Unwanted Distractions

Back to backs wins for the first time since mid-October yet still preparations for a weekend fixture are hampered by off the field allegations.

Ending a winless sequence of five games with victory over Scunthorpe and FA Cup progression past Sutton United have both been over-shadowed by allegations of sexual assault against Lee Hughes.

This Saturday Martin Allen will return to the scene of his first game in charge of Notts County, but he won’t be pleased that a distraction such as this threatens to derail a season that currently sits on a knife edge.

Last week a 3-2 home win over Scunthorpe helped consolidate the club’s playoff position. Like many this season, this was another win to be filed away under “we’d have lost that last season”.

Having seen Notts take the lead through Krystian Pearce, goals from the visiting Irons either side of half time left the majority of the Meadow Lane crowd thinking the worst. Some of the early season form was already beginning to feel a distant memory and having not won their last five – it was about to be capped off with a home loss to a side themselves struggling to find form.

Then came a maybe fortuitous turning point. Oli Norwood flung himself into Jeff Hughes trying to win the ball two footed. Red card. A debatable one at best – you see players survive tackles a lot worse most weeks. But right under the referee’s nose though, with more ball taken than player you couldn’t really argue from a Notts perspective. You’d perhaps feel hard done by if this happened to Neal Bishop for instance though.

Regardless – for the third week in a row Notts were to finish a game with a man advantage.

It was Jeff himself who would pick himself up off the floor to whack home a quality equaliser on the volley, before Julian Kelly secured the three points bursting in from the right wing before slotting home with aplomb.

Not a classic, but a first league win in over a month was all that mattered. And on a day when the eight teams occupying positions third through to tenth were all playing the bottom eight in the division – Slip-up Saturday had been been navigated past safely.

Bizarrely though, even another draw would’ve seen Notts remain in the top six places. A sign of the division’s lack of quality you might argue.

With League One form rejuvenated, Notts were back in FA Cup action this past weekend against Sutton United.

The club set up camp at Croydon’s Aerodrome Hotel – and those supporters following players like Alan Sheehan and Neal Bishop on Twitter quickly became aware of the Fawlty Towers-esque setup.

Facilities not up to scratch, players being assigned rooms already filled – and hotel fire alarms ringing through the hotel 11pm on a Saturday night. Was someone going to lengths to unsettle the visitors on Sutton’s big day? You’re free to make your own mind up.

Come 5pm the next evening, and in front of the ESPN cameras, Notts lined up without the suspended Lee Hughes and were led up front by Karl Hawley and Ben Burgess.

It was very much your typical FA Cup tie. It’s difficult for the bigger side to look good in games like this, particularly at compact grounds such as this. The cold, windy conditions you hope won’t have played a part, but certainly something was amiss for large periods of the game.

Allen’s men prevailed with a 2-0 victory thanks to two more goals from Jeff Hughes – but were it not for a first half penalty save from Stuart Nelson, it might have been a very different tale.

But it was Notts who progressed and go on to face Doncaster Rovers away from home at the beginning of 2012. Not the most glamorous tie perhaps on paper, but Donny continue to strengthen with players like El Hadj Diouff so there’ll still be some talent on the show.

But the Championship’s bottom club are most certainly beatable.

Two victims (the first, if you will) from Sutton were Sam Sodje and Ben Burgess who both hobbled off injured. Notts on Saturday can cope without the Salmon considering Mike Edwards and Pearce is the preferred centre back pairing – but Big Ben’s absence provides more concern. Are we to be left with one available striker this weekend – particularly considering the events that broke publicly late on Monday night?

The Sun released a story just past midnight that Lee Hughes had been questioned by police in relation to an alleged sexual assault at the club’s hotel in Croydon. He has though been released.

By morning, it was one of the world’s most discussed topics on Twitter.

For many, that’s all they need to know. Whether Hughes is ever found to have a case to answer to is irrelevant – the damage is done. A man wrongly labelled (like it or not, that is the case) a murderer by opposing fans all over the country now becomes a murdering rapist – such is the lack of common sense amongst the average football fan.

But really, how often do cases against footballers come to light before being dismissed? But of course, not before money has been made selling stories or tip-offs to the national press. For every Marlon King, there’s still a Craig Bellamy, David Goodwillie or Robinho who have been cleared.

Hughes’ past inevitably counts for a lot to too many people on this occasion. But the fact is that Lee is innocent until proven guilty, as has always been the case to anyone who thinks logically for more than two seconds.

He will continue to get our support, right up until this case is dismissed.

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