Notts vs Accrington

Well wasn’t that thoroughly disappointing. Even after taking time to reflect, Friday night will remain a definitive case of two points dropped until the league table starts to take shape.

For most Notts fans the disappointment started with the team news and the fact Jon Stead would again be starting alongside Shola Ameobi. Even this early in the season is blindingly obvious that we are desperate for some pace and after two in two, Jon Forte seemed a dead cert to start. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.

Even on reflection, there’s not much that can be called a highlight in the first half. For 33 minutes nothing of much note happened. Notts again started slowly and failed to get any passages of play together whilst Accrington passed the ball nicely but failed to convert that in the final third and they never troubled the back five. One glaring issue for Notts was that the midfield two of Ryan Yates and Elliot Hewitt sat too deep and whilst defensively that made us look solid, it left Stead and Ameobi completely isolated and both as frontmen failed to make anything stick we looked completely disjointed which allowed Accy to pass the ball neatly. Stalemate.

On 33 minutes, a(nother!) long ball aimed at Stead saw the defender clatter into him from behind, Stead hit the deck and the ref pointed to the spot. You’d probably mark it down as ‘soft’ but upon second viewing Stead does well to stand his ground and draw the foul. Stead converted the spot kick and Notts had the lead. Notts had a chance to double the lead but the continually impressive Terry Hawkridge’s shot was blocked by the covering defender. After an even and horrendously boring first half, Notts had made the vital breakthrough.

In a complete reversal of the first half, Notts came out like an absolute train in the second half and forced the impressive Accy goalkeeper into two fantastic saves, firstly from a rasping Jorge Grant effort that was bound for the top corner and secondly from a Shola Ameobi header that he not only managed to save but put over the bar in the process; wonderful, wonderful stuff.

Notts’ blistering start was capped off superbly on 55 minutes when Hawkridge nutmugged the full back, raced down the left wing and clipped a clever pass into Grant who controlled well and finished brilliantly into the bottom corner on his left to make it 2-0. The obvious thing the goal highlighted was just how good Grant is; this was no slash with his weaker foot. He picked his spot and finished it superbly. It also highlighted what Notts had missed in the first half and for the start of the season; pace and direct running. Hawkridge did brilliantly down the left and matched that with his final ball. He has the ability to be a constant threat and if Nolan insists on his midfield two being so deep, the wide men must be allowed that freedom. 

What transpired in the final third of the game summed up how frustrating it can be to be a football fan, let alone a Notts fan. Five minutes after going 2-0 up Notts were pegged back after a set piece wasn’t cleared – Ameobi trying to dummy (unsuccessfully) as a defensive ploy – and a big deflection took a weak looking shot past Adam Collin. On 66 the tide swung back in Notts’ favour as Accy sub McLeod was given a straight red for what looked like a bad tackle after taking a bad touch and over stretching, studs first onto the leg of Yates. Now you’d think that’s not too frustrating. But this is Notts…

Nolan made the perfect sub by introducing Forte for Stead almost instantly. Finally, pace against 10 men. What made is frustrating was that Notts never played to his strengths. Ameobi improved after but again Yates and Hewitt were too deep and this inhibited this amount of balls that could be fed to Forte in the right area of the pitch for him to make an impact. Whilst Forte made little impact, Notts still made numerous chances and not converting these really came to bite us on the arse…

Firstly, Yates had an excellent chance on his favoured left foot from 18 yards and although Chapman made a solid save, Yates should have done so much better. With little pressure, he should really have found a corner or at least made the goalie work a little bit harder to keep it out. Secondly, Dan Jones, who had been a constant second half menace going forward, whipped in a delightful cross that Forte should have thrown himself at to make contact with. If Forte chucks himself at that it’s a goal, no questions. Finally, and maybe most frustratingly, Ameobi did brilliantly to beat a few Accy men and as he closed in on goal he decided to pass right to Grant instead of shooting. The pass was behind Grant, Grant slipped (and should have left it for Tootle) and Accy made a good block to bring about a corner. A man of that experience and quality has to be backing himself in a one-on-one, has to be.

Then frustration hit boiling point. Just as the board went up for 9 (N-I-N-E) minutes of injury time, Chapman bowled the ball out to the Accy striker on half way and Tootle, grappling with the forward, pulled him to the ground. Second yellow (the first for time wasting) and off for an early bath. It was a stupid, stupid decision by Tootle. Again, you’d call it soft but like the Notts penalty he’s given the referee the chance to make that decision. Senseless.

Then it came. I’d called it on 73 minutes and about 20 minutes later it came. A long punt up field saw Accy win the first header and then as Richard Duffy stood under the second header, he decided not to jump when in an excellent position to do so, but let the Accy forward win the header flick it to Mallik Wilks who finished superbly across Collin. Absurd defending. He’d won most things in the air all night but when it was needed, he switched off and cost us a goal. Like Shola for the first, just commit and clear the ball. Nothing fancy, just get up, win the header and it’s three points. Piss. It could’ve been even worse when Wilks fired straight at Collin after Jones had been rounded and the ball flashed across. Let off. Big let off.

