At Number One, Is Alan Judge…

With just two games left to play of the season, you’d be forgiven for thinking the campaign might’ve been done with Notts County and epic battles.

Saturday’s win at Wycombe destroys such a notion.

This season at times has been a struggle to put into words. From the first week of the season and the 3-3 across the river that toyed with the emotions for an entire August evening. The 4-2 at eventual league winners Charlton seemed too steeped in fantasy to make a coherent enough read. And i’ll never be convinced that I was able to sum up our journey to Turin last September adequately enough!

But Wycombe?! This was an afternoon which single-handedly encompassed both the season’s high and low points. It also nudged one player ahead in the race for Player Of The Season.

Even as i’m writing this, i’m still unsure as to how County won the game – particularly taking into consideration the common feeling that this was a 10 v 12 battle in the host’s favour at Adams Park. That thanks in part to another unbelievably inept officiating display and a striker who offered less mobility than an Ikea wardrobe.

A crowd of over a thousand Notts fans had high expectations for the afternoon. Defeat would send fourth bottom Wycombe down, with a win putting Notts (temporarily) back in pole position for the last play-off spot.

What wasn’t in the script however was Wycombe’s first minute opener.

Just a week ago, it was an early Lee Hughes miss that got things off to a bad start against Bury. No such mistake for Wanderers’ though as Matt Bloomfield caught out Stuart Nelson with 36 seconds played.

Nels was certainly at fault last week for the opener. and it’s hard to mount a defence for him on this occasion too. It’s not as if he was unsighted as the shot came in either – must’ve been one hell of a swerve at the last minute to find the net.

Enthusiasm dampened only momentarily for the Notts fans at the other end of the ground though when Daniel Bogdanovic netted his first goal for County when he slotted home a Kieron Freeman cross deflected on by Dele Adebola.

Boggy has improved with every game under Keith Curle, so it was massively frustrating when it was he who was to exit the field later on in the game rather than Dele Adebola.

The reportedly not-matchfit Dele won few balls in the air, and fared little better on the ground. He was to justify his place on the field much, much later on though.

The always dangerous Stuart Beavon was to win a soft penalty merely by running into Damion Stewart with just over quarter of an hour played. Grant Basey tucked the spot kick away just beyond Nelson and County were chasing the game for the second time already with not an even a quarter of the contest played.

County meanwhile struggling to piece any football together with a huge reliance on keeping the ball in the air. That only made Alan Judge’s first contribution to the scoresheet all the more out of place. Collecting the ball from Alan Sheehan and with no Wycombe players closeby, Judgey made a move towards the edge of the area before smashing the ball into the top corner – keeper had no chance.

Always nice when they go in for the Irish Messi (not my words!) as opposed to canoning back off the woodwork!

Coming just five minutes before half-time, it offered renewed confidence at the interval. Certainly the terrace talk was of how Notts would now push on for the win.

15 minutes into the half and Keith Curle made his first change – opting to keep the faith with Adebola and replacing Bogdanovic with Lee Hughes. It was impossible to not feel confident about the win now.

Well, until Beavon made the most of Nelson’s concrete-booted hesitation to slot home for 3-2 after 68 minutes. This was when things really got desperate.

What followed was 20 minutes of football where you were left to contemplate the end of the play-off challenge. There had certainly been little on the field to suggest County had two goals left in them to resurrect themselves.

This was as about as low as it had become possible to feel this season in all honesty. The travelling support never let their vocal support slip – but things were feeling quite inevitable.

But you’d have thought it had been clear enough already though this year – our squad doesn’t know when it’s beat.

Adebola’s immobile presence was immediately deemed useful when he headed in a Mike Edwards flick to level the scores on the edge of stoppage time – of which there were to be five nervy minutes.

From a goal kick, the winning goal played out like the final three throws of a nine-dart finish – and they were cheered accordingly.

Jeff Hughes’ instant control for the treble 20 allowed him to play the ball into Judge. Treble 19. The winning dart though was almost given away as he attempted to play in the other Hughes, Lee.

Whilst I wouldn’t say Lady Luck is a Notts fan – how else do you explain the ball finding it’s way back perfectly into the Irishman’s path to leather the ball into the top corner? Double 12 – hit with some aplomb.

A truly scintilating strike of the ball, and another Goal Of The Season contender. Also the moment that will swing many a person’s Player Of The Season vote in his favour ahead of Jeff. Remind yourself that Alan Judge is the man Martin Allen was prepared to send to MK Dons for a pittance.

Two goals at the death clinched victory. If you were one of the Wycombe fans so assured of your club’s League One safety that you were one of those already at your car on the hillside – you get no sympathy.

It’s really not all that long ago that Notts County had absolutely no idea of how to come from behind in games – now they’re doing it three times in the same game and snatching three points at the death? Effort that’s impossible to fault.

The final whistle finally came after a few edgy moments in front of Stuart Nelson’s goal – but it was all worth it. Prior to the Notts fans cheering off a newly-relegated Wycombe Wanderers, the County playing squad and backroom staff all saluted the away end. Great scenes.

With so much luck used up in that game let alone (let alone all the other late winners we’ve had lately) it was still disappointing to get back in the car to come home and find Stevenage already 1-0 up in their late kick-off at Bramall Lane.

Sheffield United of course pulled the game back to 2-2 – ensuring at least that Stevenage do have to win to be certain of their play-off spot. But to say Borough’s 2-0 lead at one point put a dampener on the celebrations for all the homeward-bound is certainly no understatement!

And so it’s down to the wire. We host Colchester whilst Stevenage will be at home to Bury. Our final day opponents beat us 4-2 earlier in the season, and Stevenage’s only last week embarrassed Notts by the very same scoreline! It really is too close to call.

And still Carlisle find themselves in the hunt – but it’s all or nothing now so only worth worrying about what’s in front of us. A dangerous game perhaps because if Notts and Stevenage stumble, United will be more than happy to pick up the pieces.

Long as Notts win this Saturday and push Stevenage to the limit, that’ll be enough for the vast majority of County fans. It’s not a game that will define our season – it’s been a resounding success regardless of the result and where we finish.

But let’s go out on a high and make sure Stevenage spend the afternoon looking over their shoulders at least!

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