When i started writing this blog, i always told myself i’d never resort to using other people’s pictures on the blog. But this, the front page of yesterday’s The Times football pullout was just too great to ignore.
Simply put, it’s a thing of beauty.
I spoke plenty last week about how Notts County would not be fearful about their fourth round tie this past Sunday with Manchester City. Similarly in the past, i’ve spoken of an incredible team spirit, the ability to punch well above their weight class, and the fact that there is no quit in them.
For the first time though, all of this and more was on show for an international audience – lent by the ITV Sport cameras
I had woke up feeling much like i had the morning we travelled north to Sunderland in the previous round. Give us one goal to celebrate and i’d have been happy. Once more though we had all that and more to celebrate by the end of the day.
There’s very little point going into extreme detail about the match as this wasn’t your usual lower league tussle with a minimal audience. 4.8 million people tuned into the match at home, most probably hoping in large numbers for plenty of goals in a dominant Mancunian display. So people have already made their minds up about what was on display.
In truth it’s difficult to know what to write. I always aim to write at least a little differently from what you’d read elsewhere about what i’ve seen. But after that game, it only seems right to pay tribute (cheesily) to a team of heroes with an accumulated transfer value of £0, who never once backed down against the richest football team in the world.
In goal, Stuart Nelson firmly laid claim to the number one jersey at Notts and it will take plenty now to displace him.
His save from a sliding Yaya Toure in the first half, and from a dipping Gareth Barry volley in the second period were both vital. Combine the stopping with the fantastic command of his area and (we’ll ignore one miscontrol) you’d have to consider this Nels’ finest day in a Notts shirt.
Not to say he’s the only one that could be said for.
Defensively, County were incredible. John Harley, Mike Edwards, Krystian Pearce and Steven Darby put in fantastic shifts. In a game where you expect the lower league side to tire against their top flight opponents, there appeared to be little evidence of it.
Paul Ince and Alex Rae have worked wonders with a defence that was leaking goals for fun until he arrived at Meadow Lane. In fairness, John Thompson and Graeme Lee have done little wrong when called upon either in recent weeks either, competition at the back is healthy.
Across the middle of the park, Neal Bishop and Ricky Ravenhill must be one of the most reliable midfield combinations in lower echelons of the Football League. Bish is an absolute monster of a player for this club, and was fully deserving of his goal, having started somewhat rustily he grew into the game and made the sort of impact we have come to see every week.
His goal was special indeed. The run he made ahead of Edin Dzeko to the near post to nod home deserved to find a home in the Kop end goal from the moment it hit Neal’s head.
The yellow card for celebrating though, not so much!
But Meadow Lane will not have rocked so hard in decades. And not just the Kop. Whilst it is generally regarded as THE epicentre of any noise from the home crowd, everyone in attendance should’ve been proud of their efforts on this afternoon.
Neither Ricky or Bish in the middle sherked from their responsibilities on an afternoon where they were given little hope up against an assembled team of giants like Micah Richards, Patrick Viera and Toure.
On either flank, Alan Gow and David Martin made great in-roads into winning the Meadow Lane crowd over.
Inside the first five minutes, Gow sent a free kick just wide of City ‘keeper Joe Harte’s left hand post. When the free kick was awarded you were left to ponder the now departed Ben Davies, wishing he was still around to take such a chance. But Gow’s constant menace around deadballs on the afternoon (including his assist for the afternoon’s first goal) will go a long way to helping people forget the man who’s now at Derby County.
And then Lee Hughes and Craig Westcarr. How tired these two must have been after the game having ran themselves into the ground all afternoon long chasing any loose ball in Manchester City’s final third. Both men never gave up against Richards, Zabaleta. Boateng and Lescott – notably on two occasions down the left wing, but they were a constant threat all afternoon.
Once more the impact of Hughes on those around him was visible. With very few sniffs at goal though, Lee was to compensate at times back in defence, clearing the lines when in danger with his usual composure.
We can talk all year long about how Lee Hughes brings more to the team than his goals, but it’s well tread ground by now. We can reach the playoffs this season without question – but Hughes needs to be the man to lead us there.
Such was the relative comfort Notts’ part that they only needed to make the one change, and Karl Hawley did a fantastic job playing keep ball when called upon in place of a fading Gow. The Hitman has fallen out of favour in recent weeks, but Hartlepool last week and City on Sunday will serve Paul Ince a timely reminder of the players he has at his disposal – if not as a striker, then as the holding midfielder he appeared to be becoming under Craig Short.
Once Edin Dzeko had volleyed home Richards’ cross for the somewhat harsh equaliser (the ball that slid past Harley agonisingly felt like it was in slow motion), Notts still kept their discipline despite the new, fresher threat of substitute David Silva. It was an admirable display full of character, another indication of what the side can really do.
And so we’re left with a replay in a few weeks at Eastlands in what promises to be another fantastic day.
We’ll be happy to assume the role of underdogs, typically it’s become what we’re best at. Last season people were quick to think we’d lost our chance against Wigan when they forced a replay. We certainly weren’t given any hope at the Stadium Of Light.
Sunday just shows us we’re not a team you write off lightly! If Manchester City took us lightly in this game, how lightly might they approach us on their own turf? Last week we dared to believe, this week nothing has changed.
And so it’s back to the bread and butter. League One football on Wednesday night and Walsall, a side i spoke last week of their desire to get their season moving against Notts.
Well the Saddlers only went and got ahead of themselves and battered Bristol Rovers 6-1 at the weekend. Combined with the physical toll on Notts’ players from the Cup match, Walsall couldn’t have picked a much better time to visit Meadow Lane it seems!
With January 1st’s away win for Notts still fresh in the visitor’s minds, it promises to be another long Meadow Lane evening.