As we approach the much-lauded ten game barrier from which we’re supposed to get an idea of where a club’s season lies, Keith Curle’s record breaking Notts County may have just finally seen things click just enough to suggest that promotion is very much on the year’s agenda.
A 1-1 draw at MK Dons on Tuesday evening confirmed what many will have hoped – Notts really do have what it takes to hang with the best in the division.
The first half was one of sheer dominance. Questionable as I might find possession statistics, that County had 74% of the ball away from home (and at a ground which has never yielded anything close to a positive result) is a great indication of the strides being made.
On the other hand, you would argue that only having one (deflected) goal to show for it might mean there’s a need for more ruthlessness in the final third. Also this was the second away game in succession we’ve seen a lead taken away from us. More must be done to close games out.
MK Dons unsurprisingly turned up a different side for the second half. What essentially cost Notts the most was the half-time whistle. The hosts regrouped and stopped Notts from playing. There was plenty of pressure on Bartosz Bialkowski’s goal but you’d be hard pushed to say he was really threatened all night – the equalising goal certainly felt like the only real chance on goal.
In total 650 County fans made the trip to Stadium MK, a ground derided by so many for it’s lack of atmosphere. All but one old lady at the back of the away end will have walked away delighted with what they’d seen from Curle’s side. Neal Bishop appears back to his best after three straight performances of colossal quality, Jamal Campbell-Ryce is said to be operating not fully matchfit which is scary considering the caliber of display shown so far, and Francois Zoko looks more than capable of winning us games single-handedly this season once he too is back to full fitness.
Since promotion back to League One, you’d have to say Notts have never really acquitted themselves well enough against the division’s top teams. Huddersfield, Sheffields United and Wednesday, and MK Dons themselves have all brushed County aside with ease at times. But you sense things are changing.
Tuesday was the 11th away game in succession that Notts have gone unbeaten. That run includes the 4-2 win at the Valley last season against Charlton. And remember, trips to Stadium MK in the past have brought nothing but sheer misery for all involved – taking a point from a side that hadn’t conceded a league goal there, and had won all four games played so far is quite the achievement in itself.
It marked the start of another run – one that in the next three weeks sees us playing three teams occupying top six places in the table – including the current top two Tranmere and Stevenage.
We sit third in the table, a drop of one place but that’s of no concern. It’s commendable that this is a side which is yet to really settle down. Francois Zoko has seen his campaign stutter through injury and on Saturday making way tactically for the dismissal of Andre Boucaud. Yoann Arquinn has impressed having been sent off moments after his debut goal on the opening day. Then Boucaud himsel – taking the plaudits each week yet now missing for another two games to come having fallen victim to Football League and Association ineptitude.
That’s not to mention that Manny Smith is still out injured whilst midfielder Gary Liddle has struck up a quite formiddable partnership with Dean Leacock in the centre of defence. Whether Smith is able to come back in when he recovers remains to be seen. So far as well, what Alan Judge has lacked in end product on goal, he’s more than making up with his tenacity all over the field – his ball winning at times has been invaluable.
Early days of course, we’ve only played seven games. But it’s quite clear that this team has something about it. Of course we’ll know more in a month’s time past ten games, but there’s certainly plenty to be optimistic about surrounding Notts County at the moment.