Whilst talk of Paul Benson’s move continues to drag on, there was the danger that some of Wednesday’s momentum may have been lost. It was important not to lose sight that even without the new striker, Notts had put in their strongest pre-season showing against a team recently promoted to the Championship in mid-week.
Saturday was the day the club launched it’s new, somewhat controversial home strip. Gone are the more traditional black and white stripes in favour of a new pin-stripe design. Takeup of the new shirt seemed decent with it being littered around the Derek Pavis stand.
Krystian Pearce took his place in a starting lineup largely similar to the one that finished against Posh – Curtis Thompson perhaps being able to consider himself unlucky to be dropped back to the substitutes bench. Captain Neal Bishop and Jeff Hughes did manage to retain their places. Alex Wall, the trialist who had taken part in the last three friendlies – nowhere to be seen.
One notable inclusion on Saturday’s teamsheet was a certain Lee Hughes, a man who’s history with Wolves barely needs documenting further. Despite having not trained since his recent head surgery, you sensed that the coaching staff had a massive task on their hands to tell him he would not feature.
The first half was an even affair, with the returning Pearce up to the task of closing down his more illustrious Premier League opponents. His battle with Kevin Doyle being the story of the half – the only sniff Doyle had in his time on the pitch was the moment he gaves Wolves the lead, getting a fortunate bounce of the legs of Stuart Nelson in the Notts goal. Notts were caught flat-footed for perhaps the only time in the afternoon’s play.
With Wolves not pushing ahead with their goal advantage, Notts pressed for an equaliser and could consider themselves unfairly behind at the lead.
First Craig Westcarr, who found space from 20 yards to curl towards goal. Wolves ‘stopper Carl Ikeme was at full stretch to deny Westy, pushing the ball into the path of the always threatening Alan Judge. His placed effort was goalbound and would’ve equalised were it not for the block from a visiting defender.
On the stroke of half-time, that 18-month goal drought of Karl Hawley’s was a crossbar away from coming to an end. He cut in on the left-wing, and from a position similar to which he struck from at Eastlands his 30-yard-drive had Ikeme beaten all ends up…but bounced off the top of the crossbar. Agonising for Hawley and the Meadow Lane crowd that was seeing Notts more than match anything that was thrown at them.
Julian Kelly was constantly finding space much like he had on Wednesday, Alan Sheehan once more linking well in another superb display.
Quite brilliantly, Notts kept the momentum up in the second half and were the only team in it for large periods.
Hawley ran the show, at the very centre of anything positive that Notts produced. It was him who set Judge free in the penalty area, forcing Ikeme again into a full stretch stop. A Hitman-inspired County were on fire, producing countless opportunities to level the match. Judge found the side-netting, Hamza Bencherif forced a fine stop via his goalbound header, Hamza again coming agonisingly wide having dinked the ball over sub-goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey.
The turning point came halfway through the period when Neal Bishop challenged for a 50/50 ball – coming out worse off than his foe.
George Nicholas was given the signal by the bench to come on in the captain’s place, and an announcement was made on the Pavis Stand tannoy. But Bish was having none of it. Nicholas was sent back to his bench for Neal to continue. This is why we love him.
With time winding down, Hawley picked up a knock in setting substitute Thompson free down the right wing. His perfect cross was slotted home by the captain in the centre – no less than Notts had deserved from a performance in which they’d offered so much.
Does this make Bish the first ever Notts player to score a goal despite being substituted?! It did mean at least that his side had found four goals from midfield in three games – a marked improvement on last season.
Was that the end of the excitement for an afternoon? Obviously not.
For much of the second half, Lee Hughes had spent his time pacing the touchline along the Pavis stand – the crowd baying for him to make an appearance against a club who he likes to score against most than most.
With 90 mnutes played, Karl Hawley made way for the cameo. It’s a sign of his popularity at Meadow Lane that it was to be one of the largest cheers of the day. He barely had a touch – but you get the feeling that giving the Wolves fans a clap as he came onto the pitch was enough for him.
The game finished 1-1, a scoreline that was perhaps harsh on Notts given the ammount of clear cut chances they had created against their Premier League opponents.
Choosing a man of the match was difficult. Krystian on his return was a rock amongst solid performances from Kelly, Mike Edwards and Sheehan, Westcarr, Hawley and Judge were always a threat, Bishop, Bencherif and Hughes simply immense, Nelson again as reliable as we’re coming to expect. This was a fantastic team performance.
Even Curtis Thompson coming off the bench showed first-team quality.
Notts are left with three pre-season friendlies now, at Corby, Macclesfield and Maidenhead. Tricky encounters, the sort that after the performances against Posh and Wolves that Martin Allen might wish his side didn’t need to play.
Carlisle away is Notts’ first game of the season in just under two week’s time. Allen will surely have all but decided his first choice XI, with some fantastic options like Ishmel Demontagnac, Jude Stirling and Charlie Allen still to return, maybe even a striker or two including Benson from Charlton.
Without getting too over-excited over pre-season again, there’s a promising outlook for the season ahead.