Sheer joy. Sheer, sheer joy. Probably the purest emotion felt at the final whistle on Saturday which brought to a close Notts’ first win in 14 attempts. Seconds after the whistle, Meadow Lane was awash with smiles and heartfelt applause, something sadly lacking for the past few months and my, how those players deserved every second of it. To a man Saturday they were tremendous – heart, passion, desire, fight and that little touch of quality that saw us over the line.
Come 2 pm and the team news, I think a few people expected a bit of a re-shuffle, not a Moniz 9 changer away at Orient re-shuffle, but maybe a couple of different faces brought in after last weeks defeat against Grimsby. However, Nolan made only one changed, bringing in Haydn Hollis for the injured Carl Dickinson. Many assumed Thierry Audel would slot into left back but it was the Selston Socrates who deputised at left back and I have to say it worried me; how wrong I (along with plenty more I suspect) was proven to be.
The first half, like most this season, wasn’t the greatest spectacle but Notts looked good in all departments, particularly defensively and Audel in particular a colossus at the heart of the back four; not a header was lost when he was near. Alongside, Haydn Hollis had a tremendous first half; he’d obviously been given a job to do and did it in style; we all know he’s got the attributes to be an excellent defender at this level and he really showed that Saturday; he was strong, imposing and assured on the ball.
Notts’ two big chances came in the last 10 minutes of the half and both fell to Jon Forte. Firstly, Jon Stead played a neat ball through and Forte raced toward goal only to be denied by the legs of the Crawley keeper. Forte should have buried it; give it two weeks, a little bit of confidence and he dinks that over the goalie all day. The second chance was a tricker one, a header whilst pedaling backwards that looped over the bar and onto the roof of the net. Those two near misses gave the whole occasion that feeling most football fans can sense some days; today might not be our day.
Half time came and went and minus a shocker of a penalty from Alan Hardy, not much changed at the start of the second half as Notts continued to look dangerous, generally from set pieces. For most Notts fans this will come as a shock, but the set pieces on Saturday were a million times better than they have been at any time this season and when you’re struggling to put fluid patterns of play together they’re an absolute God send. Rob Milsom and Michael O’Connor more often than not out the ball into great areas and finally Notts looked they’d actually been working on them in training; what a novelty!
What wasn’t a real novelty for the Notts faithful was a key 10 minute period in the second half. It started when Jon Stead nipped the ball away from the Crawley centre half and was unceremoniously body checked, flattened and sent crashing to the turf; yellow card when only really a red was a sufficient punishment. Then, minutes later, Notts came as close as possible to breaking the deadlock when Milsom and Forte went close in the same move but the ball sailed into the Kop. Finally, this mini act in the drama was topped off when the impressive Curtis Thompson was sent off for a second booking after a tug on the advancing Crawley winger. In the heat of the moment, Thompson did what a vast percentage of players would’ve done, however in the cold light of day Notts had numbers to deal with the threat but nonetheless, second yellow; off. Shit. Chance gone. Or so it seemed…
Just 3 minutes later ML was went crazy when Audel’s towering header crashed back off the bar, hit a leg and bounced into the gaping goal. Absolute scenes. Bovril went flying and hope at last adorned the faces of Notts fans. Notts’ lead, hopes and seemingly dreams only last 15 minutes when a thunderbolt from 25 yards cannoned off the underside of Adam Collin’s crossbar and nestled into the back of the net. The dejection on the faces of all in black and white was visible to see; again, shit. Again, chance gone. Again, ‘or so it seemed…’
Even though Notts were down to 10 men, Crawley never really looked like finding a winner. They had decent possession but their midfield was too deep and withdrawn and they lacked any real cutting edge. Lewis Young at right wing back looked their only real danger but he was excellently snuffed out by Hollis and the hard working Adam Campbell. Notts looked like the only team who’d win the game and they duly did when on 89 minutes, Michael O’Connor superbly jinked past 3 defenders, squared to Hollis whose controlled shot was parried by the Crawley keeper into the path of Forte who prodded home form 6 yards out. Again; absolute scenes as ML erupted. Taking a moment to look to the bench, Kevin Nolan was mobbed by all who could get near to him and in that moment it was clear that we have a real, real chance of staying up.
For the first time in months I clapped as the Notts players left the field. I felt an enormous sense of pride after witnessing that performance. They were by no stretch of the imagination a free flowing, creative, attack centred side, but they worked their bollocks off, fought for every scrap and left everything out on the pitch. Nolan has got them right up for the fight and I think they’ll produce. We will be a football league team next season; the future looks bright and finally we have some hope to cling on too. Twinned with this, the fans are back onside. ML has generally been an awful place to watch football for 12/18 months but that tide has turned and the faithful know it has. Nolan must embrace this wave and carry us on it for the remainder of the season.
Although I always have and always will, I fell in love with Notts County all over again on Saturday.