Notts vs Newport

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…?

COYP x

Notts vs FGR

“Dad, I don’t want to stay for the second half.” 

“Okay lad, let’s go.”

No, this isn’t an extract from my diary – my old man’s over in Costa Blanca this week, avoiding the dreaded manager of the month curse and all that comes along with that – but the snapshot of conversation between a boy of probably only 5 to his dad during the half time interval on Saturday. I have to say, regardless of whether he was the benefactor of a ‘distributed’ ticket or not, he had every right to feel that way.

After the debacle at Mansfield last week, Kevin Nolan made one change with Terry Hawkridge replacing Lewis Alessandra on the right hand side of midfield. Shola Ameobi continued his comeback on the bench as Jon Stead and Jon Forte maintained their striking partnership at a packed Meadow Lane.

A common theme of Saturday’s match was that for large, large parts of the game there was very little quality on show. Forest Green settled quickly into the game and the occasion as they kept the ball relatively well without really harming the Notts back four. Notts managed to keep FGR at arms length but failed to impose themselves on the bottom of the league team as they sat too far off them, Rob Milsom and Ryan Yates in particular allowing Notts old boy Drissa Traore, deployed in a deeper midfield role by The Snake (Mark Cooper), to dictate the direction and tempo of the game with apparent ease. The only noticeable thing about the first 25 minutes or so was the 3 yellow cards for some pretty dodgy ‘tackling’ and pulling back; a red seemed nailed on moving forward.

The games first key passage started with a nearly comical FGR own goal as a long knock by Carl Dickinson (are you surprised…?) was intercepted by the head of a FGR defender that diverted the ball past the out rushing FGR goalie only to roll agonisingly past the post; Nick Hancock’s Football Nightmares nearly had a reboot with that one…

3 minutes later the ball did find the net, sadly it was the wrong net for the 13,000 home fans. Christian Doidge picked up a second ball and drove into the box, escorted by the flagging Yates and he squared the ball to the unmarked Omar Bugiel who tapped in from two yards for 1-0. Bollocks. Tension. Unrest. Notts failed to pick up the second ball – a key sign they weren’t at the races –  and Ryan Yates had to do much, much better in his attempt to halt Doidge’s progress. The ball across was neat and for the record, instead of bollocking everyone ‘Dicko’ why don’t you have some sense of awareness of where your man is and not get caught being drawn to the ball? Infuriating.

Notts needed to react but the goal only really saw FGR grow in confidence and Adam Collin made a smart save at his front post to keep out a good header from Luke James on 35 minutes. Notts managed to trouble Russell in the FGR goal on the stroke of half time as Stead had half a chance saved by legs after good work on the byline by the spritely Forte.

After the best child’s team penalty shoot out of the Hardy reign, one dinky lad even tried a rabona (unsuccessfully), Notts came out in the second half with a much higher tempo and sense of urgency. Jorge Grant should’ve made better of a snapshot after fine work from Forte and Forte himself had a shot blocked by the scrambling FGR defence as Notts signalled their intent in the second half. 

Sadly, after the first 10 minutes or so of the second half that intent fizzled out. Nolan shifted the midfield into a diamond with Hewitt coming on for Yates to sit at the base, Alessandra and Milsom in front and Grant behind Stead and Forte. Whilst Alessandra and Mislon saw a lot of the ball, neither Tootle or Dickinson started high enough up the pitch to enable them to be a consistent option going forward. 

Notts vs Lincoln

Well wasn’t that all tremendously satisfying and exciting. Whilst everyone knows you don’t win anything in September, what better way to start the most important week of the season to date by hammering a local rival on their ‘big day out.’

All the midweek debate over Hewitt vs Hollis for the ‘injured’ Shaun Brisley was rendered pointless as Brisley was selected alongside the rejuvenated Richard Duffy at centre half. Rob Mislom continued to partner Ryan Yates in the middle of the park and Terry Hawkridge came back in the face his former employers at the expense of Lewis Alessandra. There was no sight of Shola Ameobi in the 18 after his injury last week.

