NOTTS COUNTY 0-3 ROTHERHAM UNITED
Depending on who you listen to, the world is going to end on Friday. After watching Notts exit the FA Cup tonight, I can't help but feel that its probably for the best - i'm not sure I can make it through another home game. Make no mistake, tonight was as bad as it is possible to get - Notts were thoroughly shapeless, gutless and hopeless. If anything, the sending off gave them an excuse and got them out of jail, because things were lucking just as bad even before Damion Stewart was given a red card. Keith Curle stuck to his guns in terms of team selection, despite the weekend's meek surrender to Brentford, with Yoann Arquin returning in the role of lone striker and being supported by Alan Judge, Jeff Hughes and Jamal Campbell-Ryce. Damion Stewart came into central defence, replacing the injured Dean Leacock.
Notts have made a habit of starting games strongly recently before taking the lead and immediately self-destructing, but there wasn't even any danger of that tonight as the limited but hard working visiting immediately took control. Within ten minutes they had the lead, playing through a static Notts midfield to Ben Pringle, once again their best player, who curled the ball into the top corner from twenty five yards. Young debutant goalkeeper Liam Mitchell didn't stand a chance, having been thoroughly let down by those infront of him, a pattern that would continue all evening.
Notts were giving the ball away again and again, seeming unwilling to match the visitors' high tempo and throwing their arms in the air when closed down. When Keith Curle talks about us 'not earning the right to play', I think that might just be what he means. Damion Stewart did come reasonably close, heading over an Alan Sheehan free kick, but Notts were doing little to threaten the Rotherham half, let alone goal. Then the visitors won a corner, something which has spelled trouble for Notts all season. Inevitably, Pringle's inswinging delivery was missed by a host of Notts defenders, eventually bouncing to Mark Bradley who prodded it into the net from a yard out. I'd like to pull out a cliché at this point, that Meadow Lane was 'shell shocked', but this had been threatened for weeks. Indeed, only the repellent magnetic field that seems to come with having Bartosz Bialkowski in goal had been preventing a hammering at Meadow Lane, but with the Pole ruled out things were unravelling quickly.
Andy Warrington made his first save from a close range Neal Bishop header, but Rotherham continued to control things and came close when Michael O'Connor bent a free kick over the bar. Then, the game was pretty much ended as a contest - not that i'm suggesting that it was one in the first place. A hopeful ball over the top was chased by Alex Revell, who seemed to be caught by a stray Stewart arm. Darren Deadman promptly sent the Jamaican off, and that was pretty much that for Notts' FA Cup hopes. Frecklington and Nardiello both came close, before the latter added the third, as Alex Revell chased his own pass as the Notts defend stood statuesque, appealing for an offside that sort of came, only to be withdrawn by the linesman. Revell continued, rounded Mitchell and squared for Nardiello to tap home and end any hope of a Notts challenge.
Curle rolled his dice at half time, throwing on Showunmi, Zoko and Labadie, but things never really threatened to change for Notts. In fact, the second half followed the repetitive pattern of Rotherham pouring forward against poor old Gary Liddle, left as Notts' lone defender, only to make a mess of the final ball or finish time and time again. Make no mistake - if Notts were playing a decent League One side tonight then they could quite easily have reached double figures. Curle may have claimed not losing the second half as a minor victory post-match, but that was down to the Millers' incompetence in the final third as much as anything else. Frecklington shot wide when through, whilst Revell inexplicably shot straight at Mitchell when he could've squared to just about his entire team for a far post tap in. The closest Notts seemed to get was an Alan Judge free kick, that he fell over in the process of taking and that bobbled through to Warrington. From a Notts point of view, the most entertaining part of the second half was seeing Showunmi, the big man chasing the ball around like a cartoon dog chases its own tail.
On reflection, tonight could be the biggest moment of our season. Keith Curle has managed to hide behind the results at home so far this season - timid performances being somewhat clouded by the fact that Notts have never been well beaten, throwing away leads like confetti at a wedding and consistently losing out by the odd goal, mainly down to the heroics of our Polish goalkeeper. With no Bialkowski, the sides frailties at Meadow Lane were ruthlessly exposed and by a side with far more heart than they had quality. If tonight can't motivate Curle to change his approach at Meadow Lane then nothing will - Notts have now lost eleven home games since they were last defeated away, a truly mind-boggling statistic. Pointing the finger solely at Curle, though, would be unfair. The players tonight have to take a large portion of blame - for the most part, they were utterly gutless and spineless, with only Mitchell, Judge, Labadie and Showunmi looking like they were in any way interested in trying to match Rotherham's work rate and intensity. That debacle has to be the catalyst for a change in our entire approach at Meadow Lane, or it will be Curle who pays with his job.