Another impressive display finally delivered just what County had deserved in recent weeks, but whether it proves to be another false dawn will become clearer in the coming weeks.
It was a game that Notts largely dominated, and the 2-0 scoreline could quite so easily have been more had a set of officials with working eyes been appointed for the fixture.
The side was given it’s now routine pre-match boost with the news that Lee Hughes would start the game following a week of speculation about his recent injuries. Talk of tablets, injections and possible operations persist, but Hughesy’s performance yesterday served to only remind Meadow Lane of just what is missing when he’s not on the field.
For a want of a more eloquent expression, when he’s on the field, Lee Hughes is a pain in the ass. He’s the type of player that won’t let you go all game long once he’s focused. Lee Hughes doesn’t just bring goals to the side. His link up play is amongst the best you’ll find in the division, his enthusiasm visibly shows in his team mates, and then there’s the goals of course. Well, not today.
Lee came in for criticism by some (myself included) for a lack of such focus against Sheffield Wednesday, but this performance was the complete polar opposite.
For a man struggling all season with groin strains, you’d expect there to be times where he would pull up and not chase a lost ball down. You could forgive that, save your running for when you’ve got a chance. Not Hughes. If the ball was there, he’d be chasing it down every last inch of the way, making sure the defenders around him knew they were in a game.
I have and will always maintained we’re a good team without Hughes, but just his mere presence on the field manages to lift the performances of all those playing alongside him. Team performances like this are just a pleasure to watch.
In the first half, Notts were dominant. Piling on corner after corner, five or six within the space of three minutes, and they would consider themselves unlucky to have not won a penalty for a blatant handball in the box. Not the last questionable decision from the referee of the afternoon.
It was from a corner that County took the lead ten minutes before half time. Another Ben Davies delivery led to a scramble in the box before the ball was to break to Craig Westcarr who buried his sixth goal of the season.
Westy had been having a difficult time of things until this point, having been caught offside on a couple of occasions and failing to control the ball in rather unchallenged situations. The goal was to put all of that out of everyone’s minds though.
The lead was no less than the possession had warranted, and vitally it had come before half time. Any fears of another goalless collapse were gone. It would’ve provided a massive boost for the players to finally have a goal to show for their control of the game.
Ten minutes into the second half, and Notts produced one of their goals of the season.
Davies slid in to to divert the ball into Neal Bishop’s path, he controlled and played a perfectly weight ball over the top to the feet of Westcarr. His sublime touch killed the pace of the ball for John Spicer to run on and collect his second goal of season against the Argyle.
County were starting to cruise and more goals looked likely.
Until some interruption to the routine as Neal Bishop had to leave the field for Kevin Smith for what might have been a strained muscle.
Apparently he’ll be back next week, touch wood. Bish was sorely missed in the middle of the park last weekend at Carlisle so County will be hoping he is fit for next weekend’s trip to Colchester.
Plymouth seized their opportunity and were beginning to string passes together and push forward more regularly, but Krystian Pearce and Mike Edwards (in a Man Of The Match winning performance) were not to be passed, and Plymouth had nothing to show for their marginally improved second half possession.
So, another home win for Notts and they bounce back up the table into 13th, just one win away from a possible play-off spot. It’s an indication of how open League One is when defeat could’ve sent us spiralling down towards the relegation places, whilst a win leaves us knocking on the higher reaches of the table.
County now need to push on. There should be at least four points available from the trip to Colchester and the next home game against Southampton in two weeks time.
And so to the officials. The slating of referees and their supposedly able assistants is such a cliche. It’s not something i want to do, particularly in victory. But sometimes you just feel enough is enough. How Karl Hawley can manage to take an elbow to the face, be sent off the field for blood treatment, and still be adjudged to have fouled would be beyond anyone.
Similarly when Neal Bishop was taken out on halfway. The referee as expecting blows for the free-kick…for Plymouth. Just baffling.
On any other day, the most blatant miss of theirs could just as easily cost us a game, as Lee Hughes was hauled back as he ran through the middle into the box, but as ever in these situations, Lee got nothing from the referee.
It beggars belief. If something so blatant can be seen from supporters at the other end of the field, what sort of people does the Football League employ to take charge of their games?
It’s not the sort of accusation you want to see made, but at times, it genuinely felt as if the man in the middle would not be happy until he had Plymouth back in the game.
I’ve said it enough times already this season, but it’s a credit to the players of Notts County that in such adverse refereeing conditions, nine times out of ten we rise above it and the take points. But one day we’re inevitably going to lose a big game because of the inept officiating that has been rampant in the Football League for far too long now.
With that said, i’m signing up for a refereeing course in Northampton next January. If you can’t beat them, join them.