Another Notts County performance that merely displayed the current squad’s ability to flatter to deceive.
The season’s highest attendance to date of just over 11,300, aided by nearly 5,000 Sheffield Wednesday fans taking residence in the Sirrel, was the sort of game the club’s owner Ray Trew will have craved since taking over.
Big clubs, bringing great a fantastic travelling support.
This big match atmosphere sometimes felt during last season’s title charge was back, optimism was high. The atmosphere in Meadow Lane was unrelenting throughout for both sides, both inside and outside the ground. Whilst some quarters share their disappointment about an apparently low attendance, i happen to think just having the season’s biggest attendance thus far should be enough.
Boosted by the club putting on a full programme of events during the day, the roads surrounding Meadow Lane filled quickly and early, with the Meadow Lane Sports Bar particularly doing great business from the morning until late evening.
Great credit should go to Sheffield Wednesday, by far the biggest away following at Meadow Lane for a league game in sometime, and they certainly added to the great atmosphere on the train.
But unfortunately, a first half just shaded by County, followed by a largely toothless second half sees Wednesday overtake their hosts into tenth place, whilst Notts drop to 14th, but still only three points shy of the playoff places. More ominously, still only three points shy of the relegation places.
But, like so many games for Notts this season, it could all have been so different.
In the opening exchanges, with not even a minute on the clock, Lee Hughes ran through on goal and tested Wednesday ‘keeper Nicky Weaver from an acute angle, the former Manchester City goalie standing tall to Hughes’ drive before the ball was to be slice for a corner. Unfortunately this was to prove the only time the visitor’s goal was to be tested seriously during the whole of the 90 minutes.
Notts went on to just about shade the first half in terms of possession and passing, piecing together some fine football with little end product, whilst Wednesday were struggling to get a footing in the game.
Early in the second half and Notts were made to pay as Tudgay struck from long range to put them in the lead with the best goal seen at Meadow Lane this season, a drive from outside the box across a despairing Rob Burch.
Both the County side and the fans in the Kop stuck to their task though, and almost immediately thought they were level. Kevin Smith headed across goal for Lee Hughes to rise above the Wednesday defence to head home from near enough under the bar. Celebrations cut short though by the linesman’s offside flag for Smith though. The linesman’s flags really are becoming an all too regular occurance now.
Hughes was to take centre stage as he so often does moments later, but for all the wrong reasons. Firstly, he was booked rather harshly for an apparent foul on James O’Connor. Why, no one could understand. The challenge seemed no different to the sort of 50/50 tussles you see up and down the pitch all game long.
A few minutes after whilst County were looking for the goal that would get them back in the game, they won a throw in, but Hughes was more interested in pointing out what he saw as a dive to the official. We needed to press on, the throw was ready to be taken quickly, but this presented the referee with the perfect opportunity to slow the game down to have a word with Hughes.
Later on, Hughes was to go down heavily, albeit dramatically under a challenge in the penalty box. Nothing given, and so more discussions with the referee had to take place, over a period of time.
We at Notts love Hughes when he’s on the top of his game, but the random outbursts cause more problems than the side need. As difficult as it inevitably must be, Lee needs to deal with the idea that the officials are not going to give him the decisions he wants. The upside though, is that we know how he has the ability to rise above on-the-field adversity, we just need to see it in evidence a bit more at the moment.
It was all downhill from here as chances dried up. Both Karl Hawley and Luke Rodgers were introduced to the game but neither could fashion the sort of chances that had come for others in the first half.
Hawley wasted one great opportunity to head home from six yards, but chose instead to try and bring the ball under control. Wednesday closed the ball down and the chance, and County’s hope for a result had gone. Karl really doesn’t help his own case some weeks.
Rodgers, making his first appearance of the season was met with a huge roar from the Kop, and he even had the good graces not to be caught offside in his ten minutes on the field…hope for the future for the perennial last line of defence attacker. Luke was looking sharp in the odd moments he had the ball. Whether it’s enough to edge him ahead of Hawley is doubtful, but it was a decent enough spell for a player without a competitive fixture in several months.
As Notts tried to push on for the equaliser, a moment of stupidity from Alan Judge saw his side reduced to ten men for the fourth game in succession. He lashed out as Rob Burch rolled the ball out and had to go. TV replays look like it could’ve been a hard decision, but the club have accepted it, that’s enough for me.
Four minutes of normal time remained, and the coffin nails were going in. Lee Hughes, again in the mix after the card had been shown, protesting about the challenge he had gone down from in the box earlier.
Combined with Neal Bishop’s fifth yellow card of the season also meaning his sits out the next game, it was proving to be a miserable day all told.
On paper, the disciplinary problems at Meadow Lane look horrific. Four red cards in as many games, and the joint highest tally of yellow cards for the division. In reality, arguments could be made for at least three of the reds though, but that’s not what the FA will to take into consideration of course.
Any chance of leniency from the FA has gone out of the window with their charges relating to last Tuesday’s “Battle Of London Road”, expect heavy fines and suspended penalties.
The final nail incidentally came at the end of the allotted six minutes of injury time, as Darren Potter slotted neatly past Burch. Queue a mass exodus in the Kop from fans who had seen enough, their big day out spoiled effectively by a team that barely showed up for the second half.
So, another mixed bag for County. An excellent first half, and a rarely positive second half. Upcoming fixtures don’t look pretty for Notts, so this was really a fixture where some points were a necessity. Next week is a visit to the side currently in second place, Carlisle United. Plymouth Argyle (at Meadow Lane) follow, with playoff hopefuls Colchester are the club’s next destination, before ending the month welcoming a rejuvenated Southampton side to Meadow Lane.
With the division as wide open as it is, we’re still no closer to figuring out Notts County’s destiny for the season. Whilst we sit three points adrift of either the playoff places or relegation zone, it’s hard to be optimistic, or fearful…a healthy balance of both will suffice for now.
At the start of the season though, i’d have probably bitten your hand off for the club, steered by rookie manager Craig Short, to be in this position.
But whilst Bournemouth and Rochdale continue to go great guns, it’s hard not to wonder the damage we should really be causing to League One.