A New Low?

Notts v ExeterFor a season littered with so many staggering lows, Saturday still somehow shines out above most – if not all.

Be it the opening day wakeup call at home to Huddersfield Town, the horrifying repeat performance the next week at Oldham, the blunt display when Carlisle came to visit a few weeks ago, or the countless capitulations from strong positions, Exeter City this weekend was a whole new level of woefulness no matter which angle you look at things.

As ever excuses haven’t been hard to find. The referee, the pitch, the opposition – but this a rare occasion where ultimately everyone knows really that the players themselves just weren’t up to the task.

Had you been there, you’d be hard pressed to find a worse half of football at Meadow Lane in some time than Saturday’s opening frame. On a constantly deteriorating playing surface neither team was able to take a commanding foothold of the game.

Craig Westcarr kept up the rather worrying trend of late of looking disinterested. Coincidence that the dip in form has come since Sheffield Wednesday came sniffing last month? Purely speculative of course but his eye is certainly off the ball and it’s vital for him to return to his early season form if we’re to really recover from the recent slump.

The long ball made it’s ill-tempered return also, my word how that hasn’t been missed at all. This obviously left Lee Hughes to chase endlessly all half long to no avail. Bar a few corners produced, it was just ugly to watch. Half time could not come soon enough for me perched behind the goal of visiting ‘keeper Ben Hamer’s goal.

another stray long ball

Sitting there for the whole half, waiting for the opportunity to catch ANYTHING exciting on my camera was just excruciating. The pictures adorning this report really are scraping the barrel, such was the lack of creativity on display for the first 45.

The second half in my seemingly isolated opinion was marginally better – but not by much. The eventual introductions of new loanees Kevin McDonald and Connor Clifford did brighten proceedings up a little.

Both men certainly look possible of adding quality to the current squad, and maybe the likes of Westcarr, Karl Hawley and perhaps Ricky Ravenhill might be looking over their shoulders when the club brings in several new names in the coming week.

In truth, Hawley was certainly no worse than any other player on the field in black and white, but that’s never going to get in the way of a good witch hunt is it? Hawley is a technically gifted footballer, but a goalscorer he is not. Hence him being played in midfield where he made carved out his reputation at Carlisle United.

Exeter’s two second half strikes were both poor from County’s perspective. The first saw Steve Tully knock home a rebound from O’Flynn’s saved effort after Ravenhill was embarrassed, whilst Matthew Taylor was free to head home his side’s second the edge of the six yard box. More horrendous defending from a Notts backline who in recent weeks had looked like they were really gelling well.

The lack of width in attack was desperately evident from the heights that i’d taken up in the Derek Pavis pressbox for the second half. Much will be made of how we were lacking in these areas and how signings need to be made – but we have width in Alan Judge and David Martin (who is probably due to return to Derby County shortly) who would excel in these areas any other weeks were it not for their injuries.

Alan Gow spent much of the match looking the more likely player to force something in Notts’ favour, so Paul Ince’s decision to replace Gow with Lewis Gobern was a great puzzler – certainly one of the more questionable decisions of the Ince era. Gobern to his credit made as much as he possibly could have for his brief appearance.

And it’s been a good few weeks since a referee needed to feature in one of these writeups. So, let’s have a go.

Before the match, as i stood in the tunnel (more on that in a moment) the match officials made their way through to their room. As i held the door open, suggesting to those around me that it wouldn’t hurt to try and get in their good graces, i was told by one of their team that “It never works”. How right he would prove to be by 4.45pm that afternoon.

You get used to poor officiating at Meadow Lane, but this makes it no less easier to swallow when every few weeks you have to entertain a new moron (this week, take a bow Craig Pawson) who will still manage to raise the bar for inadequacy.

As a side note – should referee’s reports, and the reports of their superiors not be made public?

But anyway. How any official could miss Exeter goalkeeper Hamer’s quite blatant handball outside of his own area, the daylight mugging that was Clifford’s gangraping in the penalty box, and countless free kicks and corners all afternoon long is staggering. There surely must come a time where referees are made more accountable for their misgivings?