What turned out to be an excellent result and performance started oh so differently as Notts really struggled to settle into the game and made Lincoln look like the home team in front of their 4000+ travelling support. Lincoln played the ball around nicely and held Notts at arms length whilst creating  three clear cut chances that thankfully weren’t taken. Firstly, Matt Green ghosted past Brisley only to screw his effort wide of Adam Collin’s right hand post. Then Josh Ginnelly drove a shot into the ground that Collin tipped over well and from the resulting corner, Sean Raggett rose unmarked only to plant his header over the bar. Phew. Let off. At minimum Green should’ve scored and Raggett should’ve done much better with his free header. Luck ridden.

Then, on 28, the momentum and the game swung massively in Notts favour with the controversial sending off of Billy Knott for a high foot on Ryan Yates in central midfield. My initial reaction, from the Kop was yellow card, free kick and move on. What most struck me was Yates’ decision to go for a ball that didn’t seem to be his to win. If he’d have gone boot first, he’d probably have caught Knott late but he threw himself forward, nicked the ball and felt Knott’s boot connect with his head. After a slight delay, the referee branded the red card. Jesus. Really? It seemed harsh at the time and looking back at it multiple times it’s still a hard decision to make. By the letter of the law, Yates’ safety was endangered by Knott’s boot but I can’t really argue it was reckless or used excessive force, but it was dangerous as Yates went in with his head. All that said, if you’ve played and you were sent off for that, you’d be furious. But thems the rules folks…

That was the moment that Notts finally settled into the game and 10 minutes later the advantage paid off as Hawkridge hussled well in the corner, laid it off to Milsom who swung the ball into Stead. He connected well and his shot bounced off his marker, wrong footing Farman and that was that; 1-0. Relief. A dodgy start had been negotiated and spun on its head. Great scenes.

Notts went in at half time in boyuant mood but as quickly as that came on it swiftly fell away as Lincoln made it 1-1. A deep cross found Harry Anderson beat Hawkridge in the air and plant one past Collin. Here we go; ‘We’re always shit against ten men’ crowed my dad from the row infront of me. Too true dad, I’ve seen Notts struggle against 10 men on multiple occasions before; but not today!

Notts ragained their composure and from that moment on dominated the game and really put Lincoln to the sword. What Notts did brilliantly was keep the ball. Instead of going long, like they did in the first half against the 10, they kept possession and recycled it from side to side. By no means were we Arsenal but they moved Lincoln around and managed the game fantastically. Ryan Yates dictated the tempo of the game brilliantly, he played simply when he needed too and supported others when the time came. The one thing I’d love him to do more is when the ball goes out wide, hit the box and give himself the chance to get amongst the goals. It’s clear Nolan wants the two CM’s to sit deep and keep us solid, but Yates could bag 5-8 goals if given that licence when the time is right.

On 55 minutes Notts took full control as Jon Stead swung a great knock to Matt Tootle who brought it down and slapped a half volley into the bottom corner much to the delight of all who witnessed it. It was a stunning finish from Tootle and one he really enjoyed. The less said about the celebration the better… #TheSlug

From that moment forward Notts looked in complete control of the game 

“He’s not the messiah…”

So there you have it folks. Although the announcement has come three months later than some wanted, it has finally come;

“Notts County have agreed a deal to re-sign midfielder Liam Noble.”

What the f… Actually, taking a moment to think about it, I’m not actually too surprised. The lengths the club, rightly or wrongly, went to in the summer showed the Noble was a key target. Kevin Nolan spoke highly of Noble and all the noise was that Noble fancied it too. Eventually, after some frankly embarrassing PR, Noble had signed a new contract with Forest Green Rovers and that was that; or so everyone thought.

