Can we make the play-offs!?!

Last updated : 01 March 2012 By Jacob Daniel

Can we make the play-offs!?!

The life of a Notts County fan is an odd existence, I have to admit. In most areas of life, two weeks is a mundane plod through a bleak reality where absolute nothing changes, let alone gets better. Yet at Meadow Lane, two weeks is a time in which the landscape can veer violenty between a charred, post-apocalyptic disaster scene and a nice, tranquil Garden of Eden sort of setting. It is precisely eleven days since we were stuffed 3-0 at Hartlepool and Martin Allen was promptly sacked. If, at that point, i'd have suggested a possible play-off push then you'd have thought I was taking the piss. To be fair, I still sort of am.

Yet here we are, three Keith Curle induced 1-0 wins later and we lie outside the top six by virtue of just goal difference, albeit having played two games more than our closest rivals. Perhaps the greatest testament to how little we expected this was after the Chesterfield win, when the most popular thread on the NCM messageboard was debating whether we were still going to get relegated or not. Happily, I can confirm that we probably aren't heading back to League Two. So we can smile about that.

The play-offs, however, are something different altogether. In any normal year then the idea of a side as inconsistent and often average as this Notts one mounting a push for the top six would be seen as ridiculous. Just last year, sixth place went to a fantastic Bournemouth side comprising players with the talent and ability of Marc Pugh, Donal McDermott, Anton Robinson, Jason Pearce and Whoys Wiggins plus, at times, the likes of Danny Ings, Brett Pitman and Josh McQuoid. The idea that this Notts side, or indeed Carlisle, Stevenage or Brentford, could take up the same league position as that team is insulting to their ability. Yet whoever does so is likely to need a higher points total than the Cherries gained last year. The rest of this division really is awful.

Yet we have a chance. A pretty decent chance, too. In truth it is probably going to be a four horse race - no one below Brentford is even close enough to being average to put together the run required, particularly now Bournemouth have collapsed into a vodka induced stupor. The favourites will, rightly, be Stevenage. But, as well as they have done, they have an awfully long way to go and I think they may be getting a little bit ahead of themselves. Of the four sides, it is Stevenage who I think expect to finish in the play-offs, rather than just being stunned that they aren't battling it out with Oldham for 14th place. On their messageboard, there are people bemoaning an inability to beat Charlton Athletic and Huddersfield Town, but the general concensus seems to be that sixth place is theirs. This seems to be an attitude shared by manager Gary Smith, too, judging by his comments after the draw with Huddersfield. Somehow turning a blind eye to the rest of the season, Smith claimed that the comeback would give them a "mental edge" ahead of the upcoming play-off semi-final against the Terriers. I believe they call that 'jumping the gun'. The truth is, as consistent and well drilled as Stevenage are, they have a small squad that would be most affected by a couple of injuries. Nowhere can this be seen more than in the goalkeeping position, where Chris Day was taken off on Tuesday night and his replacement promptly gifted Huddersfield their second. If Stevenage do it, then it will be a fine achievement and thoroughly deserved, but they aren't there yet.

Carlisle, meanwhile, just aren't particularly good. In fact, on the opening day of the season, they were an absolute aberration. Hideously inconsistent, they have been smashed for four by sides below them in the league twice in the last five games. It is only their ability to score goals at Brunton Park that is keeping them in the race - away from home they are awful and they concede goals at an even more alarming rate than we do. They are also over-relient on striker Lee Miller, whose absence from the sides recently culminated in those two 4-0 thrashings at Hartlepool and Brentford. Of course, these same criticisms could also be levelled at Notts. We are inconsistent, we haven't kept enough clean sheets until recently and our away form is questionable at best. Under normal circumstances this would be enough to put you out of the race, but this year it merely means you are no more shambolic than your closest competition. Notts definitely have a chance of reaching sixth place this year, albeit slightly reduced due to the two games in hand that Stevenage and Carlisle possess. It is an unlikely opportunity to keep a bit of interest alive in our season that we should just sit back and enjoy.