Two defeats on the bounce sandwiched between Craig Westcarr’s sale and you can be forgiven for wondering if the world as we know it was coming to an end.
Whilst a Preston-flattering 2-0 scoreline is almost certainly the headline – another questionable Stuart Nelson display and two strong debut performances are some of the story’s bigger sub-plots.
A rather uneventful first half saw Notts’ Karl Hawley carve out the only real chance of the period when his shot was denied by the legs of goalkeeper Iain Turner (more of him later).
Preston perhaps edged the possession but were struggling to produce much of note in the final third – aside from a quite blatant penalty they were denied when Krystian Pearce seemed to elbow a Preston player off the ball as two of his fellow defenders left a loose ball to find it’s own way back to Nelson.
Notts were also stringing some decent football together when they found a ball at their feet. Charlie Allen in particular putting himself about all over the field in a strong first professional start.
Charlie was not prepared to let any loose ball go unchallenged for the duration he was on the field and was good value for the standing ovation given upon his second half substitution. And whilst Mad Pup was mucking in all over the field, another debutant Gavin Mahon put in the sort of composed display that might see Ricky Ravenhill or Neal Bishop struggle to reclaim a place in the starting lineup.
Might a Mahon/Bish pairing be called upon next week if Raves doesn’t return?
The rather acceptable 0-0 scoreline at half time was richly deserved, both teams had gone toe to toe without landing the knockout blow – this was a match there to be won for either side.
That’s when things went downhill.
Just eight minutes into the second period, Lee Hughes was substituted for Christian Montano. Admittedly Hughes had had a subdued showing so far – but there’s no disguising the fact that he’s the most (ok – only?) potent goalthreat on the Meadow Lane books in the wake of Westy’s leaving.
Were we playing for a draw already? Surely not.
It took Preston North End all of 60 minutes to test Nelson properly for the first time as Preston’s Jamie Proctor drove in low, forcing Nels to dive low to his left to tip the ball wide for a corner.
Aside from this, it felt very much like Notts were in the ascendancy and would be able to the three points if they just found that extra level in the final third.
Then another substitution came, this time it was Charlie Allen to make way. Alan Judge came on in his place. Just maybe we hadn’t give up yet? Hawley was looking strong on the ball, there was still a chance here.
Only he was then brought off for Ishmel Demontagnac three minutes later.
Both Hughes and Hawley replaced in such a short period of time. Now you pretty much knew we were hoping to take a point – disappointingly.
Judge went straight at North End though, and on two occasions from distance saw his drives soar just wide of the host’s goal.
Into the final ten minutes and it was an all too familiar Notts tail of a late batting collapse.
First, a Parry corner found an un-marked McLean on his own to put the homeside in front and on course for the three points. Krystian Pearce had lost his man, Stuart Nelson left with no chance to make the save.
And then a real freak of nature. Goalkeeper Iain Turner’s long boot upfield deceived Pearce, and took a huge bounce over Stuart Nelson who was in No Man’s Land and into an empty net. You kinda know luck isn’t on your side when this happens.
An almost embarassed Turner was embraced by his team mates, almost unsure of how to celebrate.
2-0 down in a matter of minutes and heads dropped – you started to think there were more goals to come from the home side.
An ultimately uninspiring Preston side who had barely had a sniff all half were taking the three points.
At the final whilst the defeated Notts squad – as has become the norm – made their way to the travelling support to show their appreciation.
One went that little bit further though. Nelson broke away from the pack to stand alone in front of the support, throwing his hands in the air to admit his mistakes. Give the guy credit – this wasn’t something he had to do at all. Does it exempt him from criticism for costing us a game? Absolutely not – but it’s a good showing of character from a player who’s place next weekend might just be under threat from Rob Burch.
Whilst Westy’s departure, Deepdale defeat and a goalkeeping scoring past us may feel to some like signs of apocalypse, Notts have still navigated a tricky start to the season with six more points than many had dared to predict as we approached Carlisle on the opening day.
Next up is Bournemouth at Meadow Lane next Saturday. Our visitors that day have had a rotten start to the season so it’ll make a great game for Martin Allen to get the Notts ship back on course.
This is followed by that ill-timed, yet necessary trip to Turin for the Juventus game before another home game with Walsall.