The official websites announcement is, unsurprisingly, sparse in content and Twitter is currently awash with debate as to whether Noble can be loaned out, if so to what level and if it’s a low level then is it worthwhile? All this *may* come out in the wash, but the statement simply says;

“He will be eligible to play for Notts from the home fixture against Crawley Town on 6 January and, in the meantime, will train full-time with the club and feature in reserve matches.”

Obviously, the Twittersphere has gone into overdrive. The overriding emotion seems to be happiness. If you look at this in pure business terms, Alan Hardy and the club have pulled of a right deal. Three months ago, 100K wasn’t enough to get Noble away from FGR and now we’ve got him for nothing. But this isn’t purely business. This is Liam Noble. There are also various issues around ‘the process’ of the signing of which I’ll come to later.

Ever since our interest in Noble came to be public knowledge I’ve been firmly against it and it genuinely surprises me that so many seem so deliriously excited to see him back. What I’m not saying and never have said is that Noble is a bad player; it’s clear he has ability. He scored some great goals when he played for us before (that strike against Huddersfield springs to mind) and clearly has an eye for a pass; these things cannot be disputed. However, there are plenty of things that can be disputed.

Let’s look tactically. Nolan loves and doesn’t seem to want to move away from 4-4-2 and frankly, why would he? Ever since he’s come in it’s worked an absolute treat and has enabled us to pick up more points than we ever thought possible. The two central midfielders in said 4-4-2 are deeper lying, hard working, simple with the ball and generally more defence minded than attack minded. I’ve had issues with this, but it clearly works and is working. Rob Milsom and Ryan Yates, despite being below par against FGR, have formed a solid partnership and good understanding in there, so firstly, why would you want to disrupt that? Secondly, Noble doesn’t fit into the type of CM Nolan seems to fancy. Defensively, he’s atrocious, his ability to close down is questionable and he’s tactically naïve; not quite the CM you need in a team shaping up to be difficult to beat. The redeeming feature for Noble here is that he’s most effective when he’s played deeper; his passing range truly becomes an asset. But very rarely have Notts dominated a game in a way to allow that to happen; yes we’re second, but that ball spends plenty of time in the air rather than on the ground – and Noble’s got to win it before he can use it; I fear he’d struggle in a central two.

The counter argument to this is; ‘Well play him in a three, or just behind the striker then!’ Firstly, Nolan seems a million miles away from trying this and if he did, Noble isn’t a patch on Jorge Grant. If we are ever going to play three in midfield or a Number 10, Grant wins hands down for the starting spot. Look at Saturday, Nolan tried a diamond. Grant spearheaded it. He’s not going to play Grant in the two in the diamond and he’ll play the majority of games because he’s the ace in our pack. He’s much more creative, scores more regularly and is better on the ball; no contest. Add into this that he won’t have played competitive football for three months or so; how long until he’s match fit?

As, I believe, is fair with Noble, you’ve also got to look at the discipline and attitude side of his game. For a kick off, six red cards in two seasons is an absolute disgrace. They weren’t even ‘excusable’ most of them. Crewe at home; a stupid tackle, second yellow, leading 2-1 with minutes to go. Wycombe away; straight red for reacting to an opposition player. Swindon away; two yellows in two minutes. Finally, who could forget, Cambridge at home? Cambridge player nips round him and he wildly, stupidly, childishly and blatantly kicks out at him; straight red – never to be seen again. That red alone should have been enough to convince Notts fans that he was best off being someone else’s problem. It was embarrassing and infuriating. His inability to control himself beggared belief. I’d love to know the amount of games he was suspended for over a two season period. Liability.

Opposing this, people have looked to his disciplinary record at FGR; no reds by all accounts. Fine, lovely, had he grown up? Or was he playing for a team doing well, week in and week out and things were going his way? Completely. When he played for Notts, we were pretty shit – in the face of adversity on the pitch Noble couldn’t handle it. Time and again he couldn’t handle it. He let us down on more than one occasion.

