strength” but can also be used to mean “come on!” You may recall it from the name of bunga-bunga expert Silvio Berlusconi’s political party, Forza Italia, which has roots in traditional Italian football lingo, such as “Forza Juve!”

And who are County playing in pre-season this summer for their 150th anniversary? Why, only Italian giants and eternally grateful black-and-white-striped kit loanees Juventus. It’s very clearly written in the stars! So here’s to an exciting run-in and…. Forza County!

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

Giuseppe tweets at @JoeJonesHome

Mad Dog’s swift demise

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Life. You could be getting on with things as normal. Business as usual. Steady. Ticking on. Same old, same old. Then, all of a sudden, something happens so quickly that, once it’s taken place, you think “what just happened?” Like the time I was temping for a company many moons ago, and I made a small mistake on the job. The manager spotted it, called me to her office, and told me she was letting me go. There and then. At 3pm on a Wednesday. No notice. One minute I was in, then a blur, then I was out.

I remember sitting in my car for a while afterwards, not so much disappointed at the situation, but bewildered and shocked by just how quickly it happened. This is the feeling Notts County fans are experiencing now. Martin Allen was managing the club quite admirably. Though it had been a while since talk of automatic promotion, the team sits 11th in the table and, although they suffered a poor 3-0 defeat away at Jeff Stelling’s Hartlepool, previous results had been decent and, all in all, things were steady.

Then, on February the 18th, a notice on the Pies’ website: “Notts County wish to announce that Martin Allen has been relieved of his duties with immediate effect.” What?

Just like that, he was gone. A manager everyone thought was getting on ok and had turned County into a steady, top half League 1 club, no longer there. And while the dismissal of a manager usually leads to several days, if not weeks, of finding a suitable replacement, a new manager had been brought in within 48 hours. Not Steve Cotterill, who, despite his woes on the red side of the Trent, would have been a popular choice at Meadow Lane based on his previous County spell, but Keith Curle.

Yes, Keith Curle…What?

An eccentric, popular manager, who was liked and respected by his players and who actively strived to raise the team’s profile in the city, dismissed and replaced with one whose previous posts are limited to Mansfield Town, Chester and Torquay United – and let’s be honest, they weren’t exactly flying high with him in charge. Mad Dog was there on Friday, gone by Saturday and replaced by Curle on Monday. It’s like some twisted surreal footballing version of a popular Craig David song. It does not make sense.

But despite the madness, rational thinking is needed. One thing to take into account is that Neil Warnock has just been appointed manager of Leeds United, and could have attempted to recruit Curle to his backroom team at Elland Road, as he did at Crystal Palace and Queen’s Park Rangers, so County owner Ray Trew may have wanted to move quick to secure Curle’s signature. The fact that Curle and Kevin Pilkington were at the Exeter game should have raised eyebrows. This, combined with the speed of Mad Dog’s dismissal and Curle’s swift appointment, are tell-tale signs that changes may have been in the pipeline for some time. By the looks of it, there were some serious backroom problems which we don’t know about – a Nottingham Post interview with skipper Neal Bishop hinted at “irreconcilable differences” between Allen and Trew.

So, as things are, where should the fans stand? My opinion is that, as a County fan who remembers nearly dropping out of the Football League altogether, not to mention the crazy financial doping period, complete with Trainspotting-style comedown which had Portsmouth, Leeds United and Gretna written all over it, Trew’s tenure has so far been a success, bringing much needed stability to the club, and thus, I will give him the benefit of the doubt and get behind the new manager. Like I said, there may have been good reasons for Allen’s dismissal. We don’t know. However, animosity at this stage is not beneficial.

Curle has not managed a club since 2007, but has been a coach at Crystal Palace and Queens Park Rangers (who, let’s not forget, were promoted the Premiership) under Warnock, so let’s hope this will reflect positively in his managerial tenure and that this Keith won’t end up a lemon. So, let’s see how things get on, onwards and upwards, and as always, COYP!

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

Giuseppe tweets at @JoeJonesHome

A Massive Wind Up?

Friday, August 19th, 2011

I think someone might be taking the piss.

Silly things are happening at Meadow Lane; and were it not for the fact that he is currently dead, I almost expect Jeremy Beadle to jump out and announce that it is all a big hoax – that Notts County’s proud 149 year history is actually just one massive ‘long con’, leading to a series of punchlines that this may only be the start of.

Football-wise, things are alright. We looked clueless against Charlton, but have shown a degree of quality and spirit against Carlisle, Forest and Tranmere, to make us think we might not be fighting the drop come May. This is thanks mainly to new signings Jeff Hughes and Alan Sheehan, who both look clever buys: Hughes is a player who wants to get on the ball and make things happen, whereas Sheehan’s set-piece delivery is so good that we don’t really miss Ben Davies anymore.