Not for a second to say the official cost us the game, we got exactly what we deserved out of the game and the 2-0 scoreline is somewhat flattering considering how inept an afternoon it had been.

The predictable chorus of boos greeted the final whistle as you’d come to expect by that time. So what next?

As mentioned, the inclusion of Clifford and McDonald adds quality to a squad. They only joined up with their new team mates on Friday so you’d understand that they might not have been able to take the game by the scruff of the next so immediately.

New signings are inbound this week, word of a midfielder who has already established himself in League One this season, a teenage wonderkid from Iceland who has been tailed by the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United also. Talent reinforcements are inbound – be under no illusion.

The defeat leaves Notts occupying the slot right above the relegation zone – yet still with the insurance policy in the form of many games in hand on the teams they’re trying to chase. The more games that pass by like this though, the looser the grip on any playoff dreams become. It’s time to be realistic and acknowledge that we’re currently battling relegation, and that’s something that the side needs to address on the field immediately.

Colchester come to Meadow Lane on Tuesday, and with Eastlands on the horizon, it’s hard not to picture a Manchester massacre right now. Expect sweeping changes to the next starting XI Ince and Alex Rae go with.

thumbs up and a smile say it all

For all of the misery though, i was still fortunate enough to be one of the few Notts fans to walk away still smiling.

All thanks to my son Connor being one of the three Notts mascots on the day. Credit must go to the people behind the scenes like Wendy Cox who put these things together because it’s really made my little five-year-old’s year.

For all his early nerves (“What school do you go to Connor?” “Hughesy!”), he was a joy to watch during his warmup, really growing into the experience and maybe even having some fun by the end of it!

It even gave me the opportunity to see first hand to see the side of Lee Hughes you’ll never see written about. That side that goes to great lengths to justify so many young children’s idolisation – of a man maligned by many of those who can comprehend the man’s past (and sometimes present).

At his age, Connor’s not great remembering the names of many players. In fact of the three he does know, only Hughes remains following the departures of Kasper Schmiechel and Ben Davies.

So it was obviously a massive relief that Connor was able to walk out with the one man he still knew. The expression of happiness and the two thumbs up is there clear as day. Speaking to Connor later about what Lee had told him, his words were of reassurance, to make sure the occasion wasn’t too daunting.

But why should a professional footballer even want to care? Let alone the man portrayed by so many as an emotionless animal. I can’t give Hughes enough credit for making my first born so happy, and i say that as someone who was quite honestly disgusted with the stories i’d heard in recent weeks about Hughes. Not much of my previous stance has changed, but i do owe the man a debt of gratitude for the comfort he gave my son in front of over 6,000 people.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    He's a bit short Stu, are you sure he's yours ;-)

  2. Benji Davies says:

    Nice read stu…glad connor enjoyed hid day…..still think i need to keep my eye on him and Lucy.

  3. Sharon (@Ladyarya) says:

    Pretty much sums it up to be fair & I agree, that will in no way be the team we see on Tuesday. If Westie isn't on that bench I'll eat my hat. Connor looks so damn happy & I'm glad Hughes was so good with him (still don't know what to make of him)

    I really don't think we'll see football like that again this season; I don't think Ince & Rae will take any prisoners! Onwards & upwards. I'll gladly take 3 points on Tuesday & bow out gracefully on Sunday.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Good article Stu. If I was picking fault I'd go for the opening being over-exaggerated. It's hard to see how the season has been littered with 'so many staggering lows', when compared to the dreadful but still recent 6 year basement stint. Disappointments or anticlimaxes is perhaps more fitting – but I'm nitpicking really!

  5. Stu says:

    Maybe it is a little over the top, would never deny some of my stuff can be too dramatic at times. But yeah, in perspective with recent seasons they're admittedly minor, we'd all much rather be witnessing them in League One for starters!

    Not to say there haven't been some great highs along the way though!

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