A Lesson In Winning Ugly

Another impressive victory for Martin Allen’s men away at Stevenage Borough leaves Notts still unbeaten for the month of September so far.

But the result didn’t come without the odd scare along the way – and just maybe County were lucky to finish with their full compliment of 11 players?

Opponents Stevenage would have been in bouyant mood before kick-off on the back of their 5-1 demolition of Sheffield Wednesday last Tuesday. But it’s not like Notts would be feeling too deflated themselves having not lost since August 27th.

That was the day Stuart Nelson was beaten by the Preston North End goalkeeper, and ever since questions have been raised about Nels’ form. As we’ve seen with Karl Hawley and Ben Burgess, the manager likes to take to the press to “big up” the players with the most wayward form and did so last week with Nelson. It obviously worked.

The suspended Alan Sheehan was replaced by John Harley – just recently returned from a seemingly failed trial in Australia. Charlie Allen made his second competitive start in the middle alongside Neal Bishop.

Indeed the hosts started strongly, seeing much of the ball in the final third from the first whistle, and inside six minutes they should most definitely have found their breakthrough. Krystian Pearce was adjudged to have fouled Craig Reid who was in on goal and the penalty was awarded – by the linesman. The much nearer referee apparently oblivious to what he had seen – a common theme for the afternoon’s officiating!

By the laws of the game, Pearce was fortunate to have not seen red for the offence. Not that we complained.

Reid himself stepped up but Nelson got down low to his left to make the save. Bullet dodged, but Borough continued to press without stretching the Notts defence all too much.

Just short of the half hour mark and Notts again were forunate. Charlie Allen, not having his best game for Notts picked the ball up on half way but his first touch let him down massively and he lunged in quite wildly. The referee went straight into his pocket and his red card was there for all to see. Having let the situation calm down though, it was only a yellow card. Other officials might not have been quite so lenient.

Allen Snr though had seen enough and substituted his lad almost immediately for Alan Judge. Notts rarely looked back from this point onwards.

Ben Burgess began to really take charge in the air, winning the vast majority of the long balls that were being played up to him. A resurgent Harley was getting forward when afforded the chance. And Gavin Mahon? As we’ve already come to expect, he was running things at the back.

Jeff Hughes came close to putting Notts in the driving seat as the first half drew to a close, but he scuffed his connection with Lee Hughes’ right wing cross. The keeper made a relatively comfortable save – Jughes will be massively disappointed to have not scored from a central position only eight yards out.

Notts were to take the lead however through who else but Lee Hughes. A dogged scramble in the box ended with Hughes being in the right place to tap home from all of two yards.

The second half was much more of the same really. Stevenage huffed and puffed but did little to trouble the birthday boy Nelson in goal. Anything that was thrown his way (the odd cross or three) was dealt with comfortably. The Notts fans behind him even gave him a quick rendition of Happy Birthday at one point!

The second half was only five minutes old when Burgess took his second goal in as many games, stooping low to nod home Jeff Hughes outstanding cross from the left wing.

When you talk of players coming back into form, you think of Burgess first – but Harley’s tackle to lay the ball into the path of Jeff was fantastic in it’s execution. A place maybe for Harley in the Dog’s plans?

And so the game tamely reached it’s conclusion. Stevenage still seeing much of the ball yet doing little with it, the Notts defence looking firmly in control aside from a few wild swings at goal.

Having taken note of Stevenage’s 5-1 win just days earlier, many of the 600+ travelling Notts fans would’ve bitten your hand off for a point – but to walk away with all three from a ground where the home side rarely uses? That’s a fantastic afternoon’s effort!

Not the first time this season, a Notts win caught the majority out in the TNB Prediction League – just the one winner taking three points this week!

Steven Douthwaite was the only one to predict the 2-0 scoreline, whilst of last week’s top two who were deadlocked on 13 points – Jon Faulkner took a point in victory to move him clear in first place!

Check out the latest spreadsheet here.

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