Since the last Notts article, I’m sad to say that our season has taken a turn for the worse. December ended up being a dismal month for the Magpies, who registered no wins during the festive period. On the plus side, our away record is intact, having been unbeaten in 22, but to be honest, it now feels like a mere plaster over the increasingly enlarging wound that is our current form. Our record at Meadow Lane, on the other hand, is nothing short of ghastly. The home game against Brentford was pretty even and should, like our last eight meetings against the Bees, have ended in a draw, but a defensive lapse allowed Clayton Donaldson to steal the win with two minutes left on the clock.
Worse was to come with our home FA Cup replay against Rotherham which was nothing short of shambolic. The League Two side raced into a 3-0 lead in a horror first half that also saw Damion Stewart sent off for an elbow on Alex Revell. A miserly crowd of just under 3,000 watched as the Millers cruised into the third round at our expense as Notts couldn’t find a reply to the away side’s three goals. A chance for instant redemption was then extinguished on the morning of the 22nd of December as the game against Leyton Orient was postponed by the referee around two hours before kick-off, much to the bemusement of the Notts crowd and hierarchy, while another postponement against Stevenage ensured the Shrewsbury game was our last one of the calendar year.
The alleviation of the congested festive fixture list didn’t prove a tonic for Notts’ form, as the new year started with yet another home defeat, against the Milton Keynes Dons. If it’s not late goals which are proving our undoing, it’s conceding multiple early goals which prove too difficult to claw back, as it happened on New Year’s Day. Even though the Pies improved in the second half and grabbed a goal from the penalty spot, the damage was done in the first fifteen minutes as MK scored twice.
So as it stands, it’s a similar story to many seasons gone past – County’s form in the first few months is impressive, establishing us as promotion candidates, before it unravels around December time and drops us into mid-table mediocrity. This happened last season, the slump in form between November and February proving the demise of Martin Allen. The same seems to be happening this season with Keith Curle, whose tactics, performances and results over the last couple of weeks are coming under increasing scrutiny by the Notts faithful and have seen us drop from 6th to 13th. Confidence is lacking, while some reported behind-the-scenes issues with Lee Hughes and Yoann Arquin have also proved unsettling for team and fans alike. Those two players have goals in them, something Notts is missing at the moment, as the likes of Enoch Showunmi and Chris Iwelumo just haven’t done it for us.
January will be a crucial month for the Magpies, as results need to be pulled back, with home wins essential to supplement the away form, while our dealings in the transfer window will also make or break our season – Lee Hughes would be at Port Vale right now if the Football League paperwork went through just a couple of minutes earlier, and question marks still arise over his future at Meadow Lane, while Andre Boucaud is currently the subject of negotiations between Notts and parent club Luton Town. Other players who have been impacted include Jordan Stewart and Damion Stewart, who have been offered new contracts, and Tom Williams, Carl Regan and Chris Iwelumo, who have left the club. Top priority for the club is a good striker, with Jonathan Forte’s name on the lips of many fans, while retaining our prized assets is also a must if we’re to work our way back up the table.
With no game now until the 12th of January, Notts fans will have a weekend to feast over the FA Cup third round as neutrals (or enjoy a slice of nostalgia with the old Anglo-Italian Cup win over Ascoli in 1995 on the official website), as our old rivals Mansfield entertain Liverpool, while a jealous eye will be cast on the fourth round draw as the winner of Aldershot v Rotherham ends up drawing Chelsea or Manchester United…
Well, let’s not beat ourselves down too much. Let’s stay positive and hope the Notts hierarchy can successfully negotiate the winter transfer window, regarding both transfers in and out, while Curle and the boys can make things happen again on the pitch. As always, come on you Pies!
Written by Giuseppe Labellarte, We Are Going Up’s Notts County blogger
Giuseppe tweets at @JoeJonesHome