If there’s any club in the league that would have you thinking “We could do with a fifth just to give us a cushion” it would be Notts.
But last Saturday’s 4-2 win away at Charlton is still without question the standout result of our season so far and is one that many would suggest has been coming for some time now – though you’d have been foolish to think it would come against the League One leaders.
I’ve wondered in recent weeks how many more results Notts would need to string together before the appointment of Keith Curle could be justified and had thought that once this string of fixtures against the top three was out of the way, we’d be able to judge more accurately.
No need. Justification came via the screamer that Alan Judge has been chasing all season, and a perfect hat-trick from Jonathan Forte that swept aside the team who will easily go on to lift the League One trophy.
No one has spanked them so hard this season. The most they’ve conceded in a game is two – no one has even come close!
Questions have been raised about the fixtures Curle has faced. That three of his fixtures so far have been against sides in the bottom six has gone a long way towards people belittling his unbeaten start. You still sensed people were chomping at the bit to see the new manager fall against some real opposition.
The first blip he faced came last Tuesday in Birkenhead, in a 1-1 draw with Tranmere Rovers. Having seen Notts take an early lead through Damion Stewart, everyone was disappointed to only take a point home thanks to a stoppage time equaliser in the newly re-appointed Ronnie Moore’s first game.
They’ve since won the two games (both at Fortress Prenton) after though – makes you appreciate how good a point it was surely?
If not – whilst Tranmere sit sixth from bottom in the division they still hold one of the more impressive home records. Sheffield United, Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Charlton have all gone to Prenton Park and only taken a point – have we progressed so much under Curle that we take it for granted that we have a better squad than those sides?
As Saturday rolled around though Notts were still in the playoff positions – but for how long? An away day to Champions-elect Charlton was on paper the toughest game remaining of the campaign.
For how good the start has been (four wins in five) though, you were brave if you predicted a County win by any margin.
By 5pm that afternoon however, any notion that any playoff dreams were unlikely to be fulfilled were shattered unequivocally.
Judge and Forte’s goals take the headlines, but the performances of Jeff Hughes, Neal Bishop and (yes, again) Kieron Freeman deserve special credit also.
Hughes weighed in with three assists, all for Forte on his way to his three goal haul. Captain Bish was doing everything right in his best display in an age simply by getting back to basics. Freeman was putting in another standard effort on the way to only proving further that he’s plying his trade a good level or two below what he should be!
The scenes in the away end were brilliant, quite unforgettable. No one could believe what they were witnessing, such was the surreal nature of the first half performance that Notts had put in. You were questioning how far the side had come in such a short space of time, how a side just a few weeks ago that were getting hammered at Hartlepool were outplaying the league leaders with an air of bravado long unseen by the side in
black and white pinstripes.
Perhaps unfairly, I was also wondering to myself after how many goals our previous manager would’ve brought Alan Judge off the field to shore up the defence.
You didn’t have to be a genius though to realise that Charlton would approach the second half going full pelt at Notts, the proverbial kitchen sink was very much on the way! And if there’s ‘s one team who have it in them to throw away a 4-0 lead, it’s Notts County. Conversely – if there’s a team in League One that could claw back such a deficit? It would be Charlton on their own turf!
The hosts were to get two goals back inside just ten minutes of the second period – it did little for the nerves of the 500 or so travelling fans.
First it was Bradley Wright-Phillips, long due a goal against Notts having failed in previous attempts with Plymouth and his current club. Without question a foul on Stuart Nelson to spill the ball (we’d get the luck back shortly after) but you couldn’t question the acrobatics to knock it home. Then Scott Wagstaff stooped to head home past Nels from BWP’s cross.
Damion Stewart then was to get lucky. Very lucky. He was seen to push over a Charlton forward as the ball was dropping in the box but the referee waved to play on. An escape – but it more than made up for the practical assault that had led to the first Charlton goal.
Once we’d rode out the early pressure (and admittedly, survived a penalty claim) i’m not sure Nelson’s goal was threatened too much. Charlton were able to put enough crosses into the box, but there was little end product to speak of thankfully from our perspective.
The storm had passed, and it felt like a comfortable last 15 minutes or so anyway.
A 4-2 win away from home is impressive in any context – but to the side who’re winning this division at a canter? When was the last time the whole of the Football League was made to stand up and take notice of Notts County for what was actually happening on the field and not for new owners or managers?
Waking up the next morning and seeing the papers, you could see that this was exactly what was happening. Huge picture spreads, Notts players littering various tabloid Team Of The Weeks as well as the manager – it all made for pleasant reading.
Without wanting to go overboard – keep it up this result suggests they’ll be doing so a bit more before the season is out!
With arguably the toughest of the three games we face against the top three in quick succession – we’re left with a Sheffield double-header. Firstly, Wednesday come to play this weekend followed by Tuesday’s hosting of their neighbours United.
Wednesday occupy third place having swept aside Bournemouth 3-0 at home on the weekend. United meanwhile were winning 2-0 away at Brentford to solidify their second place in League One before drawing 1-1 last night at Colchester.
Not that anyone will put the fear into Notts following Saturday’s game – but no side currently in the top six has conceded more goals on the road than Wednesday. Better yet, no side in those positions has scored fewer goals on the road than United!
In Ched Evans (United) and Gary Madine (Wednesday) though, both sides have two of League One’s top goalscorers.
The Owls have sold out their allocation of 4,500 with the slight possibility of being granted more tickets so they will occupy the entire Jimmy Sirrel Stand next Saturday. With any luck Saturday at the Valley will encourage any remaining stay away fans to get back to Meadow Lane.
It’s already guaranteed to be the biggest home attendance of the season for Notts, but could we top the 12,000 mark at Meadow Lane in the league for the first time in years?
Meanwhile, in matters not concerning those of us in the top six – the chasing pack of Carlisle and Stevenage are away from home this weekend facing Bournemouth and Hartlepool respectively with both sides still having two games in hand each over Notts.
Perhaps intriguingly – one of those games will be against eachother though in little over a month’s time.
Borough themselves won last night thanks to a last minute goal from Lawrie Wilson. It took them two points behind County when it had looked for much of the evening to be four.
Not ideal obviously – but there’s nothing that can be done about the games that are out of ours hands, all Keith Curle’s men can do in the meantime is keep putting points on the board. Obviously, we’ll continue to keep our eyes on them though.
If Notts take last weekend’s form into the last stretch of the season, it really is those games in hand those teams have on us that could derail the playoff charge now.