The Search For A Striker

With four days remaining until Notts kick off at Carlisle United, there’s still that big gaping hole in the team sheet – the much-vaunted “proven goalscorer”.

Cast your mind back to Saturday, May 7th, around about 5pm. County’s League One campaign has come to an end with a paltry 46 goals to their name – the lowest in the division (one of the lowest in the entire league pyramid in fact).

Lee Hughes has been used sparingly through injury, Karl Hawley hasn’t notched a single strike in 46 league games (more when you include the cups), with Craig Westcarr chipping in with a decent strike rate despite flitting between roles as a striker or a winger. The next highest goalscorer left in January.

We don’t even talk about Ben Burgess.

The priority simply had to be a goalscorer for the next campaign.

And so began a frustrating game of cat and mouse – one that it would seem is only now maybe reaching a conclusion.

Marlon Harewood was the first target, a real marquee signing had it been possible.

Martin Allen broke with his regular protocol to announce the move on the club’s official website – a strange move perhaps but it excited people. A cynic might suggest though it was more a move to stir up season ticket sales.

This was all we would hear from the club on the matter as they waited a month whilst Harewood made a decision – it could be considered fortunate that in that time the transfer market was largely a quiet one.

Club Chairman Ray Trew insists the club would’ve had their man had it not been for a freak of nature rising from the East.

Shenzhen Phoenix from China swooped in at the 11th hour, offering Harewood three times what County were prepared (maybe even able) to offer. Despite talk that Marlon was said to be favouring a Nottingham return, you can hardly blame the guy taking up such a move.

The harsh reality in the end though was like last Summer where the club waited for Steve Cotterill to make a decision about his future – lessons had not been learned. Had the gamble paid off of course it would be a risk worth taking, but with how things eventually played out, it was a massive  mistake.

His contract takes him up to January – the idea of a move for him then isn’t out of the question, budget permitting of course.

It was to be a second unusual occurrence that saw Allen foiled with his next attempt to bring in a goalscorer.

Clayton Donaldson – last season’s top scorer in League Two for Crewe Alexandra was next up for Mad Dog but these plans were scuppered by the new wealthy benefactors at Brentford. Again, a bigger wage was being offered than Notts were willing to offer – money spoke again, we just couldn’t compete.

Incidentally, just a week later, Commercial Director Mark Devlin made the switch to Brentford from Meadow Lane.

Charlton Athletic’s Paul Benson was the man next targetted in possibly the sorriest tail of pre-season woe.

As Allen’s side was losing 3-2 at Meadow Lane to Peterborough, rumours were circulating that ground that his club had actually accepted a bid from from Notts. Such stories were confirmed the following morning – just maybe the hunt was over?

A few days later, Benson was seen on the Derek Pavis stand’s balcony in the director’s box for a game with Wolves. Things look promising both on and off the field, there’s no way he would not have been impressed with the performance a Neal Bishop-inspired Notts were putting on.

Come Tuesday morning though, things were to take an embarrassing turn as Chief Executive Jim Rodwell took to the club’s official website to speak of the financial restrictions that Notts were operating with. The move for Benson was dead in the water.

It would be an understatement to suggest that the club’s finances are a sore point amongst supporters. Years of financial woe were only the beginning as outgoing managers such as Cotterill and Paul Ince touched upon a lack of funds as they walked away from Meadow Lane.

At a time when it’s well known that the club is on possibly the greatest financial footing in it’s history – it’s frustrating to say the least.

Within hours though the statement was removed from the website. A bit late really, the embarrassment had been heaped on. Did people think just because it was deleted from the OS that it would be forgotten and never heard of again?

In it’s place came a replacement this time directly from the manager.

Now, it was claimed the move broke down because Benson wasn’t willing to uproot his family from London. Fair enough if that is the case, it’s commendable in fact – but the damage was already done by Rodwell’s earlier release.

Two different sides of the story from inside the club was difficult enough to deal with – so Charlton Athletic’s own view which came later further confused the situation. They were now saying that their gaffer Chris Powell had spoken with Benson over the weekend and that the decision was made to withdraw Charlton’s acceptance of the £150k bid.

One attempted signing – three different reasons as to why it didn’t happen. Whilst Notts were trying so hard to bring in their goalscorer, tails like this was doing nothing for supporter confidence. Had these bids simply failed, then maybe that was was fair enough – but the embarrassing baggage that was coming with each dealing was the sticking point for many.

Whilst the Benson saga played out, we also had the sub-plot of of Maidenhead striker Alex Wall, a man who had netted Notts’ winner in a pre-season friendly at Kettering Town.

It’s questionable whether 20-year-old Wall was really the answer, but it would’ve been progress none the less! He had slowly been building quite the reputation with Maidenhead’s own Magpies.

In the end the move fell through with his club citing behind the scenes developments at Meadow Lane as the problem. Spin, aimed at deflecting the fact that Maidenhead failed in trying to call Notts’ bluff? Or were things in such bad a state behind the scenes that we couldn’t even sign a non-league striker?

Essentially, more confidence-damaging baggage that we just didn’t need with the new season around the corner.

As it stands, we’re days away from the big kick-off and sorely lacking up front.

In last night’s friendly at the very same Maidenhead, former West Ham and St Mirren striker Billy Mehmet turned out in a 3-2 defeat as a trialist.

According to his wikipedia entry he finished St Mirren’s top scorer in the SPL for three consecutive seasons, with nearly one goal in three games. Could the search be over, just four days before the big kick off?

In the meantime, certainly we have Lee Hughes, but being honest you rarely felt last season like you were going to get more than four or five games out of him at a time. Goals will certainly come once more from Craig Westcarr whichever position he finds himself in – but certainly not enough to do enough damage by himself.

Then there’s Ben Burgess. A man who’s fitness robbed Notts near enough all season long last season. The man has visibly shed the pounds to get fit in time for a new campaign – but a hamstring injury picked up at the Hinckley United friendly does nothing to help anyone.

Karl Hawley’s goal drought continues too, now approaching 19 months without a goal. It’s such a poor turnover that you start to consider it generous to even call him a striker.

In Karl’s defence his performances at the tail end of last year were brilliant, and he certainly seems to have picked up where he left off this pre-season.

Could a goal on the opening day against his former club Carlisle United be his destiny?

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