Tuesday’s night’s late show from Carlisle at MK Dons puts them firmly in the driving seat to take the last League One playoff spot.
But does it seal Notts’ fate to another campaign in the third tier? Highly unlikely with seven games still left to play.
For a short while, everything looked so rosy though! MK Dons led going into the final ten minutes (ex ‘Pie Lee Miller even able to afford a missed penalty for Carlisle), Stevenage were stumbling to a fourth successive draw – the damage that could’ve been done with both sides using up a game in hand looked fanciable.
But no one likes MK Dons. Be it for their inception, lifeless stadium or just their existence in general – even Notts fans had to be behind them last night. A Jordan Cook brace in the last seven minutes though effectively hands the momentum back to the Cumbrians as they went on to win 2-1.
You can look at their run in say it’s the hardest of the three (maybe four) chasing the playoffs, but Milton Keynes was hardly supposed to be a walk in the park – there’s quite the resolve at Brunton Park.
A 3-1 win away at Preston North End meanwhile was boosting Brentford’s outside chance though. They’re four points behind Notts, with a game in hand – with the sides yet to meet in London on April 14th. Nine man Notts were lucky to escape with a point there last season under Paul Ince. They also travel to Stevenage yet, so they’ll likely have quite a say in the remaining games of the season.
Stevenage in seventh might consider themselves lucky to take a point considering they were 2-0 down to managerless Bournemouth with 36 minutes played. But the Borough are a bad smell who just won’t go away, a team like Carlisle with great resoluteness considering the size of their squad. They pulled it back to 2-2 which was to be the final result. Stevenage being Stevenage, you wondered whether they’d add further salt to wound open by Carlisle down in Bedfordshire with a late goal. Thankfully not.
It’s well documented how Stevenage and Carlisle’s last game in hand is against eachother (Tuesday, April 17th) at Broadhall Way. If the current picture remains by then – Notts can’t afford to see the latter extend their gap. Borough winning is by far the preference sadly.
On Saturday, 14th place Oldham come to Meadow Lane as Notts attempt push on with seven games remaining – games which only yielded four points from the return fixtures. Looking at it in those terms, it’s going to take a massive reversal in fortunes to earn the table’s sixth place.
Looking at things with some perspective though – compare where we’re likely to finish this season compared to last. Can there really be complaints about a jump in league placings from 19th to the verge of promotion?
There’ll certainly be no shame (for ourselves or the other three clubs) in finishing behind Charlton, Huddersfield, Sheffield Wednesday and United and MK Dons – five clubs of real Championship-level class. What will bring disappointment though is likely being pipped by a side that we’ve taken six points from – be it Stevenage or Carlisle.
Admittedly, this does of course sound a lot like getting the excuses in early should County “fail”, but as things stand currently there’ll still be a lot to be proud of this season come May 5th and the final day.
I won’t be convinced by anyone that we don’t have the strongest squad capable of securing a play-off birth or that our form doesn’t merit it – but that’s irrelevant. The strengthening done recently by Keith Curle needs to click immediately if we’re to push on now because in truth, Scunthorpe last Saturday already looks quite the costly result.
THE RUN-IN – 38 DAYS REMAIN
Carlisle are yet to play three of the division’s top four – but also tale in three of the current bottom seven sides: Huddersfield h, Wycombe a, Scunthorpe h, Charlton h, Stevenage a, Sheffield Wednesday a, Exeter h, Oldham a.
Aside from Sheffield United and an away day at resurgent Tranmere, Stevenage’s run is largely quite kind. That Carlisle fixture is massive though: Wycombe h, Tranmere a, Preston h, Yeovil a, Carlisle h, Brentford h, Sheffield United a, Bury h.
Notts’ is arguably the easier run-in not least because there’s one game less – but we’ve never been a side to do things the easy way sadly. Brentford away and Colchester at home could prove pivotal: Oldham h, Leyton Orient a, Yeovil h, Brentford a, Bury h, Wycombe a, Colchester h.
Brentford’s run in starts at Stadium MK, going via Notts and Sheffield Wednesday en route to (a surely relegated) Chesterfield on the final day – The Bees take on the role of the much-cliched dark horse: MK Dons a, Oldham h, Bury h, Hartlepool a, Notts h, Stevenage a, Sheffield Wednesday h, Chesterfield a.