Notts County’s 3-1 defeat to Chesterfield last night in the Johnsons Paint Trophy merely served as a backstory to the events that broke earlier in the day.
Late afternoon it was confirmed that Lee Hughes, top scorer every season he has been at Meadow Lane (with no signs of stopping) has signed a new contract to extend his tenure – even taking a paycut in the process!
The 18 month deal caps off a fantastic period for Hughes’ County career and is hopefully the start of a new era for him as he looks to guide Notts back up the table having already netted seven times this term already. September’s player of the month is yet to miss a game for us this year, a far cry from the stop start campaign we saw last year.
His late cameo last night though wasn’t enough though to prevent a slightly particularly embarassing evening in a cup competition largely irrelevant to most clubs and their supporters.
The night didn’t exactly start too brightly either, with both first team centre backs taken off inside 15 minutes.
Certainly Krystian Pearce’s exit was more a precautionary tail, but Mike Edwards hospital visit for a facial injury suggests a couple of games off for Steady.
Chesterfield were down to 10 men just after 20 minutes when Lee Johnson went in high on the low Alan Judge – instant red, no complaints. Judge meanwhile walked away relived to still have a head in-tact.
That Notts were to struggle from there though is most certainly a concern though.
Momentarily though you thought it would be a good night – particularly for one goal-shy striker.
On 43 minutes, Karl Hawley, without a strike to his name since January 2010 finally broke his duck – and with some style too.
If you can think back to Eastlands and Manchester City last Summer, or if you were at the Wolves game in pre-season you’ll have a good idea of the strike. A good 30 yards out, right footed, the misfiring Hitman found a home for the ball in the top right corner following some fantastic work to get the ball down on the floor.
Meadow Lane, more specifically the Pavis Stand erupted. He’d finally done it, and smallest crowd to grace the ground this season had been there to witness it. A special goal, for a not so special occasion perhaps but Notts had another goal of the season contender.
Barely five minutes earlier i’d asked those around me if they thought we’d ever see Karl score for us again. The timing probably ranks up there with the times I said last year that we’d seen the best of Lee Hughes – only for him to score winning goals the next days!
Think back to last season, how many top quality strikes were there amongst such a dry goal tally? Look at this year, and you’ve got Julian Kelly’s volley against Birkenhead’s thugs, Hughesy’s own competition with strikes against them over the river, Rochdale or Walsall, the departed Craig Westcarr again against the reds – already plenty for the voters to mull over at the end of the season.
Certanly better than simply choosing a Neal Bishop header by default.
Back to last night and a team lacking even more in first team quality thanks to the double substitution were struggling.
John Spicer was largely redundant for the evening – it took me deep into the second half in fact to remember he was on the field. Ishmel Demongtagnac, one of the more high profile signings of the Summer once more flattered to deceive. Whilst Hamza Bencherif was looking as ineffective as he has in the league in recent showings.
There was even a few moments of concern for Stuart Nelson come the second half. Somewhat rejuvinated in recent games, there were signs of his creeky worst with a few soft spillages.
Not to say it was wall to wall negatives from a Notts perspective mind.
Soon to be on pro-terms Curtis Thomspon, in place of KP was showing signs of the form we saw from him against Peterborough and Wolves in pre-season – certainly showing Ishmel how it’s done. Charlie Allen, unseen in a Notts shirt since a shaky showing at Stevenage was as energetic as we’ve come to expect and looked as polished as we’ve seen him yet. Hawley, bouyed obviously by his wonder goal looked unplayable too with his passing and control on a different level to anyone else on the field.
At half time though, you still wouldn’t have said County’s 1-0 lead was in danger. Certainly the visitors had their chances, but Nelson not to be beaten when faced with Chesterfield’s attacking line.
Ultimately it was one 15 minute spell in the second half that was to be County’s undoing with three goals without reply.
Firstly, Mark Randall slotted home from the edge of the box past an outstretched Nelson for the equaliser.
Four minutes later and Dean Morgan was cutting and leaving Hamza on the floor for 2-1 with the help of a slight deflection.
Jordan Bowery was to round up the night’s scoring with a header from close range. A huge capitulation was completed – yet it could’ve been more.
Also putting in a late appearance was Westcarr for the away side, and he nearly put the seal on the comeback with a fourth, just narrowly hitting wide of Nels’ left post.
Westy had been afforded a great reception by a large percentage of the near 2,000 Notts fans in attendance on the night – fantastic to see for a player who chipped in with some fantastic, important goals during his tenure with the club.
So, out of another League Trophy at the first hurdle, without a win in it since 2001. Not to say for a moment this was a big one, but Martin Allen wanted to go far in the competition – something i’ve commended previously. Wembley is the prize at the end, of course you should want to win it – but that’s probably me being old fashioned. After all, i’ve got friends with a lifetime of Wembley memories (some great, some not so) with Notts, i’m hardly likely to turn down some of my own!
In other respects, it’s one less distraction that Notts could obviously do without, you only need to think back to last season to recall the nightmares that can suppliment a lengthy cup run.
But we do walk away from this season’s “campaign” having learnt one important lesson.
This was a largely second string lineup that won’t bare much resemblence to the side that lines up on Sunday versus Hartlepool – or indeed Chesterfield a week on Saturday (consider Notts’ cards held close to their chest) – so in that respect you take nothing from the result.
But when you think back to Turin and the impressive showings generally put in by the whole squad you wondered whether there might be a degree of strength in depth in our squad – last night went some distance to disproving such a theory.
The potential is there for anyone to see with the likes of Thompson and Ishmel, but players like John Harley, Spicer and Bencherif still look miles off the pace compared to those around them.