I think it’s safe to say everyone knows how Sunday’s game played out. 5-0 was harsh, it was never that sort of game.
It was a scenario not that dissimilar to Molineux earlier this season – a feeling of great pride at what the players had put in, yet with a hint of resentment about how events played out – whilst at the same time wondering what could’ve been.
Indeed had it not been for some rather unfortunate League One defending, and the post to Joe Hart’s left, we might even be preparing ourselves for the FA Cup Fifth Round for the second year in succession.
County started incredibly, making light of the gulf in quality between both teams. Indeed Krystian Pearce will have woken up Monday morning battered, bruised, and ruing a second minute header that should’ve given his side the lead.
It was a moment that was to set the tone for much of the opening exchanges. For the massive depth of experience that congregates in the home dressing room at Eastlands, the sheer determination of the visitors outshone their wealthier opponents.
Alan Gow, with a football that seemingly was glued to his feet, and a Karl Hawley that was putting in his best display in Notts’ colours, were both sensational. Gow’s runs to cut through the City midfield were simply a different gravy from what you expect from a League One club, whilst Hawley didn’t stop battling all afternoon long.
Indeed it was the opinion splitting Hawley who provided the biggest highlight for the 4,600 travelling fans. He was to cut inside, and with his right foot, curl for the far post from the left wing. Joe Hart was beaten all ends up – it’s just not possible to stretch the human body any further. As we rose to our feet to celebrate, the ball was to cruelly rebound off the inside of the post – before agonisingly rolling back across the goal line.
The immense shock that Karl Hawley of all players was to pull that off really was something to behold. No one should ever question the ability he possesses, but it wasn’t an effort in-keeping with many of his previous displays for County. In my opinion he still has a role to play at Notts – just maybe not as a goalscorer. On the occasions where has had a run in the side he’s been sorely lacking in front of goal, yet perfectly efficient in a supporting role.
With a tired squad going into Friday’s game with Charlton Athletic, Hawley might just find himself with the opportunity to impress once more depending on the fitness reports that come in this week. Connor Clifford and Kevin McDonald were surely return though having been ineligible for the cup replay.
In the grand scheme for most supporters, the Hawley heroics were more fuel for the fire coming from behind Hart’s goalmouth. The travelling support outsang the home fans all afternoon long, irrespective of how many goals were eventually to be on the scoreboard.
The City fans were right, this was our cup final – and my how we enjoyed it. Nothing could be done to completely dampen the spirits of those who had travelled on the day – the supporters were fantastic from start to finish.
As the game progressed, Manchester City found their feet though. David Silva – such a difference maker three weeks ago at Meadow Lane began to pull the strings and having been denied a penalty for a Westcarr tackle on Mario Balottelli, and for Stuart Nelson to save well from Edin Dzeko, they were to take the lead shortly after.
For all of the bravery County had put in, they were ultimately to be undone just eight minutes before hard time. Patrick Viera was offered the chance to roam freely in the penalty area for Silva’s corner, as he headed goalwards the ball was to bobble off the hand of Pearce and inbetween both Nelson and John Harley on the line. From our perspective, the defending was unfortunately nowhere to be seen.
That the score was only 1-0 to City at half time was testament to the effort that the County side had put in.
But the second half was to be mostly a different story. 12 minutes in and Viera was to rise again for an almost carbon copy goal, Harley again on the line to despair alongside the diving Nelson.
Carlos Tevez was to arrive just a minute or so later in place of an increasingly petulant Balotelli,(already booked for a cynical takedown of Stephen Darby). It was a substitution that would ultimately go on to decide the game.
Much to their credit though the Notts heads were not to drop though, Hawley was again to test Hart after a Premier League-class turn in the box, leaving both Micah Richards and Yaya Toure in his wake. Minutes later Gow was to try his luck, bringing the ball down with his right foot, before volleying on the left. Again Hart in the City goal was at full stretch to tip the ball over.
Within minutes though, the tired legs were to take their toll on Notts as Tevez was to run through on goal, rounding Nelson for City’s third – just what the Argentine would have wanted on an afternoon where he’d been the centre of attention for much of the Notts chanting.
Even 3-0 was so unbelievably harsh on the League One side, having contributed so much to a fantastic FA Cup tie over two games. That we were to concede a further two goals was utterly demoralising, it became difficult to watch.
Tevez was to race on once more dinking the ball over a hesitant Nelson for Dzeko to head home, before Micah Richards was to volley home his side’s fourth as the game entered stoppage time.
It could, possibly even should have been six though. Nelson this time stopping the rot with a fine one on one save from Dzeko. Having seen the last ten minutes of play, the save was greeted almost as if it was a Notts goal. Five goals alone were harsh on the County number one who had largely been solid all afternoon – it spoke volumes of his performance that having conceded five he could still be mentioned by many as one of Man Of The Match candidates.
Even as the referee blew his whistle to end the suffering, heads were still held high amongst the Notts fans in attendance. Sure, eventually the overwhelming power (or fitness more specifically) of the richest club in the world had prevailed, but over 180 minutes of football – you wouldn’t be wrong to say Manchester City knew they had been tested. How long ago Neal Bishop’s header in front of the Kop felt on the drive home.
Even at 5-0, those who have seen the game will all admit the scoreline flattered Manchester City. Scant consolation perhaps, but you need to take whatever hollow victories you can in these moments. Not one person wearing the Notts colours (player or supporter) let the club down on Sunday.
The bigger question to ask now is how the squad will recover in time for this Friday’s match with Charlton Athletic. The ominous “FA Cup hangover” was to rear it’s head following the first City game as Notts laboured to a 1-1 draw with Walsall, before falling to a 2-0 loss to Exeter – both coming at Meadow Lane. in the next two games At least this week the players will have a slightly longer respite, and be able to welcome back McDonald and Clifford.
No distractions left, time to push on up the table now!