Illustration: Adam Poole
Unfortunately this is the last Left Pie-On of the season, with resurgent Notts' scarcely believable play-off push under the guidance of Keith Curle. My last column ended with Notts having thrashed eventual Champions Charlton Athletic on their own ground, ahead of the visit of the division's two Sheffield sides to Meadow Lane.
As it was, the two biggest crowds of the season didn't see the continuation that we had hoped for of Notts' fine form, but the first blip of the Curle era. Sheffield Wednesday wasn't too bad: a 2-1 victory for the visitors a fair result against a strong, well organised side who looked every inch the promotion contenders they were. The ease at which Sheffield United cut through Notts to devastating effect in a 5-2 win was of more concern – with the symmetry of Notts finding themselves 4-0 down at half time at home little more than a week after leading by the same scoreline at the league leaders summing up a season of frustrating unpredictability at the Lane.
As they have done so many times this season, though, Notts bounced back. Curle clearly worked on tightening the defence ahead of a trip to Scunthorpe, where the Magpies were frustrated by the woodwork and some wayward finishing but still took home a reasonable goalless draw. Another clean sheet seven days later was enough to pick up a win at home to Oldham Athletic, courtesy of an injury time Alan Sheehan goal, as we once again began to trouble the top six. As a comfortable Easter victory at Leyton Orient was backed up by a 3-1 triumph against Yeovil Town, with loanee Lloyd Sam bagging a quite brilliant hat-trick, Notts found themselves sat happily in the play-off places ahead of what could've been a season defining trip to Brentford.
In fine form, Uwe Rosler's Brentford needed the three points at Griffin Park to really put pressure on those ahead of them and make the race for the play-offs a three-horse one. Notts stood up to the challenge, though, shutting down the hosts and being somewhat unlucky not to steal a goal on the break. 0-0 was a fine result, however, and things looked promising. But, of course, this wouldn't be Notts if there wasn't a disaster looming large on the horizon. For the Titanic, it was an iceberg that stood in its path. For Notts, it was the slightly less imposing obstacle of former Stags striker Richie Barker and his mid-table Bury side. Having just sealed safety, the Shakers turned up at Meadow Lane with a swagger and a freedom that no one could've expected, taking a 4-2 victory back to Lancashire on the back of some thrilling counter attacking football. This left things out of Notts' hands, with Stevenage's goal difference proving decisive, and as it turned out the unexpected defeat that afternoon was to prove the fatal blow to Notts' hopes.
Not that we knew this when travelling to Wycombe a week later, for a game that can only really be rivalled by the Nottingham derby earlier in the season for sheer drama and excitement. Trailing 3-2 at the start of five minutes of injury time, Notts' hopes were all but over. As they have so many times this season, however, the visitors burst into life in the final minute and scored twice through former Forest striker Dele Adebola and a quite brilliant long range effort from the irrepressible Alan Judge. It was one of the moments of the season, but Stevenage got the point they needed at Bramall Lane and even a final day 4-1 win over Colchester, lit up by another Judge screamer, wasn't quite enough.
Missing out on the play-offs is disappointing. Missing out on goal difference – in effect, courtesy of two freak 6-0 wins for the usually goal shy Stevenage – is a bit galling. But, looking at the bigger picture, this has been a quite fantastic season for Notts. Were it not for a mid-season slump in form under Martin Allen, we could well have been looking even higher up the table than just sixth place. For a side who have spent most of the season struggling for a regular leader of the line up front while carrying plenty of deadweights in the likes of John Spicer and Karl Hawley, that is some achievement. All of the signs point to next season being a good one for the club, and we have to be looking to put some serious candles on the clubs' 150th birthday cake, but it wouldn't be Notts if it was that easy. Anything could happen...
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