David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘Notts County’

The greatest of great escapes

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

6075149-largerWow. What an outcome for Notts County Football Club. Words fail to describe the sheer emotions felt during the final stages of the season, but I’ll give it a try.

March began with arguably the most horrendous result of the season – a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Rotherham United, with four goals shipped in the first 30 minutes.

A creditable 0-0 draw against high-flying Leyton Orient followed, but then two consecutive defeats, against MK Dons and Tranmere Rovers, saw us at our lowest ebb.

Following the 3-2 defeat away at Prenton Park, the Magpies were seven points from safety, having played a game more than four of the teams in the bottom six, with just nine games to go. It truly appeared to be game over. Even the most hardened, optimistic fan had to be somewhat delusional to honestly believe that the club could still survive.

However, that wasn’t to be the end of the story. As has happened many times this season, a poor run of results gave way to a spell of form comparable to that of a title-winning team.

First, Carlisle United were dispatched 4-1 at Meadow Lane thanks to a double by young defender Haydn Hollis and a stellar display by Gary Liddle, who had recently returned to the squad after a long-term injury.

The veteran midfielder then struck another goal in a 3-1 win away at Crewe Alexandra as young Irishman Ronan Murray announced himself to the league with a brace, before struggling Colchester United were beaten 2-0, with youngsters Murray and Hollis again responsible for getting on the scoresheet.

At this point, talk of The Great Escape was well and truly underway, as the Magpies climbed out of the relegation zone. However, there was still a lot of work to do if Shaun Derry’s side were to survive, not least a trip to high-flying Brentford.

Fate dealt us a very cruel card that day, because lining up against us was none other than Alan Judge, the stellar ex-Magpies midfielder, a player who should have been plying his trade in the Championship with Blackburn Rovers, but instead found himself in the Bees starting 11. And sure enough, his brace proved the difference between the two sides, and down we went again into the drop zone.

A 4-2 defeat of Port Vale – and another latecomer to the squad making the headlines, two-goal Jimmy Spencer – was followed up by another daunting fixture and another loss, 2-1 away at Bristol City. Cue more despair. Three games to play, three points from safety, Carlisle United above us with a game in hand.

But rather than give up at the final hurdle, Notts went on to secure two wins from their next two games, home advantage proving crucial against Crawley Town and Swindon Town. Carlisle subsequently drew their game in hand against Crawley, and thus the stage was set. Win or draw, and we would be safe. Even a loss wouldn’t be catastrophic – unless Crewe and Tranmere won both their respective games.

Now, don’t forget, this is Notts County we’re talking about. Things are never simple for the Magpies. Come the final match, Crewe and Tranmere take the lead. Notts, playing Oldham Athletic, concede in the 68th minute. The permutation we dreaded was coming true. We were relegated.

Or were we? With 15 minutes to go, Jonathan Grounds of Oldham handled in the area. Penalty to Notts. Would we score? Alan Sheehan stepped up – and blasted home. We were level. We were safe, as things stood.

Things would get even better for the Magpies, as Adam Lockwood was sent off after getting a second yellow card, and Tranmere conceded twice in the final ten minutes to lose 2-1 to Bradford. The Birkenhead outfit were down. Carlisle were down. Notts were safe – and this time, it was official. The Magpies would remain in League One next season.

So there you go. After nine months of pulling my hair out, fretting, giving up hope, finding hope again only to lose it a few weeks later, it all worked out in the end.

A lot will need to be done in the close season – the team will need to be rebuilt. Too many players just didn’t have the fight in them. Former captain Dean Leacock will be leaving. Other players on the way out include Manny Smith, Enoch Showunmi, Adam Coombes, Mark Fotheringham, Andre Boucaud, and Gareth Roberts.

In addition, it remains to be seen whether the players who have been offered new contracts – Alan Sheehan, Gary Liddle, Jimmy Spencer, Jamal Campbell-Ryce – will take up those deals, what with the lure of the transfer window appearing on the horizon, not to mention the status of a certain Polish goalkeeper who’s been exceptional this season.

Whatever happens, Shaun Derry – who has admitted that he’s willing to lace up his boots and take to the pitch once again for the Magpies – and Greg Abbott will surely do their utmost to either retain the existing players or sign some new ones and take the club to the next level, having already worked miracles this time round and achieved the greatest of great escapes.

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

Giuseppe tweets at @JoeJonesHome

Time is running out….

