How Far We’ve Come

Cast your mind back to Saturday, April 9th and a 3-1 defeat at Dagenham & Redbridge – the club’s seventh in quick succession.

Notts dropped into the relegation zone and many walking away that day believed for the first time that all hope was lost. The call that night was put in to the man who would come to be the next Notts County manager.

Now contrast that with the emotions felt when walking away from the romantically-named B2Net Stadium in Chesterfield and you get a real sense of the progress made under Martin Allen in just six months.

The Dog’s side did of course go on to lose twice more as the new gaffer got his feet under the table, but ultimately League One safety was to be secured on the final day last season – and the squad has hardly looked back since.

An uninspiring Summer period, littered with a mixed bag of pre-season results and performances, complimented by less than headline-grabbing signings did nothing to encourage the kind of optimism that would’ve predicted Notts County would be inside the playoff places approaching a busy Winter period.

Over 2,000 made the trip in support of Notts and not a single one of them will have left unhappy – save for the dozen or fans escorted from their seats early on in the day.

Fielding an unchanged side from that which pummelled Hartlepool into submission last Sunday, aside from a 20 minute period in the second half, Notts were rarely tested and might’ve even gone a goal up inside the first 30 seconds had Neal Bishop’s 25 yard drive not been tipped around the post for a corner. Just moments later, and Jeff Hughes would’ve been on the scoresheet were it not for home ‘keeper Fleming parrying a header.

The Magpies did however take the lead through the still resurgent Ben Burgess who flicked home Gavin Mahon’s cross to notch his third goal in as many away games.

One name of note on the Chesterfield teamsheet was that of ex-‘Pie Craig Westcarr who’s name was greeted with the usual mixed reception of both jeers and cheers (not all that different from his time at Meadow Lane then!). His only telling contribution to a poor first half for his side was a coming together with Stuart Nelson in which he came off the worst and required treatment.

Alan Judge doubled the lead on the stroke of half time to offer some breathing space going in to the interval as he slotted home after Captain Bish’s beautifully lofted ball over the top of the Spireites defence.

Karl Hawley, no doubt inspired by three goals in his last two starts for Notts could’ve made it 3-0 with a delicate dink on the stroke of half time. Unfortunately, after an eternity in the air – the ball dropped just wide.

Notts were to attack their travelling the support for the second half and with the game already seemingly put to bed – you thought you might be in for something special.

But it was Westy who was to haul his new side back into the game almost single-handedly.

First, his header was somehow pawed out by a full stretch Nels, a quite sensational save from the Notts number one. Minutes later however, and an unmarked Westcarr was nudging the ball over an on-rushing Nelson for a 2-1 scoreline. All of a sudden, the ride wasn’t so comfortable.

Chesterfield put a little more effort in for the next 15 or 20 minutes but they never looked like breaking County’s defence down. Westcarr and Nelson were involved in another altercation at the other end of the field which I couldn’t get a good view of.

Westy was to leave the field sometime after in no particular hurry – which was to Notts’ advantage with the clock running down.

Lee Hughes had earlier made his way on to the field in place of Karl Hawley, and it was his determined running which set up another substitute Sam Sodje for a third at the death.

Again, it was Bishop’s ball again over the top which Chesterfield gave up on, but the legs of Hughes saw him get to the goal line to put a ball into the middle for the Salmon to rebound the ball in at the second attempt. Game over.

The already considerably loud volume in the B2Net’s North Stand almost saw the roof come off – more so when news began to spread of defeats for both Preston and Charlton. Notts were up to third!

That’s one defeat in the last eight games for Martin Allen and Notts and they sit just three points off the top spot!

Of course one other side who lost on Saturday were Nottingham Forest, watched by their latest appointment – Steve Cotterill.

Cotterill joins the red side having a year and a half ago turned down Notts to be closer to his family on the south coast. Obviously that 300 yards further south makes all the difference right?

Had Notts not been in such rude health in recent weeks you’d be forced into over-thinking the move. Certainly had he stayed on we’d have not been forced to get through the reigns of Craig Short and Paul Ince – but nor would we in the company now of Martin Allen. Swings and roundabouts.

The move should do nothing to take away from the achievements of his fantastic 18-game spell at Meadow Lane. What does sting a little though is saying he needed to be closer to his family only to do a u-turn some months later for that lot outside the city limits.

Regardless, Notts find themselves now fourth thanks to a late Sheffield Wednesday equaliser in their Sunday derby. It’s quite the statement of defiance for a side many expected to still be occupying the league’s lower reaches this season.

Brentford come to Meadow Lane this week in a repeat of the fixture in which Mad Dog’s squad were mere seconds away from clinching their League One safety with games to spare. It’s County who this time occupy the higher position and will be looking to get the win over another play-off contender.

It’s a big week of fixtures in League One when on Wednesday sixth takes on seventh as Sheffield United travel to Preston. On Saturday, top of the table Charlton face play-off hopefuls Carlisle at home – whilst Preston travel to second placed Huddersfield.

The table as it stands right now could certainly look very different come 5pm next Saturday, so here’s to hoping Notts can keep up their impressive home form with a sixth successive Meadow Lane win.

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