It’s still so frustrating now. We should’ve won that four or five one but a lack of clinical edge and defensive lapses cost us dearly. Same old story. I’m happy to say the ref made many questionable decisions but our failings on Friday saw us bottle three points. It was nothing to do with the man in the middle and to blame him is simply an easy way out and not wanting to look at how we can and must improve moving forward. The foundations are there, no doubt, but we have plenty still to do.

COYP X

#BTeamBoycott

So it’s matchday, hallelujah! The day that football fans leave their working lives behind for 90 minutes (plus questionable second half injury time) to immerse themselves in the club’s they love once more. But today’s matchday is hugely different; it’s that competition.

The ‘competition’, as if any lower league football fan needs reminding, is the Checkatrade Trophy; the ‘competition’ that was doctored last season to bring in Under 23/21 teams from various Premier League and Championship clubs who have a Category One academy. Shaun Harvey, Premier League puppet, announced the ‘competition’ and its changes. Bedlam. Fans were not happy and rightly so. As the competition got going it was revealed that the EFL clubs had been deceived by Harvey; no agreement had been reached with the PL clubs about who would be taking part. They were sold the ‘Top 6’ and they got the academies of Derby and Norwich (more of Norwich’s academy players later…).

Duping the clubs you are employed serve; shameful Mr Harvey.

Safe to say fans were not happy and a real, numbered percentage of them boycotted the competition, me included. Attendances were regularly (well) below 1,000, especially when academy sides were present but not exclusively. The ire towards the ‘competition’ kept up long past the group stages and the Twittersphere found a new activity; combing through the academy line ups to find the seasoned pro’s playing for them. The two main highlights for me;

• 25 year old, 16 caps for Portugal, Nelson Oliveira turning out and scoring away at The Hive, Barnet.

• 31 year old, 90 caps for Sweden and veteran of two European Championships, Sebastian Larsson playing against Notts in the group stage.

The points above are only a tiny percentage of issues with the ‘competition’ but Mr Harvey didn’t get the message and so ensued Act 2; the fan vote. Four options were offered; scrap everything, carry on as it is, go back to the old system or swap academy teams for Conference teams. Notts, now owned by Alan Hardy, offered the fans their chance to have their say. Overwhelming would be an understatement…

95%+ of fans who voiced their opinion DID NOT want the academy teams in the competition moving forward and 45% DID NOT even want the competition in any form. Voices heard, now for the clubs stance. Then it came. Bedlam, again…

The club had voted IN FAVOUR of the academy side format with slight ammendments. Cue absolute meltdown. As a fan who voted to scrap the competition and therefore standing firmly against academy sides in any EFL competitions I felt angered. Not because I personally wasn’t listened to, but because the fan base wasn’t. 95% speaks for itself. What is the point in having your opinion canvassed and then being completely ignored? There is none. It’s insulting. We’re told to back the club, which we do but that wasn’t returned.

What pissed me and many other fans off even more was the response of Mr Hardy, the official statement cited money as the key choice for the decision; 20k a win is ‘hugely attractive.’ (Note: it’s now 10k a win due to an EFL club vote). As an official statement, annoying. Then as fans took to Twitter, so did Mr Hardy. What was insinuated was that if you don’t support the club in this decision and ‘competition’ you do not want the club to succeed. The money would go toward the playing budget IF we win games. So if you don’t like it, we don’t get more money and we don’t improve the team. We’d sold out on an ‘if’ and were being held to account for our beliefs by Schrodinger’s Budget, great…

The term ‘real fan’ has been banded around so often within this argument. I’m not here to call anyone a ‘real fan’ or not; you support your club in your own way, it’s not an absolute, so for people to claim ‘real fans’ don’t boycott games is bollocks, absolute bollocks. The reason people are boycotting this ‘competition’ is because including academy teams directly undermines the whole purpose of the competition. Notts fans are boycotting be used they were ignored. But more worryingly, if we don’t boycott it opens the door for more PL interference in the EFL.

Mr Hardy has claimed people are ‘scaremongering’ by claiming the latter; rubbish. You say now it will never happen. 10 years ago academy sides in a EFL competition probably would never have happened, but look where we are today.

Normally on matchday I’m excited. I can’t wait to get to the ground and everything between that time is just padding. But today, not so much. The only single reason I can muster for attending is to write about the experience and share it. How sad is that? I’ve loved this club since I was 5 years old and just about every fibre of my being doesn’t want to go tonight because of the actions of the few.

Mr Harvey and Mr Hardy, I’m afraid to say, this ones on you…

#BTeamBoycott X

Notts vs Chesterfield

So league football finally returned to Meadow Lane and after a dismal opening day defeat at Coventry the Notts faithful really needed a performance and a win to get the season going. Plenty thought Nolan would stick with a few more of the players who performed so well in the League Cup away at a sodden Scunthorpe but ultimately Ryan Yates was the only change from the opening day, replacing Liam Walker in the heart of the midfield.