Let’s now circle back to a wider issue. When Noble got sent off, Mark Cooper was the manager. Cooper said he’d sent Noble back to Newcastle and we’d never see him again. Come the summer, Cooper wound up at FGR and surprise, surprise, so did Noble. It’s well documented that FGR have got a decent bit of money at that level, so Noble got into bed with Cooper and all was well in the season they got promoted. Then, starting out to League Two glory, FGR made lots of noise they’d have another very good season, but all didn’t go according to plan. Notts certainly unsettled Noble in the summer with the speculation. 10 games in, Noble’s had a pop at the fans, not scored, they’re bottom of the league and we’re top…Then he falls out with Cooper; not so easy when it doesn’t go your way is it?

When I talk about attitude this is what I’m talking about. Has Noble got the stomach for it when it gets difficult? He wanted the FGR buck when it was sunny and the birds were singing, but as soon as it got tough, could he handle it? What if he does this to Notts? What if he comes in, scores 10-15 goals before the end of the season, we get promoted and a Championship club fancy him and say, off the record/under the radar/behind closed doors, they’ll quadruple his wages? What then…

When Noble steps out to play his first game back at Notts, whatever the time, situation or scenario he’ll probably get a heroes welcome. For those with longer memories than, ‘hey, look, we fucked over the vegans LOL…’ he’s got a lot on his plate when it comes to winning back respect. To say you won’t go to games or celebrate a goal he scores is ludicrous, the club is bigger than every and all individual.

Let’s hope it works; Nolan has got it right way more often than not. Let’s hope ‘Liam who’ doesnt let us down again, or someone’s boat certainly will have sailed.

COYP x

LMA Manager? FIFA 2000? FM 2010?

“For fuck sake, how difficult can it be? I could manage this lot!”

“I’d have put that in with my eyes closed! Useless bastard!”

“Even I could win the SPL with Celtic.”

Now, as a football fan I guarantee you’ve said at least two of these three things at one time or another and whilst they’re wildly off the mark, except maybe the Celtic one, everyone who has half an eye on football reckons they can manage and play better than the those they pay decent money to follow up and down the country. The sad thing is, we never really get the chance to show it. The good thing is that it’s a good job; you’d make an absolute shit show of yourself. But, the budding football player/manager does have the opportunity – aside from the waterlogged pitches of, say, Hall Park playing field – to show off their ‘skills’. I am of course referring to the virtual world. Games consoles and computers are ten a penny in households now but growing up they were just starting to become the massive, multi billion pound market they are today. Well, that’s how I perceived them to be anyway, being a spotty and impressionable kid from Eastwood.

So, inspired the impending release of Football Manager 2018, toward which we will venture later, here’s a trip down memory lane of some classic football games I played growing up…

Fifa 98: Road to World Cup and Fifa 2000 

“EA Sports, it’s in the game…” Wow, just typing those words (and saying them in the style they were uttered on many a Fifa) brings back memories of pure footballing joy. Let’s start with the absolute classic that was Fifa 2000. I’m not here to talk in great detail about graphics and gameplay, because frankly they were pretty terrible. But what a game this was; the joy was in its simplicity. I’ve played (poorly) new versions of Fifa and I am absolutely woeful at them – they’re so, so technical. Fifa 2000 was the complete antithesis. If you pressed ‘X’ in the general direction of another blocky member of your team it was an inch perfect pass and liquid football ensued.

