Notts County’s FA Cup dreams lie shattered

Now, I really don’t ‘do’ match reports of football matches I’ve been to, in spite of writing about Hibs many times and to a slight degree the local teams in Nottingham. I like to catch up now and again though and keep up to date regarding what’s happening. I do really appreciate a live game too – never having caught up on  the ‘Sky generation’s’ appreciation of televised football. I like to be there – looking down on what’s really happening with the sights, sounds and smells first hand.


I visited Meadow Lane to see Notts County for  the first time in a couple of years this week after an aborted attempt at last week’s postponed fixture which was called off shortly before the game was scheduled to kick off. I met friends at Nottingham Midland Station and walked through the Meadows district – the original and traditional heartland of Notts’ support – now much changed since younger days of slum clearances, being taken to watch the Magpies.

On a cool December evening and with a sparse crowd in evidence, we took our seats in the Derek Pavis Stand (the ‘Main Stand’ of my youth) and witnessed the pre-game warm-up. Eventually the players strode out on to the slightly heavy pitch, my friend remarking that it could be ‘Arsenal v Newcastle United’ emerging from the tunnel, considering the two lower league teams’ colours and if you half-shut your eyes and dreamed a little. The remark took me back a good while to when I witnessed the mighty Arsenal playing in the FA Cup at Meadow Lane against the team in Black and White from north of the Trent. Although Notts generally acquitted themselves well against high-grade opposition in that era, that day the Arsenal were impressive even in the warm-up and you understood that they were adjacent to ‘as good as it gets’.

And so to modern-day rebuilt Meadow Lane and a little casual resume of happenings on the night. It has to be said that Notts 0 – 3 Rotherham hardly even tells the story of a game where the Magpies were never at the races – it could have been six or seven nil and I don’t exaggerate.

From the first whistle, Notts seemed to want to just play their neat football – without getting stuck in and winning the battles presented by a tenacious League Two side, all over the pitch. In around half an hour they were two down and reduced to ten men after a silly and unnecessary incident. After forty minutes or so it was game over and playing for pride time at 0-3. Debut goalkeeper, local boy, Mitchell, after a fine early save had a torrid and nervous time though was not helped by a sieve-like Notts rear-guard.

The thin crowd, no doubt hit by pre-Christmas finances and the lack of appeal of the Cup grew increasingly disgruntled and they could hardly be blamed for that. Notts were second to everything and totally outplayed by a Rotherham side who themselves were playing some neat football and slicing open the middle of the host’s defence time after time.

In the second half Notts’ ten men fought back manfully but couldn’t remotely create any openings. Meanwhile, the visitors went close on several occasions. Notts looked completely toothless up front with barely pass marks possibly only being afforded to Bishop and to a degree, Judge, in the middle of the park. Wide man, Rice showed some good footwork and fast feet but nevertheless, little output.

Manager, Curle presided over all this fairly dispassionately . It was interesting to hear the very mixed views from Notts fans about his abilities or otherwise – definitely a very mixed vote on the former Wimbledon player – despite County being only six points from the top of League One.

If last night was indicative of Notts County version 2012/13 then I feel they have a long way to travel and the coming months will see them slipping further down the division. Let’s hope it was something of a one-off because they were truly poor in practically every respect last evening.

Friends who I was with tell me they play some nice football at times and I can believe that. It just seemed like last night they weren’t interested in getting stuck in and asserting themselves, in order to earn the right to play their football afterwards. Rotherham by contrast were really up for it. Notts were stunned by the first couple of goals and realistically – with a man sent off – they were never likely to make a contest of it. After around thirty minutes the game was all but over as a spectacle.

Neil Bishop showed some authority, leadership and professionalism in the middle of the park but there were too many posted missing on the night. As former Notts centre-back Dean Yates said on the radio afterwards, Curle could have substituted ten of them.

I was quite impressed with Rotherham who played some very nice football allied to plenty of graft. Their striker Nardiello had a fine game as did a few others.

It seems a bit churlish as he has done pretty well but I’m still a little unconvinced about Notts manager Keith Curle. There was nothing he could have done with what was I’m told was practically a full-strength Notts side on Tuesday night though. As soon as the Magpies crossed that white line they were chasing shadows all evening long.

We hope for better for Notts.


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