Alan Judge’s cross onto the head of Lee Hughes should so easily have set Notts on their way towards solidifying their play-off place within just 16 seconds on Saturday.
Sadly, scripts weren’t read, lines were fluffed and the header sailed wide from six yards out. And from there, things rarely got any better.
First things first – Notts were far from poor for the 90 minutes. There were short pockets of play which were simply outstanding, we just didn’t see them enough. And once Bury had restored their lead within minutes of the second half starting, we saw the instinctive kind of performance that we sadly only get to see when trailing games.
But why must we only get to see that side so often when we’re behind? MK Dons, Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday are all in with a shout of promotion this year and all three have really only be tested at Meadow Lane once County had fallen behind. If we’re to stand a chance of clawing back our play-off spot we surely need a change of mentality when we’re level with our opponents.
Kicking off at 12.30, Saturday’s game was a great opportunity to inflict a psychological blow on chasing Stevenage Borough and Carlisle. They were both kicking off at 3pm – by which point we could (or indeed should) have been four points clear of our play-off chasing rivals.
Since when did Notts County do things the easy way though?
Notts fell behind thanks to a David Worral strike that really shouldn’t have beaten Stuart Nelson at his near post, the signs were there early on that Hughes’ missed chance was to prove costly.
Changes were needed at half time as off came Daniel Bogdanovic (to that point I thought was putting in his best display in a Notts shirt) and Alan Sheehan in place of Lloyd Sam and Dele Adebola.
Boggy’s problem was that he was rarely in the final third where he should’ve been though. Adebola meanwhile, with his frustrating need of seemingly needing 15 minutes or so on the field to warm up – simply didn’t this week.
Most infuriatingly though was the passage of play that saw him holding the ball up with his back to goal on the edge of the box – with absolutely none of his team mates making a move for him in support. This was the sort of decision making that littered the County performance sadly.
Within moments of the restart, it was Sam’s deep ball into Judge that saw the ball driven in for County’s equaliser. Lee Hughes claimed the goal off the very slightest deflections after Giles Coke had struck the ball goalwards.
Officially it’s been (rightly) credited as an own goal. But if Hughesy claiming it is what’s needed to get his confidence up and have him scoring again then so be it, give it to him!! We certainly need him firing right now if we’re to stand a chance of making the play-offs.
The lead lasted minutes though, a well lofted chip over Nelson from Mike Grella restored the lead.
With Notts 2-1 down and chasing the game, you’d maybe think that maybe teenage striker Tyrell Waite would be given his first team debut in the hunt for an equaliser. Maybe that was the plan, but Liam Chilvers’ injury saw him replaced by Mike Edwards – that’s all three substitutions used if you’re keeping score.
Tyrell would be waiting that little bit longer.
Five or so minutes after though and Grella extended the lead, making it 3-1 via a heavily deflected effort from just inside the box – Nelson was left no chance.
It was Edwards ten minutes later who would tower above all to head home a Judgey corner. We’ve already seen some decent comebacks at Meadow Lane in 2012 alone – the stage was hopefully set for one more.
But two minutes into the five added, Jon Harley chose to ignore Kieron Freeman in the cliched acres of space on the edge of the box, choosing to cross instead.
Another regular annoyance, was the failure to beat the first man. What frustrated most about this was that on the occasions when the Bury goalkeeper was put under pressure – he was flapping every time.
Harley’s ball was headed away allowing Mark Carrington to sprint three quarters of the field (shaking off in the process a rather soft attempt at a tackle from Freeman) to lift the ball over an onrushing Nels. Game over – it was easy to forget Bury had even had a man sent off!
The 4-2 defeat was enough to ensure that Notts County would not be finishing the day in top six of the division.
As it happened it was Stevenage who took full advantage with a 2-0 win at home to Brentford – the Bees even offering their hosts the help of two missed penalties! Carlisle meanwhile went down 2-1 at Hillsborough thanks to a last minute Sheffield Wednesday winner – at least there was something to smile about from the day.
County only dropped to seventh, two points behind Stevenage now with two to play.
Having thrown away the chance to crank up the early pressure last weekend, Notts again have that same opportunity to do so. County kick off at the more routine 3pm at Wycombe Wanderers, whilst Stevenage will be left to wait (and watch) until early Saturday evening to start off at Sheffield United.
What state the Blades are in remains to be seen. In a post-Ched world they’ve already lost away to the ten men of MK Dons whilst the automatic promotion-chasing heat was kept up on them by the Wednesday’s win at the death. It’s going to need a massive response from both United and from Notts to keep the play-off dreams alive going into the final day.
Anything but a win for Keith Curle’s side at Adams Park on Saturday, and Stevenage could have 6th place sewn before many of our fans will have even arrived back in Nottingham – that’s the reality of the situation we’re faced with now.
THE RUN-IN – TEN DAYS REMAIN
Despite them still being in with a shout – it’s time to forget about Carlisle United’s run-in now and concentrate purely on Stevenage Borough.
It’s them we need to chase, anything else becomes largely irrelevant at this stage.
Stevenage’s two games could be somewhat awkward. Following Saturday’s Bramall Lane visit, they’ll next Saturday host Notts’ most recent conquerors Bury on the final day.
County meanwhile, for whatever good it’s done them so far still have the easier run-in on paper. Wycombe are our hosts this Saturday and could easily be relegated by ourselves by 5pm on Saturday, with our campaign ending next week with the visit of Colchester United who are facing a mid-table finish.
They also beat Martin Allen’s Notts XI 4-2 earlier in the season – nothing can be taken for granted.