Optimism Levels Rising

Some 364 days removed from the most devastating swing of Wes Morgan’s right foot that there will ever be, Notts clashed with Forest once more as they brought the curtain down on their latest pre-season preparations.

Two games in three days at Meadow Lane against somewhat revered opposition didn’t quite go to the plan at the times though.

Sunday’s contest with AEK Athens of the Greek top flight could scarcely have gone better. But then I suppose as is the way with Notts, it was just going too well. We can’t have nice things it seems!

Leading through an Alan Judge goal, Notts at half-time were the far better side against opponents who were only locking horns with AC Milan in the Champions League as recently as six years ago.

Yoann Arquin, Joss Labadie and Andre Boucaud, players deemed “uninspiring” by too many, all impressed on their home debuts in the short space of time they were given on the field.

Notts weren’t short of goalscoring chances. Jeff Hughes was denied his a second pre-season goal, whilst a slice of Arquin impudence had the visiting goalkeeper at full stretch to tip a 30-yard drive over his crossbar. Then it was Jeff who would also come close to scoring again as his inswinging free-kick from the right evaded all before being tipped around the post.

At the other end, Bartosz Bialkowski was showing the strengths that had been missed whilst County had Stuart Nelson between the goalposts – coming out the length of his area to claim the ball at one stage. Such commandeering of the penalty area has been long unseen at Meadow Lane.

For all the fluidity of Notts’ passing up until that point, it was route one football that helped open the scoring. Bart’s goalkick cleared everyone and landed kindly for Judgey to slot home with aplomb.

And then it all went wrong.

Use whichever terms you want. Torrential downpour. Freak shower. Raining buckets. I’m going with – it pissed down! So heavy that you could barely hear those sitting next to you in the Pavis Stand because of the noise on the roof. And this continued for about 40 minutes, taking in the end of the first half, the whole of half time, and another quarter of an hour after the game was meant to resume.

It didn’t of course. Not unsurprisingly – two men with one pitchfork between them (in shifts in fact) never stood a chance with the water they had to contend with.

Match abandoned, we all left. Hardly devastated (we were content with the performance shown in the first 45) – but certainly there was no sense that one half of football represented “value for money” like the club had hoped.

It was just so typically Notts. Things were just going too well, you knew there had to be a speedbump along the way! Certainly Monday’s announcement that some sort of gesture wouldn’t be forthcoming for those who’d attended was the icing on this particular cake.

Slight bemusement put the side, we move ahead to Tuesday night and Forest at home. Our “Cup Final” so we’re told – that despite our red visitors outnumbering us on our own patch? Doesn’t really add up, but hey ho.

The game started well – in spite of Lee Hughes starting alone up front. No manager yet has got their head around this never being workable.

Yet Notts were still playing the better football, forging a few chances and deadballs from dangerous areas. So to find themselves two goals down so early on was again, typical Notts.

Forest’s first was a goal of quality though. Neat interchanging down the right hand side found David McGoldrick in far too much space to knock the ball in from eight yards.

With the damage still felt from that first attack, Hamza Bencherif would then concede a penalty just four minutes later – very harshly though. His tackle quite clearly took the ball after an even tussle with Robbie Findley. Unfair from our perspective – and on repeated viewings certainly not one of those incidents where you’re livid if it’s not awarded for your own team. It was just a bad decision, one of many made for both sides over the course of the evening.

County’s pre-season football has offered much to be optimistic about. The passing style has been assured, it has clearly been working in the games played. So quite why the long ball made an appearance Tuesday night is beyond me. There were more hoofs played up field in the opening 20 minutes than there have been for the whole of the off-season combined.

This certainly wasn’t a fair representation of the preparations leading to this night. And you couldn’t really ask for worse opponents for that to happen against as the crowd began to turn.

Half-time was to arrive with little fight from Notts, the best chance coming from a drilled Alan Sheehan effort from outwide which dragged wide.

In goal, whilst not being at fault for either goal – Bialkowski certainly had the odd wobble or two in goal. He was looking far less dependable than he had just two days previously. In defence he was joined once more Carl Regan and Tom Williams.

No offence to either player – but these guys must be magicians in training because there’s yet to be a game in pre-season where Williams in particular has shone. Regan can do a job, we’ve seen that before at least.

They’re said to be penning six month deals with County to offer backup for the defence. In that respect it’s hardly the end of the world – but where else could that money be distributed to when we already have Haydn Hollis or Greg Tempest in reserve?

If the first half was enough to undo any optimism from Sunday’s performance, the second half set about instantly correcting that. Joss Labadie and Arquin in particular were standouts, looking far more assured, much stronger than most might’ve expected as Notts pushed to get back into the game.

In space of three minutes they’d done exactly that.

Firstly, what’s now becoming a trademark free-kick from Alan Judge from just off-centre dragged Notts back into the game, before Yoan Arquin netted his first and only goal of the pre-season to level the scores. Scenes.

From there it was mostly all Notts. Enoch Showunmi came on for Lee Hughes and spent his time on the field bulldozing through all that lay before him.

And with the game heading for a draw, Notts would end up maybe feeling aggrieved by a cynical late challenge on the collosal Showunmi with the last attack of the game.

If you’re desperate enough to try and reach for a hollow victory – it’s right here. Showunmi was racing forward having cleared the ball out of defence, with the ball played into his feet and the run on goal clear, he was taken out.

Fair enough, we’d have only done the same! The resulting free-kick was high above the crossbar, this time from Sheehan. The game finishes 2-2, and the hope levels have risen once more.

2-2. Face saved most certainly.

Tomorrow, it’s Bradford at home – a game which only rightly brings up memories of their last league trip to Meadow Lane, the opening day of the 2009/10 title winning campaign. Supporter expectations were high that day, much like they are now as we approach this latest season.

An impressive victory against our now lower-league opponents tomorrow and the feelgood factor will be rampant going into the big kick off next Saturday at Crewe.

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