Notts left it late to snatch a point out of MK Dons’ clutches – but in the end they’ll be cursing a host of missed chances that would have seen them take all three.
A rather mundane first half was followed by a second half of sheer domination inspired by two gutsy substitutions that paid off for Martin Allen who finished this afternoon in the Derek Pavis stand!
The draw follows a week of guessing games regarding apparent “unpopular decisions” that may have arisen from the team selection but on early viewings there seemed little to complain about.
Both Hamza Bencherif and Neal Bishop retained their starting XI places – joined this week by the returning Gavin Mahon who started for the first time in just over a month.
Kieran Freeman retained his place in the side and spent the afternoon looking a lot more comfortable surrounded by the team mates who a week previously he’d only joined 24 hours earlier. Krystian Pearce also returned and partnered Damion Stewart in the middle of the defence – another new centre back pairing for the campaign.
Lee Hughes began the game up front by himself. You could see from the opening stages alone just how long an afternoon it was going to be for him. It begged the question when has Lee Hughes as a lone striker ever worked for Notts?
County made a bright start, forging chances from distance of their own through Bish and Jeff Hughes, whilst Ibere for the visitors also tried his luck as he blasted high and wide whilst the beautiful Luke Chadwick forced Stuart Nelson into tipping a dragged effort around the post.
Allen’s side seemed happy to let MK Dons have the possession for the opening frames before the defence would snuff out the possession. Spirits were high for the opening stages, with small sections of the Kop belting out “Cotterill is a County fan” to some amusement.
On 26 minutes though the game turned as Jeff Hughes conceded a quite contentious corner having miscontrolled the ball – caught in two minds as to how he should clear the ball. Whether it crossed the line or not is up for discussion but what mattered most was that from the dead ball, Tom Flanagan was afforded space to hook home a volley past Nelson to give MK Dons a 1-0 lead.
The travelling MK Dons support (loosest sense of the term) finally had something to cheer about other than Lee Hughes who had been their target for the afternoon.
Not their own team, but our striker.
To their credit – they did sing that one predictable word in several different tunes at least! That’s probably some sort of victory for them?
But hey, how can you not appreciate the irony of supporters of MK Dons singing about murder?
In response Notts still saw plenty of the ball but were creating little, any progression being broken down easily and this was the pattern right up until the half time whistle. Lee Hughes had become the expected isolated figure up front and no amount of running was going to change this.
There were no changes at half time.
The Dons were first to try for goal in the second half when Dean Lewington (taking time out from his role in Big Cook, Little Cook) struck a free-kick from the edge of the Notts box. Nelson got across well to parry the ball on to the head of an onrushing forward – but it cleared the crossbar with ease.
This served as a wakeup call for the home side and it was near enough one way traffic for the rest of the afternoon. Firstly, a brilliantly lofted ball over the top from Bishop found Hughes in space inside the box but his rocket towards goal was saved brilliantly by David Martin for a corner – a soon to be recurring theme!
Before the corner was taken, Mahon and John Harley were replaced by Ben Burgess and Ishmel Demontagnac – two attacking options coming on in the place of defensively-minded players? Game on.
The corner eventually takes place. Having been briefly cleared, a whipped in ball from Judge is headed narrowly wide by Krystian Pearce.
Now it was open season on the Dons goal. Ishmel, Judge and Jeff began to link up with ease whilst Burgess began flicking balls over the top with consummate ease. You knew the goal was coming, it was just a matter of when.
On the hour mark Meadow Lane saw one of it’s best moves in recent months that began with Damion Stewart’s expert retrieval of the ball on the halfway line, a nice dribble through the legs of one and his pass set up a quick interchange of passes that finished with Ish’ delivering a dangerous ball into the box that was only just gathered by goalkeeper Martin ahead of Lee Hughes.
Alan Judge is next to try his luck just inside the box with a shot stung Martin’s hands. Hamza tries from distance with a 30 yard drive gathered at the second attempt. Judge tries once more from just outside the box and Martin has to be at full stretch this time to turn a dipping shot away from his goal. Stewart has a header at goal that drifts wide. Burgess plays Hughes in but he drags the shot just wide.
It was an incredible ten minutes or so of play. Chances being forged at will so easily that i’m almost sure that my notes from the game will be missing an effort or two!
But then came a reminder of how dangerous MK can be. Whilst Notts are forcing men forward, a three on two break is on in the visitors favour but it’s Jeff Hughes who is back to clear the danger with an expertly-timed challenge. Had he not been there, the game would be out of sight. Jeff was to win man of the match, that tackle will be one of the biggest reasons as to why.
Referee Stuart Attwell (he of “ghost goal” fame) began the game with a spotlight on him purely for his name. He’s known more for the clangers (there’s enough of them) than he is for the games he officiates well – that’s the nature of the beast.
There was jeering for him at the final whistle but in truth whilst hardly what constitutes a great referee, his foulups were kept to a minimum. Times are so hard in League One when it comes to the men in charge that this is a marked improvement!
Another debatable call was that which saw Notts given the chance to level from the penalty spot.
Of course, as he has now seven times out of eight – Jeff Hughes delivered the spot kick sending Martin the wrong way. Watch it on YouTube here.
Such was Notts’ urgency to press home the advantage was that they couldn’t get the ball out of the net quick enough to get the game restarted. 1-1 with a team in the playoff positions wasn’t enough, three points were the least they deserved.
A second goal didn’t come though, and Attwell blew the final whistle right as Notts won a corner but you couldn’t complain really. It was Hughes that had forced it, he’d deserved his rest you figured.
So it’s a second consecutive home point against sides occupying playoff positions – both of whom beat Notts on the road. A decent turnaround considering i’d spoken of MK Dons and Huddersfield’s weaknesses after those games and was confident of points.
Another side that County lost to on their travels visit Meadow Lane tomorrow night, Preston North End – the side that Stuart Nelson conceded from goalkeeper Iain Turner to!
Preston visit having just under a fortnight ago appointed Graham Westley as their new manager. His reign began with a 2-0 defeat at the weekend at home to Leyton Orient but they still sit two places above Notts in 12th.
A win would take Notts from 14th to 11th (maybe six points off the playoffs if you’re still positive enough to keep a track of that?) but anything other than a win though would signal two months since a last victory for Notts in League One. That’s one win in 12 fixtures.
We all love Martin Allen – but in a results business is his job as secure as it might appear on the surface?