Outmuscled But Rarely Outplayed

Sheffield Wednesday and (officially) just short of 4,500 supporters invaded Meadow Lane yesterday and inflicted the first defeat of Keith Curle’s reign at Notts.

Somewhat surprisingly though it isn’t difficult to draw positives from the afternoon – not least because County remain within the playoff positions.

Stage two out of three against the division’s top trio essentially boiled down to Sheffield Wednesday being able to impose their will on the game. The contest was a cagey one, neither side forging many chances of note. Instead the game was decided by the brute physicality of the visitors – the like of which Notts haven’t faced this season.

With the subtlety of a sledgehammer, the Owls bullied Notts all afternoon long. Notts weren’t given an inch of space, suffocated constantly into losing possession. As tactics go for an away side – it was hard to find fault. The best side to visit Meadow Lane this season? Certainly not. The most effective? Absolutely.

Notts weren’t outplayed in this contest, they were just made to pay by a far more clinical opposition.

That we never once adapted to the physical nature of the match offers much disappointment.

The first half was tight, a very even exchange. Neither goalkeeper were forced into saves from memory. Stuart Nelson need do nothing when Michail Antonio stabbed an effort from inside the box into the side netting, whilst Stephen Bywayer at the other end only saw fleeting danger from Alan Judge driving from distance over the bar.

Meadow Lane’s biggest league attendance since The Great Escape of 2002 eventually saw Notts buckle defensively twice in the second half.

Firstly it was Neal Bishop and to a lesser extent Alan Sheehan at fault for not halting the charge of Antonio before he squared the ball for Ryan Lowe to divert the ball home.

With the game needing to be chased now, Curle brought on loanee Lloyd Sam for his Notts debut. On the three or four occasions he found the ball at his feet he looked a decent prospect – and he was to repay KC’s faith later on in the game.

But not before Notts were to go two down. This time unforgivably it was Gavin Mahon and Liam Chilvers who couldn’t even defend a rather simple throw in. The ball fell to Gary Madine who created the space to shoot past Nelson for 2-0.

Two truly awful goals to concede, I’m hard pressed to choose which one should concern Keith Curle the most.

It was Sam who was to pick up Notts consolation, edging home an Alan Judge freekick to give Notts hope. In truth though there was little momentum with the goal, and Wednesday saw the game out quite professionally in our own half.

The first loss under Keith Curle, and the first at home since mid-December. Not the ideal way to follow last week’s demolition job at the Valley. And how long ago that seems now – Sunday papers aren’t half as much fun to flick through when County aren’t dominating the rag’s Team Of The Weeks.

The greatest positive from the day came away from Meadow Lane though as both Carlisle and Stevenage in the chasing pack could only pick up draws. Shades of the month of October where despite poor form no one could displace us from the top six. The gap however is now down to goal difference – but it’s still the games in hand that need watching.

The final leg of our top three series comes now on Tuesday with Sheffield United at Meadow Lane in the penultimate evening kick-off of our season…if we’re being optimistic.

Whilst we were falling to their Steel City neighbours yesterday, the Blades were coming away from a home game with Tranmere with just a point having blown a first half lead. Both Notts and United need to regain momentum at the earliest opportunity as United could lose their second place in the league if they fail to win with the prospect of losing our playoff spot for Notts. There’s plenty riding on this result for both sides.

Carlisle and Stevenage also have home games, with Preston and Colchester respectively – there’s every chance the League One table will look very different to it’s current state come 10pm on Tuesday night.

Rallying the Notts players in defeat is a new one to Keith Curle, it’s yet another massive test he’s facing now.

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