Friday, February 28th, 2014

shaun-derryNotts County Football Club haven’t got long left to prove that they’re worthy of a place in the third tier of English football next season. Since Christmas, the Magpies have played 10 games, and although we haven’t exactly resigned ourselves to relegation, a heady mix of Jekyll-and-Hyde performances, combined with yet more poor refereeing calls and a pinch of calamitous luck have seen us still mired in the drop zone with just over a quarter of the season left to play.

Shaun Derry hasn’t been one to mess around. He oversaw a clear out of players in the January transfer window, including Joss Labadie, Danny Haynes, David Bell and Yoann Arquin, and brought in a host of fresh faces, such as Hayden Mullins, Kwesi Appiah and James Spencer. He also worked hard to secure loan extensions for Kieron Freeman, Jack Grealish and Callum McGregor.

On paper, it looked like a good squad that would soon claw its way out of trouble, and in January, the signs were indeed there. Though 2013 finished on a sour note with a defeat at Crawley Town, the first of the year saw Notts record an emphatic 3-0 win against Bradford City.

This was then followed up with a hard-fought 2-1 win against Sheffield United, before arguably the most significant result of the month, a 1-0 away win at Stevenage. The League One table had Notts up in 16th place, and for a weekend at least, Magpies fans were joyous.

As it has often been this season, it didn’t take long for hopes to once again come crashing down. Just when it looked like Notts were on their way to an emphatic victory against Peterborough United at London Road after scoring twice in the first seven minutes, young Ronan Murray then contrived to get himself sent off in the 15th minute for lashing out at Danny Swanson. The Posh didn’t need to be asked twice – by the hour mark, they were level, and by full time, they had won 4-3.

Things would get even worse when Walsall came round and proceeded to humiliate Notts in front of their own fans, thrashing them 5-1, and just to extinguish any remaining feel-good factor brought to Meadow Lane by the January hat-trick of wins, Preston North End saw off the Magpies 2-0 at Deepdale.

But of course, Notts County wouldn’t allow a certain mood to linger within the fans’ collective consciousness for too long – they proceeded to remind people of what they can do when everything clicks into place by routing Coventry City 3-0 at home.

And then, the pendulum swung back the other way with a 2-0 defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers, which in itself may not necessarily be a bad thing, considering their pedigree, but when you then consider that the same horror show that took place at Peterborough just a month prior was then repeated against Shrewsbury Town, it was enough to drain even the most ardent fan of any newly instilled optimism. Two early Notts goals? Check. Notts player gets sent off in the first half? Check. The opposition going on to win the game? Check.

As things stand, Notts County are second from bottom. The false sense of security caused by us floating above the relegation zone despite having played three or four more games than the teams around us is now quickly vanishing, because they’ve actually gone on and got results from those games in hand over the last few weeks. All we need is Stevenage to win just one of their two games in hand, and we’ll be bottom again.

Time is running out for Notts County Football Club’s spell in League One. This is it now; they must play like they’ve never played before and fight like they’ve never fought before.

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

Giuseppe tweets at @JoeJonesHome

Tis the season to be worried….

Friday, December 27th, 2013

Shaun DerryWell, 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

Something had to give….

Monday, October 28th, 2013

chriskiwomyaWe are now coming to the end of October, the clocks have turned back, the days will get colder and shorter, and after the Halloween and Bonfire Night festivities are out of the way, it’s collision course straight for Christmas, meaning two solid months of adverts, store displays and of course, the Christmas songs. Some will love it, some will loathe it, but nevertheless, it’s that time of year.

With regards to the football calendar, we’re at that time of year where the priorities of all the clubs in all the leagues have been established. Some are riding high and anxious not to drop points in a bid for the title or promotion. Others are floating along in mid-table and will be happy to go along with the ride and try and push for the play-offs and away from the drop zone. Meanwhile, others have realised that they are in a relegation battle, and will be desperate to rectify all the issues which have left them entrenched in the drop zone.

The latter scenario is precisely where Notts County find themselves. Out of the thirteen games played – just under a third of the season – Notts have lost ten, drawn one and won two. Our goals for and against (14 and 24 respectively) aren’t exactly atrocious, mind – Carlisle United have scored a goal less, conceded the same, yet sit in 15th – but the harsh reality is, we have seven points all season and sit at the bottom of League One.

And yet, Notts haven’t played badly in every single game. Often we have more than matched our opponents, yet still contrived to lose.
The reasons are simple: we often get hit against the run of play – the word/s “sucker-punched” has appeared in quite a few of my match reports – when our defence is potentially at its most vulnerable. Lapses of concentration at the back have cost us dear. And when we do fall behind – more often than not the first goal of the game has been against us – we simply cannot get back into the game. We huff, we puff, but we can’t breach the opposition defence.

