Why does this always have to happen?
Notts County have a tendency to start a season well; expectations are built up, talk of the play-offs or promotion arises. Then mid-season, everything just falls to pot. A new manager is brought in, turns things around a bit and ends the season on a decent enough note, before big things are tipped for the following season. And then the cycle repeats itself.
Twelve months ago, Martin Allen was relieved of his duties after saving Notts County from relegation in 2010/11. The 2011/12 season started well enough, but things petered out mid-season and he paid the price. Keith Curle was brought in, to a somewhat cold reception, masterminded five wins and a draw in his first six games, and nearly took us to the playoffs.
Twenty games into the 2012/13 season, we were in sixth place, playing decent football and racking up a decent goal difference. We were also in the middle of an amazing run of away games, having not lost in twenty. Expectations were high. Good foundations were established for the season.
However, instead of building on those, it seems the harsh winter conditions have caused them to crumble to pieces.
There is little shame in having lost to Bradford in the Capital One Cup like we did, because that puts us in the same boat as Aston Villa and Arsenal. In a way we can almost say (tongue in cheek of course) that it’s because of us that they’re in the cup final.
However, the 3-0 defeat at home to Rotherham was nothing short of an abomination. A horrendous game of football from our perspective. It also had repercussions of a financial nature, depriving us of some well-needed funds, which we could have used to strengthen the team in January.
As it was, not only did we not sign anybody, with the exception of making Andre Boucaud’s loan move permanent, but we also lost our talismanic striker Lee Hughes.
In an interview with the Nottingham Post, he told the newspaper he couldn’t face sitting on the subs’ bench and felt he had to leave. The word among Notts fans is that there was a rift or fallout between him and Curle which caused the player to depart, but whatever the speculation may be, the hard fact is, Hughes is no longer a Notts player.
If ever there was a bad call, that was it. Since he left, Notts have been struggling up front; the likes of JCR, Jeff Hughes, Boucaud and Judge have been setting up plenty of chances, but the forwards just haven’t been able to make the most of them.
Most frustrating of all was the Stevenage game; 56% possession. Fourteen shots. TEN corners. Yet we lost 2-0. Agonising, frustrating, and worse of all, unsurprising.
Meanwhile, Hughes has four in four at Port Vale, each goal he scores a pinch of salt into the wound of each Notts fan who resents the fact he’s been let go.
Another issue at the moment regards our defence – although playing three at the back has made us more of a threat in the centre and up front, it leaves the team exposed at the back, and we’ve been conceding too early and too often.
Furthermore, our amazing unbeaten away run was cut short at 22, and having lost three away games in four (the only win coming against Portsmouth, a club so in the doldrums you actually feel bad for them when you beat them), it’s pretty deflating.
All this culminated in the sacking of Keith Curle earlier this month. Much like twelve months ago, Notts let a manager go, although this time a replacement hasn’t been installed as swiftly. As of the 7th, development squad manager Chris Kiwomya is still caretaker manager.
However, not all is doom and gloom. When goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski was taken off with a head injury against Leyton Orient, many Notts fans feared weeks of Rotherham-style scorelines. However, young Fabian Speiss has excelled in goal since, to the point where Bialkowski is likely going to have to fight for the first team place once fully fit.
And it’s not that the team is bad. The football has been quite good, as seen in the match against Oldham on the 22nd, Notts comprehensively outplaying the Latics. Our midfield is one of the best in the league, and have been providing plenty of crosses and through-balls which have been begging to be converted. The ammunition is there, we just need a couple more weapons!
So, after an eventful month at the Lane, we’re at a bit of a crossroads. The ambition of the play-offs is ebbing away game by game. We’re still only five points off the top six, but we really need to put our own house in order first before trying to claw it back. However, a couple of loan signings could make all the difference. And we have clawed it back before – just last year, we dragged ourselves back into the play-offs and so nearly finished there but for a couple of tricky fixtures, and with many things from last season repeating themselves this term, who wouldn’t be up for an end-of-season play-off burst? I know I’d love that! So Come On You Pies!
Written by Giuseppe Labellarte, We Are Going Up’s Notts County blogger
Giuseppe tweets at @JoeJonesHome