In Notts County’s first home fixture of 2011, they ran out 3-0 winners over an in-form Hartlepool spearheaded by a young loanee.
Thomas Ince was soon to depart and bring the wheels off the season – all told they’re somewhat spooky similarities to the same fixture this season except you get the impression Martin Allen has all bases covered.
Pools have only suffered the one defeat this season, that coming in their last fixture at home to Sheffield Wednesday.
As is often the case with Mad Dog, the starting lineup itself sprung it’s usual round of surprises – most notably being the inclusion of the injured (and previously ruled out) Ben Burgess.
Also starting despite midweek knocks were Mike Edwards and Krystian Pearce in the centre of defence. We were led to believe both were doubts, more mindgames perhaps?
In the morning prior it had been announced that the fixture would be Christiano Montano’s final game at Notts with West Ham recalling him after a two month loan period.
If we’ve been so quick to believe the Dog’s injury reports in the past, maybe there’s reason to hold fire when we’re said to be losing players we’ve had in on loan? Time will tell.
Whilst it remains to be seen if Tano will stick around – Notts will hope they don’t see a repeat of the dip in form following the loss of Ince Jnr after his loan spell last season. The Columbian has been a great impact from the player and has chipped in with some vital goals in his time at Notts – it would be fantastic to have him back soon.
Out of nowhere, Lee Hughes passed a late fitness test to take his place on the bench, whilst Karl Hawley, fresh from his first goal in about two decades on Tuesday started alongside Ben Burgess.
Hartlepool forged the first chance with a minute played, Sweeney was free for a header at the back post but it was well blocked by Nelson with, and with this momentum in their favour they were narrowly denied seconds later when he was free to run in on goal – denied though by a linesman’s flag.
Notts replied on five minutes when Ben Burgess knocked down from 20 yards for Jeff Hughes to volley harmlessly wide. A good, solid start from both sides. It was to offer a false indication of how the game would play out for the remainder.
Hartlepool’s star attraction Nolberto Solano was booked for a mis-timed challenge on Hughes moments later in the first ten minutes in his only telling contribution to the game. Give him all the pre-match TV airtime you want, it was an anonymous afternoon from the former Newcastle man.
The long ball was proving popular with Notts in the opening stages with Burgess as ever (well, recently) a force in the air. Within the first 20 minutes there was a real danger that Notts would be resorting to this all afternoon – but why worry? It was working so well.
Also proving a threat were the long throws of Edwards, one of which led to Hawley’s header being saved Flinders in the ‘Pools goal when the ball had dropped for Steady to cross.
On 22 minutes, Alan Sheehan’s inswinging ball in to Judge was completely mis-hit and easily saved – embarrassment spared once more by a waving flag from the lino on the far side. Looked onside from my position though.
Burgess was next to try, shooting just over from distance having seen the ball given away by Collins rather sloppily.
Notts made their much-deserved breakthrough on the half hour mark, through the re-energised Hawley.
The high dropping ball in the box took an age to drop, but it was the Hitman on the volley who was to net his second in as many games just minutes short of the half hour mark, a brilliant finish that you’d think maybe the Hawley of just last week would’ve put high into the Kop?
He may even have had a hat-trick inside five minutes.
Firstly, his shot hit straight at Flinders with no one available for the rebound, moments later he was found offside as his header was tipped over the bar from a Burgess knockdown.
We’ve experienced a few resurgences from players under Martin Allen – but this was something else!
Jeff Hughes was next to try his luck. Quite possibly man-handled on the edge of the area following great linkup play between, Burgess, Alan Judge and Neal Bishop – Jughes found himself nudging his effort just wide.
Notts saw out the game until half time and were it not for Hawley not controlling instantly, he was easily in for his second just before the whistle was blown.
The biggest disappointment so far for Notts was that they had to stop playing! This had by far been the best half of football that County had played since Martin Allen’s arrival – and all for the Sky cameras too!
You can’t play down the impact of a live TV game, especially one during an international break. On the weekend’s, people want live football to watch – those that needed to settle for Notts would hopefully have been impressed so far. The long ball of the game’s opening stages slowed down, replaced by the smoother passing game along the floor which you almost expect Mad Dog’s side to go with these days.
Notts made no changes for the second half – unsurprisingly.
The interval did nothing to halt the momentum, and County had a corner after just 15 seconds of play – one of a few in the half’s early moments.
From the first, Bish pressured Sweeney into making his goalkeeper tip the ball over his own crossbar. Next, Judge’s volley spun wide.
Then in the 49th minute, when Bish over-ran the ball, it fell to Julian Kelly who’s side footer was easily saved.
The chances weren’t to stop. The break had done nothing to stem the tide.
Hawley grabbed his second ten minutes in, showing fantastic strength to shrug off big Peter Hartley before beautifully lofting the ball over an onrushing goalkeeper. Hawley and the Notts fans were living in a dreamworld.
There was even time for some showboatery from Captain Bish – his elaborate flick in to Hawley gets full marks for artistic impression, yet nothing for execution. That said it was only one defender away from being the pass of the season into Hawley.
We can let it pass that it nearly led to a ‘Pools goal before the danger was snuffed out for a corner. Then from that, Nelson made a bit of a mess of the catch, but the ball was seen out on the far touchline. No harm done this time!
The win was sealed by a cameo performance from the departing Montano, making his appearance in the place of a fantastic Burgess.
Big Ben’s efforts throughout game had been spot on. Almost unstoppable in the air at times, you never thought he was going to be beaten when going up for the ball. The incredible turnaround in form continues.
Tano fittingly got the third, and in some style. Having just a few moments earlier launched a range finder at goal, his low drive into the bottom left corner put the seal on a fantastic team performance.
The Columbian even celebrated his goal doing the Hughesy, quite the way to bow out!
At the final whistle, the Lane erupted. No need to be concerning ourselves with Manager Of The Month curses, or worrying about what might happen in front of the TV cameras – this was as close to a perfect team display as you’re likely to see from Notts County.
Next up, there’ll be a certain degree of revenge in mind for Chesterfield following last Tuesday’s Johnsons Paint Trophy exit. The first visit to the B2Net Stadium should take a decent following along with it also.
Martin Allen’s side sit back in sixth place inside the playoff zone – again just one win from second place. Of the five sides above Notts now, four will face sides currently in the bottom half of the top.
The law of averages will suggest one will buckle to complacency.
One step at a time of course, but on the back of Notts’ best display under Allen (most likely since the days of Steve Cotterill) thoughts again turn to how this season might pan out.
There’s no losing sight of the fact that many outside of Allen’s office would suggest that right now we’re punching above our weight in sixth place – but yesterday’s display suggests we’re going in the right direction against our playoff rivals.