It is not what is on the pitch that is the issue though – it is what is going on off it that is ludicrous.

Firstly, we are playing Juventus.

The actual Juventus – the Old Lady of Italian football.

Now, it is no secret we gave them their black and white kit back when they started out, but the likelihood of them wanting us to go over there for a friendly to celebrate their new stadium opening just seems daft. Will the Juve fans be bothered? Will ours be bothered? Will the return fixture at Meadow Lane even feature any players from Juve we might have heard of? Is it worth playing a vanity game two days before we play Walsall in the league?

I don’t know.

But that was not the only odd thing to happen at the Lane this week.  I am still not sure if this other one is a genuine wind-up or not (I am only just getting used to the eccentricities of our manager Martin ‘Mad Dog’ Allen – a man who once took a training session in the middle of a roundabout because the team bus broke down).  Anyway… the issue is this:

He used the club’s website to advertise for someone to teach him to whistle.

“Good afternoon,

I am desperately trying to find somebody that can teach me to whistle. This may sound like a joke but I can assure you it’s not. This is not for my dog, this is for me to whistle from the technical area.

Any ideas please let me know asap via media@nottscountyfc.co.uk.

Regards,

Martin”

This was on the club’s website. The official website.

What in God’s name is going on?

Why does he need to whistle? Is he planning on signing a sheepdog before the transfer window closes?  Will we end up with a contingent of shepherds jostling for position in the technical area, trying to get Mad Dog’s instructions to the players?

Why can he not just shout anyway? Or semaphore? Smoke signals? Why not whack a bloody great lighthouse in the dugout and flash Morse code at whichever disinterested full-back he is having trouble trying to contact during crucial moments of the match?

So much nonsense; so many questions; but the one I would ask is this:

If Mad Dog had put his advert for a whistling teacher on the club’s website a week earlier, and Juventus had seen it… would they still have invited our club round to such an historic occasion in their history?

Our striker Lee Hughes laughed as we went out of the League Cup to Forest.

I think other people are laughing at us now… lots of them – and I should know, because I’m one of ‘em.

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

TILES

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Tiles.

“White, square, dull, bland, horrible tiles.”

They are the reason Notts County have been trudging round the lower reaches of the league for many years now.

I know – because the new boss says so. They are his own words quoted above.

Martin “Mad Dog” Allen scraped together enough points in the last six games of the previous season to keep us up, and is now charged with turning round a club that has barely caught its breath from a sham Middle-East takeover scandal.

The way Mad Dog sees it, we are the oldest league club in the world; Juventus nicked our kit; we have sat at the top table of football (for a bit…and a long while ago); but looking round Meadow Lane, you would never know it… and that translates to the players.

I’ve been watching Notts for 20 years– I’ve seen us play in the top flight; I’ve seen us beat Forest; I’ve seen us when we were crowned the richest club in the world (if that was based on imaginary Disney-dollars from equally-imaginary Middle-Eastern backers, instead of actual money); I saw us storm to the League Two title only a couple of seasons ago – but I still never harbour any wild hopes or expectations about our beloved club anymore.
There are just too many obstacles in the way. We have little or no money, no youth system to speak of, and cannot keep hold of the few decent players we do get. Notts fans are some of the most pessimistic I’ve ever come across – the sort of doomed resignation that only comes from decades in the shadows of the bottom two divisions. Even the talk of us possibly signing Marlon Harewood (after all, a fringe player in the Premier League’s gotta be big for a third division side) has not aroused much more than a shrug from most fans I speak to, usually followed by, “yeah but he probably won’t come anyway, will he, duck?”

So maybe Mad Dog’s right. Maybe we all need a kick up the arse – to be reminded of what this club once was, and what it can be again. He came out with his rant about the tiles in a 20 minute rambling interview on the edge of the pitch – you could literally hear the workmen banging away in the background while he bemoaned the lack of inspiration around Meadow Lane:

“There’s nothing in the history of Notts County FC, oldest club in the world. There’s no logos, no banners, no sayings, no pictures, no statements, no mission statements.”

This year, that changes. Mad Dog is the man to change it. We will batter Forest in the first round of the cup; Harewood will sign and score 40; we will be champions of League One by April; and we will begin the long process of restoring not only this club’s status as one of the greatest in the world, but also restoring the belief of a disaffected portion of the finest city of the East Midlands.

This is the year, Notts County is the club, and Martin Allen is the man.

How’s that for a mission statement?… stick it on a tile, quick.

Final league position predicition: 14th

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