Most of our goals this season have come from on loan Celtic midfielder Callum McGregor, who’s not shy when it comes from firing deadly shots from outside the box. He has five league goals so far. However, he is just on loan, and if we fail to extend this, then we must be able to make up for it. As it is, our four main strikers – Yoann Arquin, Danny Haynes, Marcus Haber and Enoch Showunmi – have just seven league goals between them, which isn’t a good sign.

As with last season, our goalkeepers have been outstanding and are responsible for having kept us in contention virtually every game. Without Bartosz Bialkowski or Fabien Speiss in between the sticks, we would have been in even more trouble.

Naturally, a lot of the blame for our poor league position has fallen onto the manager, Chris Kiwomya. Points of criticism include the failure to motivate his players and to make the most out of what is, on paper, a very good team, and for questionable substitutions.

Kiwomya is also credited with having done a lot for the youth set-up at Notts during his time as development manager and, as first-team manager, has overseen the integration of several Academy players, notably Speiss, Greg Tempest, Adam Coombes and Curtis Thompson, into the first team.

However, seven points from thirteen league games just isn’t good enough, and when the club has a lot riding on it being in League One, then changes have to be made and, with all circumstances being taken on board, Notts and Kiwomya parted ways on the 26th October. Assistant manager Mick Jones and coach Andy Watson have also left, with Steve Hodge placed in temporary charge for the Oldham game on Tuesday.

So, the search for a new manager, who will be Notts’ fourteenth permanent appointment in ten years, is underway. With Nigel Clough having already opted for Sheffield United, rumours of Ian Holloway coming to Meadow Lane are flying about.

As in the 2010/11 season, we now need a manager who is capable of getting us out of this predicament and into mid-table first and foremost. Once we can stabilise and consolidate our position, then it’s crucial to propel the club up into the league.

As a Notts fan it feels like we have taken several steps forward in the last few years, only to have fallen several back. I’m hopeful we can put things right, though, and head back in the right direction sooner rather than later.

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

Giuseppe tweets at @JoeJonesHome

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


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

When all else fails, there is always hope…

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Since the last article in February, which talked about Notts County’s loss of form and manager, the club has managed to pull its form back together, statistically at least.

After our defeat to Stevenage, the result of lapses in concentration at the back and chronic toothlessness in front of goal, we’ve only lost one in ten, that defeat coming in a bad-tempered match against Preston North End on the 12th of March – arguably our worst league display this season – but we’ve drawn six, which isn’t really good enough for what we want to achieve.

Under caretaker manager Chris Kiwomya, the board has seen enough of him to judge him as the right man to take the club forward on a permanent basis, and on March 27th offered him a three-year contract.

Our defence has definitely improved as a whole under him, conceding just six in ten. The likes of Gary Liddle and Dean Leacock are defending brilliantly, getting no end of last-ditch tackles and clearances in. The most crucial piece of that jigsaw, however, is keeper Bartosz Bialkowski. He has been absolutely incredible for us, and has bailed us out umpteen times with some world-class saves. He is by far our best keeper since Kasper Schmeichel in the 2009-10 season and if we can hang on to him, it would be a major coup.

Up front, however, is a completely different story. Yoann Arquin and Francois Zoko tend to be alternated in the squad, but are very inconsistent and have let us down a fair few times in front of goal. Enoch Showunmi has finally come good, but he isn’t an out-and-out goalscorer, which is what we desperately need. Loan players John Cofie and Jacob Blythe are now back at Manchester United and Leicester City respectively, and haven’t made as much of an impact as we would have liked. In all honesty, losing Lee Hughes and not replacing him has cost us this season.

So then, it’s crunch time, and we have six games left. We’re in 11th place and seven points from the play-offs. While it’s not mathematically unachievable, we not only cannot slip up any further, but we really have to hope that all the teams around us drop points.

Add to that the fact that Sheffield United, in 6th, have three games in hand, Yeovil in 7th have one, and Crawley, MK Dons and Crewe, underneath Notts in 12th, 13th and 14th respectively, have two each, and you realise just how difficult it’s going to be. But the hope is always there, and until it’s mathematically impossible, then we will keep hoping and dreaming of the promised gate that is the playoff zone and, further still, the promised land that is the Championship. Let’s give it our best shot, Notts, and give the fans something to smile about in these last few games! 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