This being Notts though, it’s another performance that leaves more questions than answers. And more controversy.
Wednesday pressed hard from the opening stages, and it looked like they could score with every attack. Their final ball began strongly, but rapidly deteriorated as the game went on. County were lucky not to be a goal down when Lewis Buxton blazed over from close range inside five minutes.
It was another Jeff Hughes penalty that got County into the lead, awarded from a bizarre handball as a Mike Edwards free-kick was floating out harmlessly for a goal-kick. As ever, it felt like an age for the referee to point to the spot.
Jughes dispatched the kick in front of the travelling Notts crowd, the early pressure from the home side had been weathered and slowly but surely the crowd began to turn.
Hillsborough is an incredible stadium, certainly better than the identikit stadiums we’ve seen at the likes of MK Dons or Southampton. It comes with an atmosphere generated from all three home stands putting the effort in, creating the sort of environment visiting sides dread – so if you can get that crowd to turn, you’re doing something right.
In truth, just a small pocket of fans to the left of the travelling support were making enough noise to rival the Kop at Meadow Lane.
Wednesday huffed and puffed for the equaliser but as their support became more vociferous with it’s frustration, they looked less and less likely to get back into the game.
County led 1-0 at half time but ultimately it was a classic batting collapse that was to see Martin Allen’s side leave empty handed.
The equalising goal arose from a catalogue of errors, starting with the usually unflappable Krystian Pearce being forced into conceding a corner. From this, Stuart Nelson had a complete nightmare in trying to retrieve the ball before Julian Bennett thrashed the ball into the roof of the net.
Truly comical from Nelson, but we’ve long since come to know now that ball retrieval is far from his strongest suit. Of more concern will be two occasions in which he took on Sheffield Wednesday forwards twice – only narrowly succeeding on both occasions. On another day, these were two goals just waiting to be conceded.
Allen could sense there was still a game here to be won though and replaced Alan Judge with West Ham loanee Christian Montano.
But it was Wednesday who struck next when an unmarked Gary Madine put the home team 2-1 up as a combination of Buxton and David Prutton carved Notts up down the right flank.
Montano’s introduction was a smart one, suddenly more openings were being forced. Were it not for him being brushed off the ball so easily in the area, and but for Jeff Hughes’ indecision, we might have been level.
Notts were certainly competing toe to toe with their opponents who this season against are amongst the pack favoured for promotion.
Neal Bishop’s erratic second half was then to be confounded by a red card. Having survived going into the book earlier in the half for a quite blatant body-check as Wednesday broke away, Bish did find his way into the book by means of a clothesline tackle on Ben Marshall. Cynical for sure, but it’s the kind of booking you take because it gives your team mates a chance to get back into position.
Then a moment of real contention for his second caution that has split supporters firmly down the middle.
Bish and Wednesday’s Jose Semedo came together in the final third as Notts tried to push for the equaliser. Both men went down, but it was our captain Bishop who picked up a booking. Either Semedo has clipped Bish and has started to roll around on the floor to divert some of the attention from himself, or Neal has gone down and flicked out a foot to catch the Wednesday player to win a free-kick.
I’m not sure which it is – either way it does nothing to try and resolve it anyway. Yellow cards can’t be appealed, and there’s nothing supporters rowing over it can do about it now unfortunately.
The red card stands, and we’re without Ricky Ravenhill and Neal Bishop, two of our most influential midfielders next week for the trip to Preston North End.
Another substitute, Craig Westcarr also spawned two chances at an equaliser also, ballooning over the crossbar on two occasions when he was able to fire a shot off in crowded penalty areas.
Plan Z Jude Stirling and his long throws were introduced to the game late on but Notts had never really seen many opportunities for those deliveries all afternoon – there was no reason to believe that would’ve changed now.
When the final whistle blew, there was a real sense that Notts deserved something out of the game, but for the second week in succession County had failed to capitalise on a strong midweek display the following Saturday. Whether these midweek excurcsions have been playing a part is debatable – certainly there were signs of tired legs at Hillsborough.
Defeat again drags up the old questions about what’s missing from the side. A midfield playmaker, another centre-back, and of course another striker. To be honest though, Notts are creating chances and this to me was more or less just another defeat. These do tend to happen throughout the length of the football season.
The squad now have a week off ahead of the trip to Preston next Saturday for their penultimate League One fixture before the trip to Turin.