Notts vs Yeovil

Imagine having last seen Notts play at home to Carlisle on the final day of last season and then waiting until Saturday to return to Meadow Lane. Bad luck big brother, bad luck…

After a week’s worth of turning points, seeing us pick up 7 points out of 9, expectation was high ahead of the visit of Yeovil and for the first time in a long time the Notts faithful genuinely thought 3 points would be more likely than none. The big issue of the week had been the collective sweat on the fitness of Theirry Audel due partly to his injury and to the fact that Richard Duffy was also suspended. How odd does that sound? Fans worried that Richard Duffy being injured would hugely hider our chances. How times change…

What transpired was that Audel wasn’t fit enough to start and as predicted Haydn Hollis partnered Elliot Hewitt at centre half. Apart from that Notts were unchanged and started brightly. Mark Yeates and Jorge Grant combined neatly down the Notts right on two occasion and each forced saves from the Yeovil goalie. Whilst both were comfortable saves, it showed Notts’ early intent and ability. Notts continued to dominate but never really threatened again; the pitch didn’t help proceedings and when pitched against Yeovil’s negative, containing tactics Notts never fully imposed themselves on the visitors.
The second half carried on in a pretty similar vein with Notts in the ascendancy but Yeovil stood firm and stifled Notts when given the opportunity to do so. Haydn Hollis had two decent chances with back post headers but his marker just did enough to ensure he headed wide. Both wide men got in behind again but failed to get meaningful efforts on targets, Yeates in particular should’ve drilled low across to Ameobi instead of going high into the golies hands. Even though Notts dominated throughout, Yeovil nearly nicked it late on but Adam Collin made a good save high to his right to keep the scores level and the points shared.

Even though many fans left feeling deflated, at 2.55pm you’d have taken 0-0; a clean sheet, another point and a very solid performance. Yes Yeovil were poor, but Notts weren’t great, so to dominate as we did was good to see.

The one thing that did leave me feeling disappointed was Nolan’s refusal to make changes as the game went on. Michael O’Connor and Rob Milsom have been key components of our recent form but looked tired after 65 minutes and an injection of pace and energy at that point was desperately needed. We had plenty of midfield possession but lacked the drive and urgency to scare Yeovil too much. That lack of drive and urgency wasn’t purely down to O’Connor and Milsom, but Nolan should’ve shuffled the pack.

It seemed clear that the likes of Curtis Thompson, Jon Forte and Tahvon Campbell needed to be introduced and for the latter, introduced earlier to give us some legs and impetus in forward areas. Yeovil were there for the taking and were vulnerable down the sides, so to not exploit this seemed odd to me. It was very obvious that Nolan didn’t want us to lose, but the way we controlled the game and the opposition saw us hold a strong position throughout the 90 minutes it smacked of Nolan slightly lacking the ambition to take all 3 points and really shake up our season. This isn’t the biggest issue, all points are good points, but I think Saturday was a real chance to take all 3; we might not be in that position many times over the next few weeks.

One player who didn’t lack drive and urgency was young Josh Clackstone. He maurauded with enthusiasm and endeavour from right back on many occasions, especially in the second half and gave us a real option on the opposite flank to the outnumbered Marc Bola. Whilst his final ball lacked quality at times, it was very encouraging to see such a solid and spirited performance so early into his Notts career. He could’ve even been slipped in by Jon Stead late on after a lung busting run from deep, but Stead never looked up and the move fizzled out. Bravo young man and hello to the Clackstone clan who obviously enjoyed seeing their mans name on a few tweets come Saturday evening.

Another mention should go to Haydn Hollis who marshalled the Notts defence superbly all afternoon; he has all the tools to be a good League 2 and League 1 defender when given his orders and sticks to them; well played to the Selston Socrates.

8 points from 12 should be sweet figures to all Notts fans; well done Mr Nolan and well played gentlemen, onto the next one.


Turning Point

Never have 4 minutes of injury time seen quite such a dramatic shift in the outlook of Notts County Football Club in recent times. As soon as the board went up on 90 minutes last night, most of the Meadow Lane faithful would’ve reflected on the last four days and seen a lot of positives. Saturday’s win against Cheltenham was solid if unspectacular and even though they scored late on, Notts never looked in any real trouble and controlled a game that they should have finished off much earlier on. We had put together some decent passages of play, scored two decent goals and the overall performance levels were high with captain Michael O’Connor and home debutant Marc Bola making a real impact on proceedings.