Blog One

There were also a few classic quirks that really endeared the game to its loyal fans. Firstly, you could slide tackle the goalie. As a young boy, frustration hit boiling point when the computer controlled bastard between the sticks stopped a ‘worldie’ going into the ‘top bin’ (before we knew what those terms meant) and there were only two ways to rectify this. A) Throw your controller against the floor and cause a scene that no one saw, or B) trot up to him and when he least expected it, rip him out with a slide tackle that put him a few pixelated feet up in the air. Revenge. However, as we learn through life, you just don’t get away with things like that. Instant red card. *Hold down On/Off button until red light.*

The other two quirks were player related. I was always completely amazed that even though Sol Campbell, Notts legend, was on the cover of some copies, in the game he was white. WHITE! Imagine if that happened today…

The biggest thing I adored about the game was that Ronaldo, the real Ronaldo, not the Portuguese one, the real Ronaldo was known as ‘Number 9.’ How utterly incredible! I seem to remember the reason was something to do with EA couldn’t get/weren’t allowed the rights to call him Ronaldo so ‘Number 9’ had to do. Amazing! Transcending the game…

Fifa 98 Road to World Cup gets a mention in here because, even though I only had this disk for a year or so; embarrassing juice spillage incident, you could play indoor, 5 a-side and actually play 45 minutes each way. I think I probably played a full 90 minutes only once, but boy would it have been worth it!

Blog 2

 

LMA Manager 1999/2000

Looking back, this was definitely my favourite football related game of my formative years. I enjoyed Fifa but I was always a manager in the virtual world and what a complete classic this game was. Again, I think it was the simplicity. The first thing you’d do, after picking your team to manage, was filter the transfer screen by contract and every single game you’d find one or two WORLD CLASS players available on a free, pending a good contract being put on the table. By world class, I mean world class; Zidane, Thuram, Nedved, Totti, Buffon, Giggs, Canavarro, Del Piero, Scholes and plenty, plenty more (Carlo Corrizan was a must for a Notts save). Some games you might shit out a little bit and have to settle for an ageing star but this could really make or break a season.

LMA 2000 also had some great features that football now could probably benefit from having a think about. The league you were in dictated the weekly wage you could offer a player in contract negotiations, so playing as Notts always made buying players a lot more difficult. Also, you could only buy a player for exactly double his value in the game; so you never had any silly amounts being played for players. Think on law makers…

Picking your team was simplistic too. Against each player was his ability bar and the split screen had various other bars for various attributes. The longer the bar, the better the player. Standard. And just look at how it showed if your players were happy or not. Innocent times. I remember Clayton Blackmore having a bar double the length of any other Notts player in the squad and despite being pony in real life, Peter Beadle really knew where the back of the net was.

Blog Three

I absolutely loved this game. This summer, I will get a PS1, this game and spend hours reliving my childhood.

Football Manager 2010

Now I thought LMA Manager was amazing, but I always cast an envious eye over those who played FM. I didn’t have a laptop or my own computer until I was in Sixth Form when I got one for free because we were a ‘Technology College’. As soon as my first few weeks of EMA money came in, I purchased old FM’s, 2005 and 2006 and prayed the school laptop wasn’t protected so I couldn’t put anything on to it; bingo, it worked! Heaven. These were great incarnations of the franchise, sleek, simple and easy to burn through season but still being detailed enough to enjoy. As per, Notts were absolutely shite; Needham, Long, Williams, Whitlow, Gordon, Morgan et al.

Then I felt I really graduated in the FM stakes with the 2010 version. Whenever I get a new FM I always start as Notts to get used to the game; the Notts team on the original patch were completely 50/50. The defence was terrible; no right back, Graeme Lee and Mike Edwards were both rated as ‘good conference players’ in League Two and Jamie Clapham was about 100 years old. But then, in real life, something truly astonishing happened; Munto Finance. I’ll explore this phenomenon/disaster in another blog, but what a ride it was. What I didn’t realise that my FM world would also be turned on it’s head that February when the new patch came out.

The first thing I saw when I started a new game was the badge had changed; it had the purple streak in it; Munto. The squad now included John Thompson, Lee Hughes, Karl Hawley (excellent on FM, toss in real life) and THE signing; Kasper Schmeichel – OH. MY. GOD! In the first few messages, the transfer budget was revealed to be £1.2 million. Shit! Somehow, I’ll never really know how or why, but I found an Argentinian forward called Jonatan Cristaldo playing for Velez – £550k – WHAT A PLAYER! Half way through the second season, after pissing League Two by about 12 points, he’d scored nearly 50 goals for the club and was a ‘decent Premier League player.’ If I ever got a FM player on a shirt, it would be him.

