Notts County’s recent dip in form continued on Saturday at Meadow Lane when Leyton Orient came to town with a smash and grab for the three points.
Defeat by itself might not have been so disappointing – were it not for the similarities to last weekend’s Yeovil fixture.
We’re talking about 180 minutes of football, minimal opportunities forged (less so for both opponents) and six points dropped thanks to maybe as many as four individual errors. Notts still sit just two points outside of the playoffs – but you wonder where the next points might come from.
Just maybe this ten day break ahead of the next “biggest game of the season” at Sheffield United has come at the right time?
Yeovil was a miserable experience. A game in which Martin Allen’s men dominated the possession with little to show for it. There was something scarily obvious about Yeovil breaking up the other end of the field and pinching their inevitable win. That it had to come at the hands of a Stuart Nelson lost in No Man’s Land made things no easier to swallow.
Had Alan Judge’s incredible 25-yard volley in the first half not cannoned back off the crossbar, it’s not out of the question to have seen Notts going on to finish the game by a comfortable margin. Yet they didn’t and it’s merely one of a catalogue of “what if” scenarios we’ve had this season.
Following a week of debating about who the first choice centre-back pairing should be (despite what was to follow, I back Mike Edwards and Krystian Pearce) it was a surprise to see Pearce out of the starting lineup (injury) in place of Edwards who would accompany The Salmon. Pearce and Sam Sodje, or Pearce and Eddie are the usual options – Eddie and Sodje was a new one though on us.
Lee Hughes returned to the starting lineup and accompanied Karl Hawley – you instantly felt more confident that goals might flow after a showing as blunt as last week’s. Neal Bishop also started despite the state he found his ankle in following last week at Yeovil.
The end product was still the same though for the first half. Lots of possession (perhaps too much of which was in Notts’ own third?), but very little incision going forward.
The loss of Gavin Mahon early on will have done much to disrupt any gameplan Allen will have assembled. Charlie Allen came on and was his usual tenacious self for the afternoon, in the right positions to collect passes – but when you consider the step up in level from what he was playing last year, maybe some time out on loan in January would be beneficial?
It was Judge who was to provide Notts’ best opportunity of a barren first half again. Once more, he was denied by the crossbar as from 35 yards his right-footed drive ricocheted off the woodwork to safety. Yep, what if – again!
One particular point of frustration I found on the afternoon was a lack of options being offered from deadball situations. Alan Sheehan appears to be taking less free-kicks than he was earlier in the season, Edwards was reduced to the one long throw-in all afternoon, shorter throw-ins all through the field fared little better either.
And with that said, Sheehan’s throw to Jeff Hughes just before half time looked to be the desperation option – but this does nothing to excuse the sloppy loss of possession that allowed Stephen Dawson to rifle the ball high into the roof of the net to hand Orient the lead.
1-0 down at half-time, no need to panic yet.
The second half was a marked improvement for County going forward. Lee Hughes began to turn the Orient defence in and out for fun and was looking like the spring in his step had returned having not scored for about two months now. He was to disappointingly strike the post in aftermath of a Sodje header being cleared off the line and force two routine saves from the visiting goalkeeper – more than we’d seen in recent weeks at least!
It was the day’s centre-back pairing who were to conspire together to gift Leyton Orient all three points. Firstly, “Steady” Eddie was to fail to trap the ball on the right flank allowing the visitors to break. The ball found it’s way to Jonathan Tehoue in the box. Sodje was on hand to make the tackle but seemed more intent on acting the fool than stopping the ball as his two footed lunge did nothing.
Tehoue slipped the ball under Nelson and people started to leave Meadow Lane en mass. 2-0 down at home having dominated. Had we gone back in time to last season?
With only five minutes of play left, it was a shame that this was to be what sparked Notts into life. And County were afforded a way back into the game when again Lee Hughes turned inside, before rifling home his first League One goal since September 24th from the edge of the box.
A vintage Hughes goal really, one you hope will reignite his goalscoring form.
With two minutes of an added five played, Leon McSweeney uppended Jeff Hughes who was through on goal in the box. Penalty awarded – accompanied by a fifth red card in the last six Notts games.
We’d pretty much reached the stage in the afternoon where we didn’t expect the referee to ever award a penalty having seen both Hughes’ brought down in the box for what looked like stonewall penalties. Another woeful official appointed for a Notts fixture – but Andy Haines is certainly no scapegoat for this defeat.
Jeff picked himself up looking to put away his sixth penalty of the campaign but saw his kick saved by Tom Butcher diving low to his right. The ball popped into the air and it felt like an eternity before it dropped onto the head of Karl Hawley – but it was saved and the ball was hoofed to safety. Moment over, and the final whistle was to follow not long after.
Orient were far from the best team (more than likely the most cynical) that have come to Meadow Lane this year, and were lucky not to be down to ten men much earlier than they were. But give them their dues – they soaked up a lot of Notts possession yet still had the capacity to finish their two chances off. You’d struggle to see Notts doing the same right now surely?
So now we’ve hit the ten day break – and with an extensive list of bumps and bruises at Meadow Lane it can’t have come soon enough!
Gavin Mahon was walking around freely post-match on Saturday despite being substituted. Martin Allen lists Krystian Pearce as a potential long term doubt. Neal Bishop still needs recovery time on an ankle knock picked up at Yeovil. Lee Hughes has been the walking wounded for a few weeks now. Alan Judge took a heavy tackle on Saturday and required treatment.
And these are just the injuries to currently active members of the squad.
It’s a trip to Bramall Lane next for Notts on December 27th in front of the Sky TV cameras as we look to improve on a truly woeful record against the division’s biggest clubs – five games, five limp defeats.
A second away fixture of the festive season at Oldham Athletic (last year a 3-0 battering) is followed on January 2nd by a home fixture with Huddersfield Town. Having conquered Notts just a few weeks ago, i’d said we’d be able to turn them over back at Meadow Lane.
Form since that game though would suggest otherwise.
Despite sitting two points outside the playoff zone, there’s a concern that the season’s good times have been and gone and that we’ll be left with another baron second half. We’re fast approaching the January transfer window though – a period where inactivity would contribute towards the downfall of Paul Ince last season.
We knew this moment was coming. The moment where we’d find out how serious Notts County are about chasing promotion to the Championship.
Chances like this might not come along for some time, do Notts stick or twist?