On the back of Saturday’s massive effort against MK Dons, hopes were high that Notts would be able to see their two month winless streak end.
Back in the real world however – they were following up their best half of football this season, with the worst.
Martin Allen’s programme notes served well to remind people of how good the weekend display was. How a team who average 411 passes per game were limited to only 288, and how Notts had created more than double MK Dons’ crosses, shots and entries into the penalty areas.
It stood to reason that against a struggling Preston side at Meadow Lane that three points weren’t out of reach.
In truth, maybe a lot of people lost their enthusiasm for the game upon seeing the starting lineup?
Dropped to the substitutes bench were Hamza Bencherif, Krystian Pearce and Lee Hughes (maybe he’d run himself out on Saturday) whilst Jon Harley couldn’t even make the bench. Karl Hawley (despite the best efforts of Ben Burgess against MK Dons) began up top with Ishmel Demontagnac, with Liam Chilvers coming back in Pearce’s place. Alan Sheehan returned from a suspension having sat out the last two games.
You looked at the starting XI and wondered had the weekend’s second 45 minutes been forgotten already? Certainly the first half against Preston did much to wash away any remaining memories of it. There’s little point in going into the highlights – it was that bland. Aside from a few nice touches down the right wing in the early stages finished with dangerous looking balls, there was nothing to get excited about, especially when no one is going to make themselves available to connect with them in the middle.
You hoped for but didn’t expect changes at half time. Certainly Hawley had again struggled to make an impact so was a prime candidate for being hauled off.
The change did come five minutes into the second half – but it was Ishmel who was withdrawn, the man who had made as big an impact last weekend as any but who had struggled to get a footing in this game. Lee Hughes came off the bench, and was full of his usual endless amounts of energy.
It infuriates at times that a man his age has more stamina, more enthusiasm for the game than the rest of his team mates. Had many of his team mates lifted their games even half as much as Hughesy does it would make all the difference.
Hawley was to make way with just over 15 minutes left to play – his walk of shame soundtracked by the ironic cheers of many supporters. Not necessary at all.
The level of effort being put in during the second half had visibly raised, but for all the toiling it was telling that the evening’s best chance fell to Sheehan who’s controlled effort dipped agonisingly wide off a wicked deflection.
But no amount of trying is any use when faced with a flag-happy linesman like the one parading in front of the Jimmy Sirrel stand. His was an atrocious display of officiating, aided by the equally inept Darren Deadman in the middle of the field. To lay the blame at their feet would be to miss the point entirely – but they certainly didn’t help matters.
The final whistle was greeted with a round of booing – but for the officials. It quickly turned to applause once the players showed their appreciation towards the Kop End. Easy to see how it would be lost in translation, but the dismay was certainly aimed at those in charge.
If you’re going to scramble for positives to take from the evening, it’s not too difficult. For one, it’s not a defeat – it’s a point gained against another side Notts lost to on the road, better yet a point that even takes them up a place in the table. Any suggestion by Allen though in his post-match press call that it was a “good point” is wildly inaccurate though considering the quality of the opposition on the night.
The cold reality is that if a team comes and parks the bus – there’s little to no creativity in this squad to forge any chances. No amount of strikers that the fans cry out for is going to change that sadly.
It’s also the first cleansheet Notts have kept in League One since the beginning of October, right before this awful run of form began.
Meanwhile, MK Dons themselves were on the wrong end of a 4-2 demolition job at the hands of Stevenage Borough – coincidentally where Notts will travel to on Saturday in the FA Cup’s Fourth Round.
They’ve put away 19 goals in their last six league games. Intimidated much?
What chance for County of the FA Cup for the second season in a row masking the cracks of the league campaign? The odds are stacked heavily against them this Saturday, but they’ll travel confidently having already won once their season.
Or so you would hope.