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.