With the current cold snap taking a firm grip of the entire nation and for all intents and purposes probably wiping out any chance of Notts playing again this season, now seems as good a time as ever to wrap the year up!
The year is ending with County in the middle of their best form of the season thus far with the side really looking at the moment to have turned a corner with Paul Ince.
A team of eleven that for much of the season would command games yet take nothing more than a defeat have finally learned how to take a hold of matches and make them their own. A fact visible by two straight league wins (the first time this season) against Swindon and MK Dons and last week’s FA Cup Second Round win over Bournemouth.
Three games, six goals, one conceded. Could the consistency that’s been craved for so long finally be here?
Both league victories were similar in pattern to many of the performances the team has put in all season long. Tales of wasted chances, lengthy possession, but ultimately empty. Yet on both occasions a level of perseverance that may have been missing during the previous management regime shone through for the side to grab late goals.
The confidence this raised in the side was on show for the Bournemouth game right from kick off as Notts raced into a 3-0 lead by half time. As is the Notts way though the foot was taken off off the gas for the second half, but the damage had swiftly been done already.
Thanks to the aforementioned cold spell the country is witnessing right now, the three results have come across the space of four weeks. Maybe this has benefited Paul Ince and Alex Rae from the Notts bench as they make the most of the downtime, effectively a mini pre-season break they were denied for the appointment of Craig Short in the summer.
Our old friends of last season Rochdale are the next scheduled visitors for Notts this coming Sunday but already the writing is on the wall that the match will become another victim of the weather.
You wouldn’t expect much from Tuesday’s long trip to Plymouth either. Except maybe an early warning at least that the game was off!
So whilst things improve on the pitch, the positivity is somewhat tempered by the stark, blunt warnings of Chairman Ray Trew.
For whilst slowly but surely the club climbs the table, the supporters in similarly slow fashion have seemingly cut out the Meadow Lane experience from their weekly expenses. For example, Tuesday’s FA Cup Third Round tie (with a Premiership team on offer for the winner) was taken in by 2,881.
You could of course argue the reasons for such a drop.
Many people will be prioritising the league campaign. More will be watching the pennies as we approach Christmas. Likely that many more just wouldn’t have fancied a night in the dark, cold confines of the Kop.
Whatever the reasons, justifiable or not, Ray Trew wants to see more commitment from the supporters as we approach a pivotal transfer window for the club’s season. His own words that unless there’s a significant improvement in attendance figures then it’s more likely the window will be spent offloading personnel, rather than drafting them in.
On the surface it’s a fair enough stance to take. Ray has done nothing but plunge money into the club since his arrival, so why shouldn’t there come a point where he would step back and take stock of the situation?
What confuses most though is it’s timing.
For a good month or so now you could be forgiven for thinking we’d just have to make do with the tools available to us until January…but now we might be looking at a situation where we might have to knuckle down for an entire season with them?
Is Paul Ince aware of this? And if he’s aware of this, is he content with it? This is the man who’s notoriously stubborn over his available budget after all.
If we are “stuck” with the players we have now for the rest of the season, perhaps that wouldn’t be a bad thing? We didn’t do too badly last season with a bare bones squad did we? Not saying for a second we’d be half as successful, but we’d get by. The players look to have finally come together as a cohesive unit, so who knows?
I don’t think many people are realistically expecting anything beyond consolidation this season anymore, we’d still have a squad capable of that.
But i would hope for the board’s sake that they don’t keep the cheque book locked away only for us to lose a few key players to injury whilst we’re on the verge or something at the end of the season.
But with that said, what about the loan players we have? Sure, we’ll all be happy to see the back of Hubbins and Jervis, but the other week we were told the club would do what it could to secure the more successful loanees for a bit longer…is this now off the table? The likes of Judge, Darby and Ince would be massive misses for us if they have to leave in three week’s time.
I’m sure Ray will also know he has played a part in the attendances with the appointment of Craig Short in the summer. He obviously knew he’d got it wrong with his swift removal and quick recruitment of Paul Ince, but with Ray’s background in recruitment, could even he have seen the Short-era having such a detrimental effect on Meadow Lane life?
But for all the whys and hows, the ultimatum is out there. Attendances need to rise.
Think back to the successful final reaches of last season, to the pittance that Cheltenham brought to Meadow Lane on the final day. Take them away from the final attendance and you’d still have AT LEAST 11,000 people with enough of an interest in Notts to turn up on matchday!
Of course, whether Ray’s threat is one he intends to stand by, or is just intended to keep the fans on their toes remains to be seen. Mr Trew has been known in the past (to his credit) to think with his heart ahead of his brain so maybe this was one of those occasions.
It’d be hard to begrudge the man (who has continuously ploughed his own millions into the club) the right to put the club on a more sensible financial footing for the foreseeable future, but the timing is the issue that will concern supporters the most.
Should the cheque book be put away under lock and key, what does this tell the likes of Ben Davies, Craig Westcarr and Lee Hughes about the club’s intent for the remainder of the season? Could their departures perhaps be on the horizon if they’re put off by the lack of fresh blood in the squad?
Davies has already seen his form slump this season on the back of interest from Derby County during the previous transfer window, could we be on the brink of this again? If Derby aren’t the ones to come forward once more, maybe old friend Sven at Leicester might come back to Meadow Lane for the January sales?
Essentially, there are two directions this season can take at this point. Which one we take falls in the lap of the club’s boardroom.
Worst case scenario, the form Notts are slowly picking up is thrown out of the window with the departures of the loanees who have done the club proud (eventually). Figure into that the possible departure of a couple of first teamers, and not to mention the resentment of manager Paul Ince, and League Two will be beckoning once more.
In an ideal world, we’d all hope that Ray and his staff will plough just enough money into the club to keep us ticking over for another season before re-evaluating the situation.
Back Paul Ince. Let him work his magic with the loan signings we have currently(the likes of Darby, Ince and Judge will be vital going forward) and let this statement of intent resonate amongst the players we have currently and let them tear League One apart like we know they can do.
We’re finally on the verge of doing the sort of damage we’ve been promising all season. All season long we’ve been able to look at the table and take solace in the idea that the playoffs weren’t out of touch. But for the first time, we’re picking up the points to get us closer to those positions.
Let’s not pull the rug from under Paul Ince’s feet just as business is picking up.