In my ultimate Notts/Munto game I made it to the Premier League in 4 seasons, winning League Two and One at the first attempt, losing in the Championship Play Off Final in the third season and then a year later walking the league to reach the promised land. I’d delivered Sven’s dream. My team consisted of young players, brought at knock down prices when I was in League One or for free transfers from top Premier League clubs; Cleverley, Chester, Lansbury, Kakuta (amazing!), Merida and Cristaldo as the transfer budget got steadily better season upon season. Incidentally, I kept Lee Hughes until 39/40 years old and he was the only outfield player to make the journey to the PL with me.

When I did get into the Premier League, I was awarded another new contract and a £45 million pound transfer budget. 5th after one season. Boom. ‘Easy, easy. easy…’ Then, the worst happened, a dodgy save meant my file had corrupted. I sulked for close to two weeks.

So, whatever your poison in the world of virtual football, don’t let people tell you you’re a sad bastard. Just remember that there’s always one chap wearing a suit for a FM cup final. Wear out your space bar and decimate your eye sight if it makes you happy…

COYP x

 

Notts vs FGR

“Dad, I don’t want to stay for the second half.”

“Okay lad, let’s go.”

No, this isn’t an extract from my diary – my old man’s over in Costa Blanca this week, avoiding the dreaded manager of the month curse and all that comes along with that – but the snapshot of conversation between a boy of probably only 5 to his dad during the half time interval on Saturday. I have to say, regardless of whether he was the benefactor of a ‘distributed’ ticket or not, he had every right to feel that way.

After the debacle at Mansfield last week, Kevin Nolan made one change with Terry Hawkridge replacing Lewis Alessandra on the right hand side of midfield. Shola Ameobi continued his comeback on the bench as Jon Stead and Jon Forte maintained their striking partnership at a packed Meadow Lane.

A common theme of Saturday’s match was that for large, large parts of the game there was very little quality on show, from both sides. Forest Green settled quickly into the game and the occasion as they kept the ball relatively well without really harming the Notts back four. Notts managed to keep FGR at arms length but failed to impose themselves on the bottom of the league team as they sat too far off them, Rob Milsom and Ryan Yates in particular, allowing Notts old boy Drissa Traore, deployed in a deeper midfield role by The Snake (Mark Cooper), to dictate the direction and tempo of the game with apparent ease. The only noticeable thing about the first 25 minutes or so was the 3 yellow cards for some pretty dodgy ‘tackling’ and pulling back; a red seemed nailed on moving forward.

The games first key passage started with a nearly comical FGR own goal as a long knock by Carl Dickinson (are you surprised…?) was intercepted by the head of a FGR defender that diverted the ball past the out rushing FGR goalie only to roll agonisingly past the post; Nick Hancock’s Football Nightmares nearly had cause for a return…

3 minutes later the ball did find the net, sadly it was the wrong net for the 13,000 home fans. Christian Doidge picked up a second ball and drove into the box, escorted by the flagging Yates and he squared the ball to the unmarked Omar Bugiel who tapped in from two yards for 1-0. Bollocks. Tension. Unrest. Notts failed to pick up the second ball – a key sign they weren’t at the races – and Ryan Yates had to do much, much better in his attempt to halt Doidge’s progress. The ball across was neat and for the record, instead of bollocking everyone ‘Dicko’ why don’t you have some sense of awareness of where your man is and not get caught being drawn to the ball? Infuriating. Frustration started to build around the ground.

Notts needed to react but the goal only really saw FGR grow in confidence and Adam Collin made a smart save at his front post to keep out a good header from Luke James on 35 minutes. Notts managed to trouble Russell in the FGR goal on the stroke of half time as Stead had half a chance saved by legs after good work on the byline by the spritely Forte.

