No FA Cup Respite This Year

Notts go out of the FA Cup to League One counterparts and next week’s League One opponents Stevenage in the fourth round.

Of course this being Notts, that’s not the full story obviously.

An essentially full strength side started today just 24 hours after the signing of Johnathan Forte on loan from Southampton. A new striker, some 256 days after last season ended. Better late than never?

He started the game up front with Lee Hughes – whilst Julian Kelly returned from injury to accompany Alan Sheehan in the wing back positions. With a resurgent Liam Chilvers in defence partnering Damion Stewart, you could allow yourself to feel confident – especially taking into consideration that County were victorious back in September on the same turf.

But you could also think back to last Tuesday’s drastically changed lineup against Preston North End and think that starting XI had been deliberately weakened. Martin Allen himself played up this weekend’s game as the million pound fixture with maybe untold riches on offer in the fifth round.

A win against Stevenage and you’re a hero. Lose, and you’ve just sharpened everybody’s knives for them.

It was Stewart’s own goal without even a quarter of an hour played that was to knock Notts out. As solid an achievement as the fourth round is – it will matter little to a vocal minority who crave the likes of Sunderland and Manchester City like we saw last year. This season, the FA Cup will offer us no such respite.

The irony is that had Notts won at Stevenage and lost on Tuesday against Walsall, the complaints would be that the FA Cup is an unnecessary distraction. That the loss today has seen fans players fans turn on one another is very disappointing – so much so that captain Neal Bishop has tonight said he needs to go away and do some thinking.

With the transfer window closing in three days time – a captain as committed to the club as Bish thinking over his future is bad news.

So we’re left with a league campaign now that already rests on a knife edge itself having not seen a win in the last two months. Can we all accept now it’s no longer a blip?

For the minor miracle of keeping us safe last year and for the pride we all felt after the trips across the river and to Juventus – it’s these last two months that have seen County go from playoff hopefuls to mid-table walkovers that stands out. You can’t get around it – Ray Trew has sacked for less.

Even Paul Ince had the Stadium Of Light – and try finding a Notts fan now who’ll have something positive to say about him.

Certainly performances under Allen are largely better in every aspect than they were under Ince but that offers scant consolation sadly.

Would I want Martin Allen sacked? Absolutely not – if only for the dire need of stability that this club needs for just a season or two. But we’re all well aware of the restrictions enforced on him by the financial mismanagement of others in their transfer dealings. Given a full budget, the man who brought us Sheehan, Kelly and Jeff Hughes could really do some great things next year.

But that’s next year. What of now? There’s no escaping that the tactics just aren’t what they were regularly enough. Today for instance, taking off Forte and bringing on Ishmel as a way of strengthening the attacking options? Come on now.

Will Martin Allen be allowed to steer the ship until the rest of the season? If he does, can he be trusted in knowing how to prepare his bolstered side going forward in 2012?

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