After the win at Charlton, it seemed like anything was possible, that Notts County could keep the momentum going, get results against the Sheffield sides and secure a play-off position. However, this proved a bridge too far.
On a warm St Patrick’s Day at the lane, a bumper crowd of 12,410, including a sold out Jimmy Sirrel Stand packed with Owls fans, watched the Pies lose 2-1 against a resilient and well-organised Wednesday side, Ryan Lowe and Gary Madine netting the away side’s goals and Lloyd Sam with a late consolation for Notts.
An improvement was expected against the red side of Sheffield the following Tuesday; instead, a first-half horror show saw the Pies concede four against United, and even though Alan Judge and Julian Kelly netted two before the end of the 90 minutes, a fifth was conceded and, to make things worse skipper Neal Bishop, already going through a bad patch of form, was sent off after two yellows.
On a positive, the three consecutive games against the titans of the division were now behind them, and a return of three points may have seemed decent enough. However, this left Notts in eighth place on 56 points, with Carlisle and Stevenage into sixth and seventh spot respectively. Even worse, those two teams had two games in hand – the play-offs were theirs to lose now.
A resurgent Scunthorpe side was the next team to face County at Glanford Park, and despite Notts dominating the match, the Iron defence proved just that, and a 0-0 scoreline was the final result. Two more points dropped – had the wheel come off the wheelbarrow for good?
Keith Curle, alarmed at this drop in form, decided to make some personnel changes. Out went the ineffective Ben Burgess to Cheltenham, in came Dele Adebola, Daniel Bogdanovic and Nicholas Yennaris – the former two seasoned Championship-level veterans, the latter a talented Arsenal youth-teamer.
A good performance against Oldham culminated in another late winner for the Pies, Alan Sheehan getting the all-important goal in the 89th minute, while Leyton Orient were dispatched 3-0, courtesy of goals by Damion Stewart, Jeff Hughes and the ever-improving Sam. Crucially, the seemingly unsurmountable Carlisle dropped points at Wycombe; a last-minute Chairboys goal making it 1-1.
On Easter Bank Holiday, despite looking finished two weeks before, Notts miraculously rose back from the dead and ascended into the play-off positions once again. Carlisle dropped two more points, while Lloyd Sam decided to pay tribute to the injured Jonathan Forte by bagging a hat-trick of his own against Yeovil and sealing a 3-1 win. Sixth place was once again occupied by County.
Brentford were up next, away at Griffin Park. A fairly tricky fixture, Notts finished the game with a valuable point, keeping the Bees at bay in a 0-0 draw while Carlisle lost against Charlton, the Addicks sealing promotion to the Championship after an outstanding season.
As things stand after Matchday 43, it’s not quite advantage Notts, because Carlisle still have a game in hand. However, this will be played on Tuesday against fellow play-off chasers Stevenage, who trounced Yeovil 6-0 away on Saturday. All Pies’ eyes will be on the game this Tuesday evening, hoping the Cumbrians drop even more points and with three games left in the season, the saying “squeaky-bum time” has never been more apt.
However, having done so well to claw our way back into play-off contention twice in one season – when Keith Curle took over County while in 11th and again after dropping to 8th after the Sheffield games – it would be a shame not to finish the job properly! So Come On You Pies!
Written by Giuseppe Labellarte, We Are Going Up’s Notts County blogger
Giuseppe tweets at @JoeJonesHome