Swansea vs Notts

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.




Notts vs Crewe

No matter how much a football club ingrains itself into your very being, if you take time to look then you’ll remember that that process had its genesis moment. Some people remember that moment, many probably don’t. I certainly don’t. I wasn’t even one when my dad first took me to Notts. We played Wolves at home and clearly I don’t remember it, but I probably thought the referee was shit…

According to Dad, as soon as I could comprehend what was happening in front of me I was hooked on Notts and frankly I’ve been hooked ever since. There was a period of about 18 months where I went to play Saturday afternoon football. I’d trained for the first time on a Thursday down at Kimberley Leisure Centre and was asked to sign. That Saturday, Notts played away at Rushden and Diamonds and lost 5-1; we were an absolute disgrace. Gary Mills was killing my club and Matty Gill rounded the day off by flipping the rod at the away fans after being substituted. Tossers the both of them.

That week I went to my churches bonfire event, saw my soon to be manager of Priory Celtic White and he asked me if I wanted to sign on; after that shit show he didn’t even need to ask.

I loved playing Saturday’s, it was the first time I’d ever done so, but after the first couple of weeks, as soon as we’d finished I’d rush up to Mum who was sat in the car and flick to Radio Nottingham. Hello Uncle Colin. By the time we got home, if there was 10 minutes left of the first half, I’d sit on the drive in the car until half time. I didn’t want to miss a word. After Priory Whites packed in, well way before that in fairness, I was back at Meadow Lane. I was home. 18 months or so away. Not exclusively away, but I’d missed more games in that 18 months than I probably did from the ages of five to 15.

Fast forward to today. At 28 years of age I’ve seen Notts up and down the country at over 100 grounds. I saw Sven Goran Eriksson paraded around the ground whilst watching Sky Sports News at a beach bar in Magaluf and loved and lost so many favourite players it’s chronically sad to give any more detail.

If Saturday at Meadow Lane was anything to go by I think there’s a few more people who’ve had their moment, their enlightening or indeed their return. #2ForCrewe was clearly a roaring success and for once, when the crowds came, we delivered. So often we’re terrible on TV or in front of bumper crowds. Not Saturday. Well, after the eighth minute anyway…

After a long ball was flicked skywards by Jordan Bowery, Richard Duffy was caught in about 12 minds, let the ball come down and hit him in the leg. This saw Bowery race away, exchange passes on the edge of the area and shoot across goal. Adam Collin saved the shot but Shaun Miller followed up well and knocked the ball into an empty net. The goal was exactly what Notts seemed to need to get themselves going. On 15 minutes, the 17,000 strong crowd were treated to a goal worthy of any football pitch. After half clearing from a free kick, Noor Husin took his marker out of the game with a smart body swerve and unleashed a fading pile driver of a right footed strike right into the top corner. I was right behind it and it was a glorious goal. A proper worldie and I guarantee there’s some kid on some playground at dinner time today who shoots from miles out and shouts “HUSIIIIIIIIIIIN” as they do. I absolutely guarantee it. If not, I’ll do it at football on Wednesday.

After that, Notts go the game in their grasps and never let go of it; we murdered Crewe. Five minutes before half time, Elliot Hewitt got on the end of a Jon Stead pull back, hit his shot into the ground and saw it bounce into the back of the net. Fortunate but thoroughly deserved. Half time came and went with rapturous receptions and Notts did what they’ve done all season and hit the second half hard. On 60 minutes it was 3-1 as Stead picked the ball up deep and fed Hewitt. He spun, checked back and played it square to Lewis Alessandra. He in turn found Stead on the edge of the 18 yard box with an incisive ball who then waited and knocked a perfect ball for the on running Hewitt. Hewitt took one touch to take him away from the surrounding defenders and smashed the bouncing ball into the back of the net. It was a great goal. Lovely football, great movement and thoroughly deserved for Hewitt himself. He’s been tremendous for the last few months; he’s a real player.

Notts continued to dominate and second half substitute Mason Bennett, acquired on loan from Derby County on deadline day, put the icing on the cake as he tapped in after Alessandra’s shot was parried into his path. Bennett was excellent from the moment he came on. He’s a real livewire and he never gave the Crewe defence time to settle. An early goal should really settle him in to the fold.

The vast majority of 17,000+ went home very on Saturday. What #2ForCrewe proved is that people will come. The attendance figure doesn’t matter one bit; some see it as a great thing, some don’t. Whatever. That really doesn’t matter. There’ll be a few who’ll ask where they are next Tuesday at home to Carlisle and be glad that them there ‘daytrippers’ aren’t in their seat. But maybe a few will get picked up at half time like I did before I got to senior school age. Mum would wait by the exit between the Jimmy Sirrel and Family Stand and whisk me off home; with the radio on of course. Maybe we’ll see them at home to Stevenage on the 24th. Maybe next season they’ll have a season ticket. Saturday may have been that genesis moment for some.

What really matters is what comes as a result of Saturday. If more kids put on their new Notts County scarf or hat this morning for school then brilliant. If some pester their parents into bringing them back again then brilliant again. If some realise its not only Forest who play in this City then perfect and if some get to experience half of the joy I’ve had watching Notts throughout my life then absolutely brilliant. It won’t be easy, but you wouldn’t want to change it for the world kids…