The January transfer window is the point considered by many Notts fans to be where last season turned ugly.
The losses of Ben Davies, Tom Ince and Lee Miller at the turn of the year saw
Paul Ince, Carl Heggs Martin Allen’s side finish with only five more wins for the duration of the campaign – so it’s time to see now what lessons have been learnt.
A period of transfer activity where many associated with the club would’ve hoped for wholesale changes (16 players are out of contract in the Summer as we stand) has already though been turned on it’s head in the best possible way.
Heads dropped last week as it was confirmed that both Liam Chilvers and John Harley had returned to Meadow Lane following loan stints at League Two Port Vale and Rotherham respectively. These two men are thought to be amongst the higher earners at the club following their acquisitions under Craig Short in 2010. Obviously, they are high on the list of personnel that would ideally be moved on soon.
Both of those clubs wish to make the players their own – but Port Vale’s impending administration might scupper that whilst Rotherham are looking to open talks at the earliest opportunity.
Things aren’t quite that done and dusted though yet.
Whilst this was happening, Allen was strengthening the squad with a season-long loan deal for Damion Stewart from Championship side Bristol City.
Stewart comes having played over 200 games in English football – even being named QPR’s Supporter’s AND Player’s Player Of The Season in the Championship. He’s also played alongside Gavin Mahon there, should be quite the pairing when Mahon returns from the sidelines.
Damion went straight into last weekend’s squad for the FA Cup Third Round tie at Doncaster Rovers – as did Chilvers and Harley. Effectively, Notts County had three new defenders on the books in the space of a week.
Notts won 2-0 thanks to goals either side of half time thanks to Jeff Hughes who solidifies his plays as County’s top scorer this season.
Lining up in the centre of defence though was a completely new pairing – one that did little to inspire any suggestion of progression in the build up to the game. Chilvers and Stewart replaced the pairing of Haydn Hollis and Krystian Pearce which finished against Huddersfield a week last Monday.
To their credit – both men delivered!
Chilvers in particular. He was a player who had started to improve in confidence with every game he played early last season until injury reset all that progress. By the end of the season, and during the pre-season campaign for this season, he looked like a lost cause.
Regular football has obviously made the world of difference once again though as the new pairing kept a clean sheet against their opposition from a higher division. There was even time for a cameo appearance from Harley who too came up with the goods.
Two solid displays from players who previously heading for the door presents quite the problem for Martin Allen – similar to when Ben Burgess’ resurgent form saw him taken from the transfer list. Could the same happen for the two men from whom big things were expected last season? Both are amongst those out of contract at the end of the season.
Ricky Ravenhill meanwhile, himself currently in the basement division with massive Bradford City has stated his desire to make the move permanent. So another title winner from 09/10 looks to be on his way – maybe alongside Mike Edwards who will surely struggle to find his way back into the Notts side now with Krystian Pearce, Haydn Hollis, Sam Sodje, Damion Stewart and even Liam Chilvers ahead of him in the pecking order?
Notts’ progression into the fourth round marks the first time since 1887 that the club has made it that far three seasons in a row. Their reward? A not particularly appetising tie away at Stevenage Borough – safe to say they won’t exactly have been jumping through hoops at the draw either though.
Less so when they now face the prospect of losing their manager Graham Westley to League One rivals Preston North End possibly by the end of the week. Suddenly the draw doesn’t seem that bad for Notts. Que sera sera and all that.
This weekend sees focus turn back to League One action away at Bournemouth.
Last season’s encounter at Dean Court came three managers ago in August of 2010 under Craig Short – and what a horror show it was for 90 minutes. Yet despite that, a game starring Jake Jervis and Kevin Smith still manages to evoke happy memories as Smith and Craig Westcarr both scored in injury time to steal an unlikely 3-3 draw!
County will start the weekend in 11th place (two places behind this weekend’s hosts) looking to kick on from the home draw with Huddersfield and the away win at Donny. The playoffs are nine points out of reach currently thanks to Carlisle being in league action last week – but outside of the top six Notts do have the best goal difference which is likely to be key in such a packed top half of the table.
Martin Allen’s men have lost both league fixtures that have followed FA Cup wins so will be looking to change that on Saturday.