It should really have been two changes, but Kevin Nolan again overlooked Jon Forte in favour of the less then mobile pairing of Jon Stead and Shola Ameobi. As well as Forte, Jorge Grant started on the bench. This caused plenty of commotion on the Twittersphere but it’s clear he’s being nursed back to match fitness following a sketchy pre season.

Amongst other things, you’d probably describe the first 30 minutes as sketchy as well. Two pretty average looking teams failed to put any sort of passages of play together. Notts had plenty of set pieces but failed to find the right delivery or right run in order to test Joe Anyon in the Chesterfield goal. Around the 30 minute mark the game sparked into life when Stead slipped in Terry Hawkridge down the right and he shot low and hard past Anyon only to see his effort cleared by a retreating defender. Finally, some spark, some pace and something to get everyone going. It wasn’t long after that effort that the game’s first talking point flared into life. After a coming together between Elliot Hewitt and Gozie Ugwu, Hewitt found himself on the deck. Hewitt then clung onto Ugwu’s leg to keep the big striker from getting away and when Hewitt eventually did let go and made his way back to his feet, the pair again tangled and Ugwu grabbed Hewitt across his chest or neck and put him back on the deck. The linesman waved his flag furiously and play was brought to a stop, the officials delegated, the home fans bayed for a red and sentence was passed; yellow. Only a yellow.

Boo’s rang around the ground and Ugwu nearly opened the scoring when he was cleverly played in by O’Grady, only to fire his shot straight at Collin and Notts cleared the ball to safety. This passage of play seemed to fire Notts up and they really got on top of Chesterfield, creating some good chances but ultimately hoping a lack of a clinical edge wouldn’t bite them on the arse as the game wore on. Cure talking point number two as Hawkridge looked to latch onto a hopeful ball over the top only to be felled by the chasing Scott Wiseman. Upon first viewing from the Kop it seemed a deliberate action but Hawkridge had no chance of getting onto the loose ball and it certainly wasn’t a clear, goal scoring opportunity. Free kick, yellow, move on. The man in the middle had other ideas; straight red and advantage Notts. At the time it seemed a poor decision and after seeing the video evidence that was confirmed; a straight red was absolutely absurd. It could have been two reds in a matter of minutes as Ugwu and Richard Duffy went up for a header together and the Notts skipper fell to the floor holding his face. Notts players swarmed the ref but to no avail. Final warning. It seemed as though Duffy made the most of the contact, if there was any, made.

Half time and Gozie Ugwu came and went and Notts looked to hammer home their numerical advantage. However, for 15 minutes Notts looked bereft of any ideas and just looked to hit Stead and Ameobi with the long ball; no invention, no quality and certainly no pace. Notts were crying out for fresh legs, especially in the final third. Eventually, Meadow Lane’s newest poster boy Jorge Grant entered the fray and he was the ace in the pack. On 61 minutes, Matt Tootle swung in a deep cross and Grant looped a header over Joe Anyon into the back of the net. Heyyyyyyyyyyy Macarena!

That settled Notts and finally they started to put some passes together and further test Anyon. However, Grant should really have seen red himself when, in frustration at a poor pass, he mistimed a tackle on the Chesterfield right back and stuck a good percentage of his studs right onto his shin. It looked a terrible ‘tackle’ but thankfully the man in the middle bottled his decision and kept his red card in his back pocket. Notts continued to make good chances, Hawkridge again firing low, only to be denied by the legs of Anyon. Chesterfield had one long range effort but never really tested Adam Collin. Stead should have sealed the deal when he went through one on one only to seemingly forget what to do, dither and spoon an ‘effort’ that Anyon smothered. Due to his incompetence, Stead was knocked by Ian Evatt in the process and that probably was a penalty and another red, but it should’ve been buried well before then…

Grant finally sealed the three points when he curled in a superb free kick from just outside of the area. Joy and relief filled the ground in equal measure and that was that; 3 points. By no means were Notts at their best, far from it, but three points is king. Special mention should go to Ryan Yates who was fantastic in central midfield, throwing himself into tackles, playing simply and offering an option all around the park. Such maturity is rare in a 19 year old loanee ; a superb home debut. One of Nolan’s key task before next Saturday is to think carefully about who partners him next week; Elliot Hewitt failed to have any impact on the game and resorted to his best Steven Gerrard impression by knocking aimless 50 yard diagonals to gift away possession; Rob Milsom please.

Nolan also has to think about starting Forte alongside Ameobi; with Stead and Shola we showed a huge lack of mobility and it allows the rest of the team to simply throw hopeful long balls up in their general direction. Forte, arguably more than Grant, changed the tempo of the game on Saturday and deserves a run in the side alongside Ameobi. Onto Saturday…

COYP X