Sometimes small things in life are incredibly difficult to believe and the fact that I only do this column once a month is something that i’ve added to that list. When I re-read the last Left Pie-On and worked out just how much had happened at Meadow Lane, I was amazed.
So I decided to look back through the last year and each month is so indistinguishable from the last it’s ridiculous. I’ve often likened supporting Notts to being a bipolar sufferer and the last two months prove this perfectly, with the end of November seeing Notts slide into the relegation zone after a dire 1-0 home defeat to Tranmere Rovers. When Enoch Showunmi’s goal hit the roof of the net at the Family Stand end and Tranmere clung on to win it would’ve been impossible to believe the turnaround in fortunes since. But Meadow Lane is a very happy place to be right now.
After the Tranmere game it was Swindon Town, another side struggling to live up to a fine season last year, who visited Meadow Lane in a game that Notts really had to get something out of, if only to reverse the alarming slide into danger. As it was, a poor game with few chances was decided by a moment of brilliance in the 88th minute from substitute Lee Hughes, who teased Craig Westcarr’s cross under his spell with a sublime first touch and slid it into the bottom corner. Meadow Lane erupted and everyone forgot about the abject eighty eight minutes that had preceded it. Then, as Notts finally had something to try and build on, the snow came by the bucket load. A trip to Brentford was called off along with an FA Cup second round clash at home to Bournemouth and the Magpies weren’t in action again until Paul Ince’s former side Milton Keynes visited Nottingham. This was a more open affair but again it didn’t burst into life until the last five minutes. The game turned on Aaron Wilbraham’s sending off for the visitors, one flailing arm too many seeing him receive a second yellow card. Thomas Ince then lashed an unstoppable 25 yard volley into the bottom corner with his first touch after coming on and Hughes again produced a finish of genuine quality after coming off the bench to seal successive wins and clean sheets for the first time this season.
The re-arranged Bournemouth match was played midweek and the fine form was continued as Notts romped into a 3-0 first half lead thanks to goals from Krystian Pearce, Hughes and an own goal by Warren Cummings after Ince’s dazzling feet had left Stephen Purches literally on his arse. The Cherries pulled one back but Notts comfortably held on to set up a third round trip to Premiership side Sunderland. As it was, the snow once again saw games called off at Brighton and the Boxing Day clash at home to Rochdale, with Notts’ next match being a trip to Plymouth Argyle after Christmas. In another game low on quality Hughes quickly cancelled out Stephane Zubar’s early strike to seal a useful point and extend the unbeaten run to four games. Forty eight hours later we travelled to Walsall, where the sheer abjectness of the home side allowed Notts to stroll to a 3-0 win, with early goals from Craig Westcarr (with a little help from the ironically named home ‘keeper Jonny Brain), loanee Lee Miller and a second half Pearce header.
This fine form allowed for a little bit of optimism, which ballooned after a home clash against the division’s other form side, Hartlepool United. Despite the visitors’ robust performance and the fact they hadn’t conceded a first half away league goal since April, Notts got their noses infront through Ince on the stroke of half time and scored two majestic counter attacking goals, with Miller and then Westcarr striking after flowing team moves. However, after this match a real threat to Notts’ good form reared it’s head in the form of short term loan deals expiring. Young Thomas Ince had become an integral member of the team who’s sublime control and quick feet had terrorised League One defenders, whilst Stephen Darby looked every bit an accomplished full back. But both returned to Liverpool and as of yet neither have returned, with the Reds pettily refusing to let Thomas go back out on loan until he signs a long term deal at Anfield. Lee Miller meanwhile returned to Middlesbrough and was announced as a Notts player until the end of the season until it transpired that there had been a serious breakdown in communications and Notts sheepishly retracted the announcement of their new signing. The only good news was that pacy Blackburn winger Alan Judge had extended his deal by a further month and Notts were hopeful of sealing his signature permanently by the end of the month.
|Lee Hughes celebrates after the game at the Stadium of Light
But these slight concerns were all forgotten about on Saturday as Notts produced a stunning display at the Stadium of Light on a day that will live long in the memory of the 3,000 Magpies who travelled to the North East. My personal pre-match optimism was quickly extinguished when it was announced £23m’s worth of striker in Asamoah Gyan and Darren Bent was starting for the hosts, but within six minutes it had returned in bizarre fashion as Notts took the lead with a comedy goal.
Craig Westcarr flicked Ben Davies’ cross goalwards and Belgian ‘keeper Simon Mignolet somehow conspired to drop it into his own goal. After the five seconds that were needed to work out what had happened, the away end erupted and you could almost see the Notts players’ confidence go through the roof. They dominated the first half with a tireless work rate and determination leaving the star studded hosts shell-shocked. As it was, the second half was dominated by Sunderland with Bent missing a host of chances to level it, before the defining moment of a stunning day. Lee Hughes danced past Paulo Da Silva and, after his shot was saved by Mignolet, somehow managed to volley the ball past two defenders on the goalline from an impossible angle to seemingly seal it.
There was absolute delirium amongst the travelling fans and players and although Bent did score a penalty Notts deserved their win and held on. This means they will face a home tie against the winner of the replay between Manchester City and Leicester City at Meadow Lane, with either side offering the chance of a genuinely exciting cup tie. Before that though Notts face the difficult challenge of keeping their focus on a League One campaign that is threatening to finally flourish. We can only hope that next time I write this column things have carried on as they are, but that just isn’t the Notts County way.
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