No sooner do you sing the praises of the County squad for their post-FA Cup mauling response and you’re right back in the relegation mire.
Two defeats, both in somewhat different circumstances you might argue and the gap of nine points between Notts County and the relegation zone has been chopped down to just four points. All in the space of a week.
The first defeat came last Saturday at Leyton Orient, with a largely makeshift first team missing the likes of first teamers Lee Hughes, Mike Edwards, Karl Hawley, John Harley and Carl Regan through a mixture of injuries and suspensions. Not the most ideal preparations for a visit to the division’s form side you’d have to say.
What followed though was apparently the sort of performance that somehow sank lower than the recent home fixture against Exeter City – something i dare say might not even be possible. But then, the 2-0 scoreline does little to suggest any sort of improvement. In fact had it not been for a Stuart Nelson penalty save in the second half it may have been worse.
Of course, the knee jerk reaction is to hit the panic button and abandon ship. But in reality, it’s difficult to read too much into a result though when you’re faced with half of a regular outfield missing, and you’re away from home, facing a team without a defeat in ten matches previously.
Tuesday’s home match with Peterborough though was a somewhat different affair. Harley and Eddie as expected slotted back into defence, with Graeme Lee and a returning Stephen Darby alongside both men as Krystian Pearce sat the game out having suffered a concussion in training the day before.
The match gave Njogu Demba-Nyren (let’s just call him Brian) his first start for Notts and in a drab first half he showed glimpses of what Notts have missed pre and post-Lee Miller – a target man who can win the ball in the air. In all it was a pretty even first half, Notts more often than not left cursing the lack of an end product from Alan Gow.
On the ball, the lad can be sensational, with a ball seemingly stuck to his feet at times. But all too often before putting his laces through the ball he’ll run into a crowd of players and lose possession. To his credit, he battles to win the ball back – but it shouldn’t be necessary.
It was this uncertainty that on 57 minutes was to cost his side, having again been closed down before taking a shot in the area. Posh were to pick up possession and break quickly giving Charlie Lee the opportunity to score – whether he meant it or not.
As ever, opinion is split on whether Notts deserved the win or not. In truth Peterborough were a poor side, a shade of that which battled so hard at London Road back in September. What the says about a Notts team unable to break them down is open for debate.
Following the even opening frame, Posh offered very little resistance in the second half as County pressed forward. It was only our lack of ideas in the final third of the field (as has been the tail of our season) that saw the visitors across the finish line in truth.
Febian Brandy made his first appearance in the black and white as a second half substitute, but was given little opportunity to shine. With Hughes out again this weekend for the trip to Sheffield Wednesday, i wouldn’t say no to a Brian & Brandy double act up front. Problem being both lads are short of match fitness so 90 minutes against a Sheffield Wednesday side (themselves facing an uncertain end to the season) might not be possible.
Darbs was my personal Man Of The Match on Tuesday, back in the team with more urgency to get forward than i’d recently seen and was quite often the spark for any positivity that County were to forge on the evening. The news on Pearce is that he’ll be out for upto six weeks now – more or less ending his season, so the return of Darby (and an on form none the less) is great news.
There’s no avoiding anymore that Notts are struggling, and in all likelihood will continue to struggle until the season is through. With so many new faces in the squad like Bryan, Brandy and Ivan Sproule the team now needs to pick up momentum on the fly to pull away from the relegation zone, not the most ideal of situations but that’s just how things are unfortunately.
It isn’t difficult to fall into the easy misgivings of suggesting every game from here on out is massive, but that’s the case. No more so than the next two fixture against teams just two and three places about us respectively.
Starting tomorrow away at Sheffield Wednesday (currently 14th), and Tuesday away at our old friends of last season Rochdale (13th). Both winnable games on paper, but we’re making hard work of such fixtures in recent weeks so it could go either way for us.
There’s six points on offer though so that needs to be the target as we strive for League One survival – not how many would’ve seen the season going for us back in August!
Next week, second from bottom Bristol Rovers come to Meadow Lane – in pundits terms, a real six pointer.
For all the negativity, we do still have the advantage i guess of having several games in hand over our nearest rivals!
You can’t put into words how boring it is to keep clutching at those particular straws though.