Not the easiest of pieces to write this one when you take into account that this time next week it’s very likely that Notts County will find themselves in the bottom four of the division.
The most recent win against Sheffield Wednesday thanks to an Alan Gow penalty only flattered to deceive as two straight defeats to old friends Rochdale and even older adversaries Bristol Rovers have taken the paddles away as we sail down the proverbial.
Both defeats were pretty much true to form of the season so far. Chances created, chances not taken. You can argue all you like Notts deserved to take something from either game but if you fail to take the chances offered to you then quite simply you get exactly what you deserve. That’s a harsh reality that has needed to be hammered home many times this season.
So whilst Notts’ position in the table hasn’t changed at 17 for the past few weeks, the gap between us and safety has been chopped from nine points down to three. The time for catching up with games on hand is upon us and having lost one to Rochdale last week things have already begun to look bleak. Next game in hand? Table toppers Brighton away from home tonight. Does anyone out there still think we’re not in a mess?
12 games remain from a largely disappointing campaign, here’s the rundown. I’m not making predictions though – for fear of it being too depressing. Ok, i might sneak the odd one in here or there…
Brighton (a) tonight
A fixture that was originally planned for December would’ve come at a time when County were in the midst of the best form of the year. Such is the club’s luck that it’s not replayed at a time when morale must surely be at it’s lowest. It’s the tail of Brighton (unbeaten at home no less) with the meanest defence of the division, against a team who’s attacking prowess is so blunt that only side has scored less goals all season. All i’d suggest is remember Peterborough at London Road?
Huddersfield Town (a) next Sunday
As if facing the top team in the division this week isn’t bad enough, how about following it up against the team in second? The same team also that gave Notts such a rude League One awakening on the opening day of the season? Things certainly won’t get any easier in a game being played out in front of the Sky TV cameras.
Oldham (h) Saturday, April 2nd
Respite will be found in the shape of (currently) 15th place Oldham Athletic at Meadow Lane. Another revenge mission perhaps as the club looks to atone for the 3-0 hiding they took in the second game of the season? Oldham themselves might not consider themselves out of the relegation mire just yet so it’s one of those where a win is there for the taking.
Rochdale (h) Tuesday, April 5th
Just three weeks removed from a disappointing 1-0 defeat, wounds will likely be fresh for the visit of delightful Keith Hill and his squad. Rochdale to their *shudder* credit have had a fantastic season in League One and will certainly be fired up to put the rest any demons that may remain from last season. If Neal Bishop and Lee Hughes can’t raise their team mates for this one, abandon ship!
Dagenham & Redbridge (a) Saturday, April 9th
Fortunately three of the remaining four away games after Huddersfield come against teams currently below Notts. Quite considerably low as well, three of the current bottom five in fact. Notts’ first win of the season came at Meadow Lane against Daggers but these will be two evenly matched teams all hoping to extend their stay in League One for another campaign. A draw would hardly be a disaster.
Bournemouth (h) Saturday, April 16th
County will resume from a rare (hopefully well deserved) week off with a visit of play-off hopefuls Bournemouth, the remaining team to have been promoted from League Two with us last season. The seasiders already tasted defeat at Meadow Lane this year in the FA Cup but the visitors will be pleased there’ll be no Tommy Ince turning out for Notts. To be fair, this could be one of the longer afternoons left this season.
Tranmere (a) Tuesday, April 19th
Another rearranged fixture, having seen the first match abandoned with Notts holding a 1-0 lead after an Alan Gow thunderbolt. Tranmere are due a smashing having been one of the worst teams to turn up at Meadow Lane this term, their 1-0 win was a real low point for the season. This is about as winnable as it gets as we fight for survival with Tranmere currently sitting just below Notts.
Swindon (a) Saturday, April 23rd
The penultimate away trip is at the side second from bottom against whom Paul Ince sealed his first league win as Notts manager. Swindon have been in a right mess this season having come so close to the Championship last season after defeat in a Wembley playoff, former Notts Technical Director-in-waiting Paul Hart has become a dab hand at saving sides from relegation though so this will be a tough test for Notts.
Brentford (h) Monday, April 25th
Should Notts have the advantage of being able to retain 11 players at all times Brentford will be beatable in the Bank Holiday Monday fixture. Having just recently shown how blunt they are in the final third (reminiscent of ourselves unfortunately), assuming Notts are showing the sort of cohesion we’ll be expecting by then it could be six points in the space of three days.
MK Dons (a) Saturday, April 30th
The last away game comes at Franchise FC who if fortunate favours us will have already secured the playoff slot so might just take their feet off the gas. Paul Ince will be keen to do the double on his former employers either way though and with (hopefully) a decent travelling crowd there’ll be some rare away-day cheer!
Brighton (h) Saturday, May 7th
You fear for Notts in this one. Brighton will without question have been crowned Champions weeks prior to this match, and the Jimmy Sirrel Stand will likely be sold out by Brighton fans looking to see their side go out with a bang. Touch wood that our safety will be guaranteed by then though!
Sounds easy doesn’t it? 12 games, 36 points available. Three of them you’d have to consider minor miracles if Notts were to take points from, but still nine with points readily available – four against teams currently below us.
I don’t doubt for a second that County will pull away and be playing League One football next season, it’s just going to be a bit of a battle to get across the line that’s all. What’s clear is that it’s not a time for scapegoats.
Craig Westcarr is line for a return tomorrow night from injury having been the on/off victim for the past two campaigns he’s been a part of, whilst Gambian-international Demba-Nyren is coming in for criticism from all corners for a lack of effort, that despite being a part of much of the positive play that Notts put together last weekend.
Lee Hughes is back and readily available having also returned from injury. Still hurting from a lack of sharpness in front of goal on Saturday, he’ll be looking to make amends as early as possible.
With the likes of Alan Judge, Graeme Lee, Carl Regan, Ben Burgess, Karl Hawley, Ricky Ravenhill, John Thompson, Lewis Gobern and (maybe at a stretch) Krystian Pearce all waiting for returns as well, the side will only get stronger as the campaign closes out.
Players like Kevin McDonald, Ivan Sproule, Alan Gow and Connor Clifford all possess immense talent and should be playing at a higher levels than this. They’ll get us there, i couldn’t be more confident of that. As i’ve said before though – finding momentum with so many new players mid-season is obviously going to prove to be difficult.
Don’t be confused, the club are in a relegation fight and there’s a lot of hard work to be done between now and May 7th – but we’ll get there. Somehow.