After the best child’s team penalty shoot out of the Alan Hardy reign, one dinky lad even tried a rabona (unsuccessfully), Notts came out in the second half with a much higher tempo and sense of urgency. Jorge Grant should’ve made better of a snapshot after fine work from Forte and Forte himself had a shot blocked by the scrambling FGR defence as Notts signalled their intent in the second half.

Sadly, after the first 10 minutes or so of the second half that intent fizzled out. Nolan shifted the midfield into a diamond on around 65 minutes with Hewitt coming on for Yates to sit at its base, Alessandra and Milsom in front and Grant behind Stead and Forte. Whilst Alessandra and Mislon saw a lot of the ball, neither Tootle or Dickinson started high enough up the pitch to enable them to be a consistent option going forward. There was plenty of room out wide to exploit but in an effort to change it up, we just managed to further crowd the central third of the pitch and create little in the way of anything. Notts looked devoid of any real ideas so Nolan threw on Ameobi in a hope of forcing the issue in the air rather than on the ground. Instantly, Shola won a few headers and we managed to have a bit more joy territorially but FGR could’ve extended their lead but Collin made a smart save down low to his left from Charlie Cooper. Nerves.

On 88 minutes Notts created their best chance of the game when Grant, now playing wider on the left, glided down the wing, flashed a cross onto Shola’s head but he couldn’t get his angles right and the ball whistled past the far upright and out for a goal kick. Chance. Big chance. Grant made excellent ground down the left and found Ameobi well. Whilst Grant probably is a ‘Number 10’, in this league he isn’t. We’ve tried various players in that position before and the fact is League Two isn’t the place for them. Either they get crowded out by two tight banks of four, a ball winning midfielder or they are the best player in the team and the rest of their team can’t find the Number 10 in the right position with the right pass. Essentially, Grant needs ‘wide man’ Grant or ‘central midfielder’ Grant to play the ball into ‘Number 10’ Grant in order for him to be effective.

As frustration neared paramount and the final whistle loomed large, Ameobi won a great flick on to the feet of Alessandra who waited for Tootle to come careering around the outside of him, laid the ball off and Tootle dinked a lovely knock to the back post for the onrushing Milsom. Milsom made a good connection, headed the ball into the ground but straight at Russell. Somehow, somehow, Russell only managed to palm the bouncing ball into the back of the net. Scenes. Rescue. Thank fuck for that!

The overriding emotion for me on Saturday was that of frustration. Notts were absolutely toss in pretty much all departments of the pitch and FGR were really not much better. They looked like a poor side. Every 10th pass was misplaced, over hit or under hit. Only Christian Doidge and Drissa Traore looked properly comfortable at this level. Saying that, Notts managed to sneak a point. The goal was probably undeserved but you never really get everything you deserve in football so a points a point. After Stags last week and this result there’s still work to be done. There was complete overreaction by some on Saturday; we are by no means shit and our ‘bubble hasn’t burst’ but a sense of realism cannot be ignored.

We still need another option in the final third, Jon Stead, granted service to him was poor, was anonymous. Jon Forte got the same amount of service and actually had an impact in the game at various stages. Hawkridge, Grant and to a lesser extent Alessandra (due to him not starting) had very, very quiet games and failed to register much in the way of meaningful contributions.

All is certainly not lost and we are in an outrageously strong position compared to expectations, but the level of performance on Saturday was way below par and a good start isn’t an excuse to ignore clear facts. So now Community Day and Hardy’s record attendance jamboree is finished, can we get down to it? ‘It’ being forging a strong run of results over the next few months without the crap to go along with it and providing the real ‘customer journey’. That term and football just don’t go do they? You can have all the face painting you want, if you turn out like that on a regular basis Notts you’ll be back to 4,500, not 7,500 and certainly not 13,000.

COYP x