On top of this, for 30/35 minutes last night we were decent, arguably the better of the two sides, until a rare lapse of concentration from Thierry Audel let Exeter in to take a 1-0 half time lead. The same can’t really be levelled at Notts’ second half performance. They were sent out with a clear directive to hit the front men early and by pass playing through a boggy midfield (both figuratively and literally) but ended up looking poor, especially as Exeter and the impressive Ollie Watkins could actually get the ball down and break with regularity. One thing that really hindered Notts was their inability to consistently hit substitute Shola Ameobi. Time and again, Adam Collin and the back four knocked hopeful balls in the general direction of Ameobi and Jon Stead but they generally found the unchallenged Exeter back line. When Ameobi is on the pitch, it cannot be that hard to hit him early because he’ll generally be where you last saw him. We haven’t brought him in to run the channels and chase down defenders, so let’s make his life a little easier; you know he’s been told to play the 18 yard box, so take a bit of time and give us a chance to get up with him. As the half went on, Notts did manage to hit big Shola with more regularity and, hey presto, chances. Danger. Opportunities. Two of which fell to Ameobi and both of which he should have done a damn sight better with; how does a career target man make zero contact with a free header from about 8 yards out?

So, as 89 minutes came O’Connor played a short pass to Josh Clackstone, Liam McAlinden broke quickly, had his shot parried and the onrushing forward tapped in for 2-0. Kop exodus. Defeat. ‘Sealed it’… apparently.

However, much like Saturday in reverse, Notts pulled one back. Rob Milsom swung in an excellent free kick and the resurgent Richard Duffy rose and glanced in for two in two and the remaining Notts fans had something to cling on to. A minute later, they clung tighter as O’Connor this time found the inch perfect pass to Jorge Grant, who took aim at the ‘bottom bins’ and via two Exeter deflections found the back of the net. Within 2 minutes a generally positive four days at Meadow Lane had turned into an excellent return of four points out of six and a feeling of sheer joy at one of those draws that feels like a win. Deservedly, the Notts fans clapped their heroes off at the final whistle and left the ground beaming from ear to ear.

What I’ve learnt over the last four days is that this Notts team, headed by Kevin Nolan, has a real sense of determination and grit. Saturday they dug in and did the job against a woeful Cheltenham who could’ve posed more issues and again last night they dug in, this time against a better side, with obvious ability and took a point they arguably deserved, arguably didn’t. What Nolan has brought as well is a very obvious sense of duty to the team. Each one of those players knows exactly what his role is in the team; take the two centre halves. Audel and Duffy have both had indifferent seasons for very different reasons but it’s clear that Nolan has told them to stand up strong, win everything in the air and not be bullied by any centre forward and how they have done that. The best thing to see, especially from Duffy last night, is that they do all the simple things properly. If it needs to go in the stand, it goes. If it needs a 5 yard pass and take it back, it gets it. From this it’s easy to build from as a collective and it’s exactly what Notts have done over the past few weeks.

What Nolan has also done is brought well in the few days he had in the transfer window. Obviously it’s early days but overall the signings have had positive impacts. Ameobi, whilst not fit, will be a real handful for every defence in the league and will allow us to have chances at goal. Mark Yeates and Marc Bola seem to have a good understanding down the left, with Bola very impressive going forward; hopefully Nolan can see he needs protecting with the long ball over the top of him as well. Even the three boys who’ve not played much have made positive impacts, Clackstone in particular had an excellent 45 minutes at right back in his home debut last night.

Special mention should also go to Michael O’Connor. When he came in the summer he was the signing that excited all Notts fans, coming to town with an excellent pedigree in the game at a higher level. However, under Sheridan he had become a real figure for the annoyance of the fans which culminated in ‘dickheadgate’ on Twitter but as soon as Nolan came in, he has without doubt been our best player. He has obvious quality on the ball, works his bollocks off in midfield and when we really need it, produces moment of quality to give us something in a game. Just in the last four days two excellent passes have set up two hugely important goals; the goal that started us off against Cheltenham and the goal that dragged us to parity last night. In Nolan’s first game against Mansfield I spent 10 minutes before kick off justifying my faith in him by stating over and over; “I rate him.” Bravo skipper, bravo.

Hopefully, now we’ve got a little momentum we can carry that forward to Saturday when we travel to Brisbane Road, home of Leyton Orient. The same Leyton Orient who removed Nolan as manager and then subsequently removed him from the club all together… there’s your team talk.