The game of the season, watched by the biggest Meadow Lane crowd of the season – and just maybe it came at the right time as well.
Staring down the barrel of five straight defeats going into 2012 and attentions had turned to a slide down the table rather than the play-off spots that had been eyed for so long.
Whilst a 2-2 with Huddersfield doesn’t halt the downward spiral through League One, it did manage however to cut the gap between Notts County and the playoff spots down to six points. Quite the tidy afternoon considering struggling they were 2-0 down at one point in the afternoon!
On the day the club’s officially launched the celebrations for it’s 150th year, Martin Allen handed a first team debut to former-youth team prospect Haydn Hollis who signed on professional terms in the Summer. He accompanied Sam Sodje at centre-back in place of the recently-erratic pairing of Mike Edwards and Krystian Pearce.
Notts looked assured from the outset whilst Huddersfield were of course a danger when seeing the ball. Neither side carved out any clear cut chances whenever they did have possession though so it made for a cagey opening few frames.
That’s aside from Jordan Rhodes (the thorn in Notts’ Galpharm side) who was to rise highest to head a free-kick towards goal which was thwarted at point blank range by an instinctive Stuart Nelson in County’s goal in front of the Kop.
The first bump in the afternoon’s road came just before half time when the Terrier’s Alan Lee and Sam Sodje renewed their running battle from the Galpharm Stadium less than a month a go. Lee saw red that afternoon for an elbow on The Salmon, this time though it was the Notts man to make an early exit through what looked like a hamstring issue being pursued by Lee.
Momentarily, heads were lost. Passes became misplaced all too regularly – with Hamza Bencherif (starting for only second timesince late October) being a prime culprit, having put Jordan Rhodes in on goal. Nelson came out well to block to avert any danger, but captain Neal Bishop had a job on his hands separating his team mates from Hamza.
At half time there wasn’t much to complain aside from Bencherif’s wastefulness with the ball at his feet…or in the air…or to his chest. That he wasn’t substituted at half-time perhaps spoke volumes for the faith Martin Allen has in Charlie Allen?
In events that mirrored those at the Galpharm, Huddersfield scored early in the second half to take the lead. Hollis should not have given Rhodes the opportunity to cross, but Gary Roberts at the back post was on hand to head home anyway. All the hard work of the first half looked to have been outdone.
Hollis to his credit had fitted in well to the side – either with Sodje or his replacement Pearce. Maybe it’s nerves, but whilst rarely looking at ease with the ball coming towards him, nine times out of ten he would get the job done – essentially all we want in light of the defensive indecision we’ve been plagued with for weeks.
The hard work though felt even more distant just five minutes later when it was Roberts who was to turn provider – via his lob on to the crossbar. Rhodes was there to feed on the scraps and put the ball home. A richly undeserved 2-0 lead for the visitors. Game over. To claw this back now would need the sort of resilience we’d not seen from a Notts side for a good few months.
But maybe the times are changing at Meadow Lane? Last season when County were on the verge of their fifth straight defeat, you could sense things weren’t right – that the side weren’t playing for their manager? Not so anymore, and Allen’s men really stepped up their efforts to get back in the game to which the crowd responded to greatly.
Alan Sheehan was upended in the box with around 20 minutes and change remaining – a blatant penalty to which Jeff Hughes stepped up and converted. Now it really was game on.
Post-match had seen a parade of legends around the Meadow Lane pitch. So maybe it was fitting that in front of such prolific goalscorers like Don Masson, Les Bradd and Tommy Johnson – that Lee Hughes was to pop up with the equaliser? Certainly via a huge deflected from an opposition handball, but no one cares about that.
It wouldn’t be Notts though without one big scare to see you home though, and it was Nelson who provided it. Coming off his line, he flapped at a ball dropping into his box, and saw the loose ball prodded towards goal by Scott Arfield. Thankfully, after what felt like an eternity it went wide. A huge relief.
After five minutes of added time the referee signalled the end of the game. 2-2 on a marquee day for the club and against a team higher than us in the table? We’d take that to be honest.
Throughout Notts four games previous, it became easier to forget just how good this team could be on it’s day. The pride that came with performances against Juventus, Forest, Carlisle and Chesterfield for instance was a distant memory. It was difficult to answer which direction our season would be heading at the turn of the year.
But this result, and the display that came with it serves as a great reminder that with some tinkering in January that this team could go far yet this season.
It also stops the rot against the division’s bigger sides. Without being walked over away from home, we’ve failed to pick up points against Huddersfield, MK Dons and both Sheffield Wednesday and United. I’d remained confident that back at Meadow Lane there’d be points available and this draw would appear to back that up for now. They all visit Meadow Lane in the last half of the season with MK Dons just a few short weeks away.
Next up are Doncaster in the FA Cup Third Round followed a week later by a trip to Bournemouth where Notts recovered from 3-0 to steal a draw in injury. “Inspired by Jake Jervis and Kevin Smith” is not a sentence you expect to hear often from a Notts fan, but that really was the case that weekend.
Here’s to hoping 2012 continues like it has started!