After Notts’ mini-mini slump over the last month or so, Newport seemed, on paper, to be a tough challenge set in front of Kevin Nolan’s men. What ultimately transpired was an afternoon that sent a real statement to both the fanbase and the rest of the league.
After 10 changes in the ‘Trophy that shall not be named’ Trophy, Nolan reverted back to his tried and tested starting 11, minus Dan Jones. The returning Jones only made the bench as Carl Dickinson kept his left back berth for at least one more game.
The opening 30 minutes did little to get anyone in the crowd going. Both sides were limited to long range strikes, one for Elliot Hewitt that he dragged horribly wide when well placed 18 yards out and one rasping first time volley that Ross Fitzsimons held on to well. Newport really set their stall out in the opening passage of play, with plenty of crosses flying into the Notts box, most of which were well dealt with by all concerned. What Newport also did was really get into the face of the Notts team and their robust attitude led to many, many stoppages and niggly passages of play.
On 33 minutes the game sparked into life as Newport left back Dan Butler and Notts’ Matt Tootle challenged for a high ball. Butler clearly led with his arm and Tootle ended up a crumpled heap on the Meadow Lane turf. With little hesitation the referee reached for the famed back pocket and produced the red card for Butler. At the time, from the Kop, it seemed unclear but on reflection you can certainly see why a red was issued. One Newport blog site said it wasn’t even a foul, let alone a red card…
Within five minutes Notts had made their numerical advantage count as Hawkridge fed Ameobi, Ameobi in turn fed Stead and then Stead rolled a beautifully weighted ball into the path of Jorge Grant for “the Forest loanee” to finish calmly into the bottom corner. Lovely, lovely stuff. It was a simple move that was executed to perfection, Ameobi doing particularly well to capatalise on a moment of Newport defensive hesitancy.
Notts consolidated their position through to half time but were denied a clear penalty as Day saved Hewitt’s close range effort the ball fell to Richard Duffy who was tripped after some neat footwork in a tight space between two defenders. ‘You’ve ruined my Christmas referee you c…….!’ Referee Craig Hicks hopefully enjoyed his trip to Meadow Lane more than when he was subject to John Sheridan’s ‘grounds for sacking’ tirade last time out…
The general consensus around me at half time, with me included, knew that Notts needed to come out in the second half and really go for Newport; and boy how they did. Within 10 minutes three points had been emphatically secured.
Notts came out like an absolute train. They pushed on 10 yards, pressed Newport high up the pitch with energy and intelligence and passed the ball quickly in order to move around the 10 men of Newport. Ameobi got the second goal in a passage of play that showed the importance and quality of both Ryan Yates and Jorge Grant. Firstly, Yates drove forward with the purpose and played in Stead. As Stead checked back and lost the ball(…) Yates crunched into a 50/50 tackle that saw the ball run to Grant who played an exquisite pass with the outside of his right foot and Ameobi made a perfect connection to slam the ball into the roof of the net. Daylight. Although the ball was, quite rightly, given plenty of credit on Channel 5’s ‘Goal Rush’, the role Ryan Yates played cannot be overlooked. I’ve been desperate to see him higher up the pitch and he was key to that second goal. He showed quality on the ball and that appetite to win it back we’ve all become accustomed to see. I pray he isn’t recalled in January.
The other one you pray isn’t recalled of course is Grant and he got himself into double figures for the season as, at the second attempt, he headed into Day’s goal to put the result beyond doubt. Grant’s been quiet in recent weeks and to be fair, didn’t do too much on Saturday around his involvement in the goals; but that’s the quality that’s setting us apart from the rest of the league currently.
Notts played out the final half an hour with Newport at arms length. Notts created more chances and Grant was agonisingly close to his hat trick with a tremendous free kick that cannoned off the cross bar.
As full time came Notts found themselves back on top of League Two eagerly anticipating Friday nights cup fixture against League One Bristol Rovers. All the home faithful must’ve been impressed with what they saw on Saturday, especially after the half time interval. That’s exactly what we’ve been desperate to see from Notts; getting in the face of the opposition and attacking at real pace. Matt Tootle again showed what an outstanding full back he is and more than made up for the absence of Dan Jones down the other flank.
Praise will obviously be heaped upon Grant, but special praise must go Ryan Yates and Elliot Hewitt in the middle of the park. Yates was his usual industrious, combative and neat on the ball self and Hewitt complemented him fantastically well. His energy and running really gave Notts another dimension. Even simple things like offering an option in a deeper lying midfield role from throw ins opened up the pitch for others to do their thing in front of him. A fine afternoons work indeed gentlemen, bravo. Liam who…?