Wow. Well I certainly didn’t expect that. Whilst we tried to justify genuine reasons we could beat Swansea last night every logical Notts fan knew it would be a tough ask. Not many would’ve predicted that. 8-1. Eight. The vidiprinter on Teletext would have given both the number and the spelling of the word. Eight.
When we got the team news it looked like even more of an uphill struggle. No Dan Jones. Carl Dickinson in. No Matt Tootle, still ill. Nicky Hunt retained. No Elliot Hewitt, ill. Matty Virtue in. No Shola, presumably rested. Terry Hawkridge in and Alessandra pushed into supporting Jon Stead centrally. 4-2-3-1? 4-4-2? I only speculated on Twitter between those two because I was convinced Nolan wouldn’t go back to 4-5-1. Convinced. It came to pass we played a sort of lopsided 4-5-1. Noor Husin played as a CDM whilst Virtue and Alessandra played in front of him in stages. Virtue then Alessandra. It was one of various factors that led to our downfall.
Right from the get go we sat off Swansea and gave them too much time and space. Quite clearly they’re a much better team than us and individually that’s the case too, but we never got anywhere near close enough to them. The shape of the midfield really killed us too. Time and again Swansea knocked 10/15 yard balls straight through the lines and were facing our goal, running at the back four. The double breakthrough came after 18 and 20 minutes through Tammy Abraham and Nathan Dyer. After a sharp one-two, Luciano Narsingh found Abraham after clever movement from the England front man. Moments later, Abraham drove unopposed from deep, slipped in Dyer who nipped a cool finish around Adam Collin. 2-0. Up hill.
Notts were then cut open down the left as Narsingh squared to Dyer 20 yards out who swept the ball brilliantly into the far corner. Half an hour gone, 3-0. Game over. Or was it? Notts pulled one back through Husin as Sam Clucas lazily flicked at a knock down and the midfielder raced onto the ball and knocked a superb side footed finish off the post and in from the edge of the area. It was a really, really good finish; how many times have you seen a similar scenario and a League Two player has knobbed it into Row Z? Too many. Notts actually had a decent spell for 10 minutes or so. They went to a more conventional 4-4-2, hit the ball long and got up and around Stead and Alessandra. Kyle Bartley dealt well with the scariest situation of the spell up until Jorge Grant smashed an effort at the very punchy and jittery Nordfeldt in the Swansea goal. He caught it well but it was straight at him sadly.
The game was killed off on the stroke of half time as Kyle Bartley smashed a wonderful 70 yard ball to Narsingh who waited for Abraham to peel off the stranded Shaun Brisley and the forward swept into the far corner; another fine finish. That seemingly killed any spirit Notts had mustered from the previous 10 minutes or so.
Notts held out until the 53rd when Adam Collin ‘punched’ a Tom Carroll corner into the path of Kyle Naughton who spanked a volley through the crowd and into the back of the net. Before the hour had arrived it was six courtesy of a sweet finish from Wayne Routledge. Ki Sung-Yeung had nearly split the whole team in half with a beauty of a pass. Dickinson got a tackle in but the ball fell to Routledge and as Duffy backed away, the winger picked his spot brilliantly. This was the point I predicted eight and I was proven right, unfortunately.
On 65, Carroll scored the pick of the goals as he exchanged passes with Routledge on the edge of the area, shifted the ball onto his left foot and curled the ball into the top corner. A piece of absolute quality. The whole ordeal was rounded off with number eight as Daniel James on debut bulleted in a volley after a clever Abraham knock down.
After what we’ll call a character building evening of watching Notts it was clear to see the better team won but I was left disappointed. That wasn’t the Notts that I’ve watched all season. We gave them far too much respect, time on the ball and space. Don’t get me wrong, Tammy Abraham’s goals were due to some good movement but for his second Brisley doesn’t have a clue where he is. There’s no danger in behind him so he has to go with Abraham. Dyer’s first was a great finish but if Husin and Virtue are deployed as a central two, as Husin and Hewitt were in the first game there’d be someone on Abraham making it difficult for him to receive and drive. He may have skipped by whoever, but we didn’t even make it hard for Swansea last night.
The space we allowed Swansea was outrageous. In the first game Notts worked brilliantly when Swansea went wide; full back, wide man in front that sided central midfielder went across and dealt with Swansea brilliantly; nothing of the sort last night. Carl Dickinson was made to look like me out there. Hawkridge was there to help him, but with nothing from midfield they were skipped around. Even for Routledge’s goal, Dicko makes a good interception but Richard Duffy backs off. Brisley can cover, go and engage him, make him take you on. Fair play he if nips around three of you and dinks the goalie, but make him do that. Crowd him out and make him do something special.
Whilst Notts were pretty abject across the pitch, special Twitter fury was left for Matty Virtue. Whilst I thought some of the criticism was unfair, he wasn’t as good as Jonathan Pearce made him out to be. For me last night he was caught between playing two roles again. He clearly wasn’t deployed next to Husin but should he and Alessandra have been a two? Should one have pressed when the ball was with one centre half and vice versa? I’d have no idea. He looked like a lost dog but it wasn’t all his own fault. For a young man making his way in the game, in his first senior loan spell, the game should be made simple for him. Play here, do this job. The ball’s here, your here. Of course you interpret the role you are given, but Virtue looked like he was playing between two all night. When he got the ball he used it simply. He gave it away, but who didn’t? He missed a few tackles, but who didn’t? He certainly worked hard and got around Swansea at times. He’s certainly not the waste of space many think he is. I still feel he’ll be an asset moving forward.
After an evening as chastising as last night was, moving forward is certainly what we need to do. Kevin Nolan was philosophical on the radio; he was never going to dig them out but maybe the positive propaganda was a bit much when he said we could’ve had four or five. The narrative around Saturday’s trip to Barnet has a different tone than we hoped for but the premise is simple. Get in, get three points and get out again. There’ll need to be lots of arms around shoulders this week but also some open, honest and frank analysis and discussion about what transpired last night. I’ve absolutely no doubt all that will happen, Kevin Nolan has done a sterling job this season because 99/100 times he does the right things, the proper things, well. It’s nonsense nights like that should be forgotten or explained away. There’s plenty to learn, plenty to gain and plenty to move forward from. This squad have got some real bollocks and some real belief in each other.
The final word of the night must and should rightly go to the travelling fans. All I could hear on the TV was you. I’ve been to plenty of away games that have culminated in disappointing defeats and poor results but last night probably topped it off for many. You were not only a credit to the club but to yourselves. Football fans are cruelly underestimated in times of adversity but the support from that empty stadium was magnificent. They were lucky to have you in their corner last night.