After three defeats in all competitions, Notts went into Saturday’s game at home against Crewe needing a win. John Sheridan had spoken this time last week about Notts picking up 6 points from Morecambe and Crewe and after a (reported) dismal midweek performance, only a win would satisfy the fans.
Notts set up in a more traditional 4-4-1-1 formation, with Thierry Audel and Rob Milsom occupying the full back roles and the so far impressive Matt Tootle moving to partner Jordan Richards in midfield. Jon Forte was moved out wide to accommodate Adam Campbell who played just in behind Jon Stead, a decision which seemed to baffle many after the impact Aaron Collins had had in recent weeks coming off the bench.
A bumper crowd of over 9,000 eagerly anticipated a positive Notts performance but the first half was far from that. Nervous in possession, lacking any real ideas and quality, Notts spent the majority of the first half unable to put any patterns of play together and therefore any meaningful efforts on goal. In fact, Crewe looked much the better side, playing around Notts with ease but they too failed to create any clear cut chances.
The biggest frustration of the first half was Adam Campbell. Consistently he found good areas of the pitch to get into, sometimes other Notts players failed to give him the ball but more often than not his touch let him down as did his final ball. The biggest frustration is that he has ability and he wants to play football in the right way but he cannot put it together on a consistent basis. I accept he’s in and out of the side, but when he gets his chance he rarely grasps it with both hands.
Notts started the second half with much more tempo. I assume this was the case as the queue for the Bovril meant I arrived back with nearly 50 minutes played…
Aaron Collins had replaced Stead who took a knock late on in the first half and the young boys energy and enthusiasm really lifted Notts. When he got hold of the ball he either drove Notts on or brought other players into play. Campbell and Collins showed some neat flashes of a partnership and Notts finally had a foothold in the game and dominated. Matt Tootle and Jordan Richards started to dominate the midfield and gave Notts a real platform. However, Notts failed to have any real chances until late on. Gennaro Snijders replaced the underwhelming Alex Rodman and again gave Notts another gear. Whilst he never flew past Crewe’s left back, just by him staying wide he opened up the pitch and allowed Notts to get in behind Crewe. All Notts’ dominance was nearly dismantled when Adam Collin made an excellent save from a strong header directly from a corner – even from the Kop it looked like it could’ve crossed the line but Lee Probert (who, for a referee, was excellent yesterday) didn’t give it and Notts looked to press on. Adam Campbell should have put Notts ahead when his snap shot from 5 yards sailed over the bar. Head in hands time all round.
On 80 minutes Notts did finally make the breakthrough the crowd were willing. Adam Campbell nipped in from the right and clipped a ball to Forte who brought the ball down and swept home right footed off the post. Jubilation. Relief. Defend.
81 minutes; 1-1. Bollocks. Straight from the restart, Notts got pulled across the pitch and after a couple of simple passes, Crewe were breaking at the heart of the Notts defence, a slipped ball past Audel saw Alex Kiwomya sweep home calmly past Collin. Even after that, Notts had two chances to pull ahead. Snijders met a back post cross on the volley but hammered it over the bar and minutes later, after some neat footwork, Collins found himself bearing down on goal, from an angle, but decided to square it instead of shooting; chance gone. Game over.
Overall, Notts probably deserved to sneak the three points but did enough to throw them away too – no mean feat if you stop and think about it. So far, it’s been a pretty patchy season and nothing about yesterday makes me think this will come to an end, but sitting 12th, one point off the play offs there’s still much to play for and much to be motivated by. The quicker Michael O’Connor can get back into the team, the better. He’s prime candidate as one of those players you don’t recognise the quality of until he isn’t there.
If Notts have any ambition of winning games more consistently, Aaron Collins needs to start – he never looks like he’ll set the world alight, but he makes an impact and worries defenders. I also, think it’s time Rob Milsom was given a run at left back, he’s calm on the ball and allows other the opportunity to play; which is far more than can be said for Carl Dickinson.