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Left Magpie: 2011-12 Notts County Season Preview

5 August 11 words: Jacob Daniel
illustrations: Adam Poole

The good news: the Pies reached some kind of stability in 2011. The bad news: it was in the shape of a record-breaking losing streak. Can Martin Allen keep them up, or is it back to the basement?

If your team’s performance last year was a shop in town, which one would it be?
TK Maxx - a glorified jumble sale, with most of the showings and stock being unpleasant and bordering on offensive. Performances like those that comprised a record breaking nine-game losing run would be a bright orange and purple jumper, and most of the emergency loanees - such as Ivan Sproule and Kevin McDonald - would be rude and slightly ugly till operators. Look hard enough though, and you might find a bargain - Krystian Pearce would be a ridiculously under-priced and incredibly dapper suit and the superb Neal Bishop a rugged and dependable leather jacket.

What was the absolute highpoint of last season?
Only one real answer that can be given here - Bishop’s header at the start of the second half against Manchester City in the FA Cup. Absolute pandemonium at Meadow Lane and, for fifteen minutes or so afterwards, we had Mancini, Silva, Dzeko and their ilk on the ropes. It was the kind of performance that made our subsequent capitulation in the league all the more bemusing.

And the lowpoint?
Probably full time against Oldham Athletic at Meadow Lane. We’d just lost 2-0 to the only team in the league in worse form than ourselves and it didn’t look like we could find a goal from anywhere, let alone a point. It was our seventh consecutive defeat and, although two more were to follow under Martin Allen, we at least showed a bit of fight in those games - we even scored in one of them.

Last year’s star player...
Krystian Pearce. His freak training ground injury was the catalyst for our disastrous run, and his return the catalyst for the ending of it. A ridiculously composed central defender who’s good in the air, on the ball, strong and quick, he will go on to play at a higher level than League One.

And last year’s donkey...
A whole host of candidates for this – Liam Chilvers, Jon Harley, Ivan Sproule and Kevin McDonald. The award has to go to Ben Burgess, though; his underwhelming performances (one goal all season) and lack of athletic ability had earned him the name ‘Burger Van’. He’s currently sat on the transfer list. Let’s hope he doesn’t break it.

If your manager ran a takeaway in town, what would it be like?
Some kind of slightly insane takeaway food that only he could think of. ‘Notts Fried Hamster’ or something. His dog - who joins him at training - could help with food preparation, whilst the transfer-listed trio of Burgess, Harley and Chilvers could seek alternative employment in hamster flipping.

Apart from your manager, who else is new at the club this season?
So far, a new physio, chief scout and a tactical analyst. Player-wise, plenty - including Julian Kelly (an attacking right-back from Reading who flattered to deceive on loan at Lincoln last season), and Jude Stirling, Allen’s best mate and best man at his wedding (you know a signing is underwhelming when Allen himself makes it clear he won’t play him unless absolutely necessary and his best quality is being a ‘good DJ’). Alan Sheehan - a left back from Swindon - appears to be a more exciting addition, as does beastly midfielder Hamza Bencherif, a former Forest trainee with a thunderous right foot. Wingers Jeff Hughes (a Northern Ireland international), and all-round headcase Ishmel Demontagnac have joined the ‘Pies, as has Allen’s son Charlie. Perhaps as a token gesture.

And who’s been lobbed?
All of the players at the end of their deals were released - including club captain John Thompson, who could possibly feel slightly hard done by. Graeme Lee, David Grof, Kevin Smith, Febian Brandy, Njogu Demba-Nyren and Lewis Gobern probably saw it coming.

Any other pre-season goings-on worth noting?
We offered a deal to former Forest striker and professional alien imitator Marlon Harewood, but he headed to China instead. Preseason friendlies saw us taking a magical mystery tour of non-league grounds, including Ilkeston, Hucknall, Kettering, Mansfield, Corby, Hinckley and Maidenhead. League opposition was provided by a trip to Macclesfield and home games against Peterborough and Wolves.

What are your kits like this season?
Different. The home kit has been reverted away from the traditional thick black and white stripes for one season to a pinstripe number made by Fila. The away kit is light blue, whilst a white third kit will feature the names of every single Notts season ticket holder.

What do you dislike the most about your club?
The chaos. I feel for any Magpies with heart issues; the constant upheaval at Meadow Lane can’t be good for the blood pressure. It’d be nice to settle down for a couple of years with one manager and a young side on the up, but it just wouldn’t be the Notts way.


How bothered are you about the League Cup derby?
Very bothered. It’s a game that means a lot to us after so long without a chance to play them and being swatted aside as Nottingham’s failing club. They will - of course - claim they don’t care, and get the 4,000 or so they always get at home to lower league clubs in the first round, and won’t do any singing, goading or even acknowledge the game’s existence. They might even get outnumbered on their own ground because it means that little to them.

Call your shot: what will County do in 2011-12?
Land a safer mid-table position, but I fully expect the unexpected. We’re a striker away from a side capable of flirting with the play-offs, but equally, without the right forward we could well be in a relegation battle again.

And if you could send a personal message of advice to your club’s manager in haiku form, what would it be?
Just let Jude DJ
Sign a striker who can score
But don’t let Jude play

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