When I rolled down Meadow Lane this morning, I could hardly believe what I was seeing as an entourage of 11 Magpies coaches packed full of the clubs die-hard following anxiously anticipating the Third Round clash with Premiership Middlesbrough.
And by the time I had arrived at the
However, the false pretences for which I had led myself to believe true were soon becoming so, so distant as the Boro TV screens inside the ground (wow) confirmed that Notts were to be without Dubliner, Paul Heffernan, as well as Paul Bolland who were both carrying injuries from last Sundays 2-0 defeat at Luton.
And after flicking through the glossy Boro programme and sipping on my coke (with several o’s), the game was underway as Notts’ top-priority in terms of tactics was to un-nerve an off-colour Boro side who had had no blessing from Lady Luck in recent weeks.
Though for the opening ten minutes, neither side was looking any better than the other. Albeit, without trying to sound too biased, Notts did look to begin slightly more promisingly as Tony Barras (over) and Paul Riley (wide) both managed to get a shot away each, despite neither of which managing to remain on target.
Boro, outnumbered in terms of chances, grabbed their first opportunity of the first 15 minutes when Stewart Downing, who was outstanding throughout today, had eyes only for goal as he selfishly shot instead of picking out one of his team-mates.
Surprisingly though it was Notts who had the upper-hand as there passing and last-ditch tackling played down the games big-wigs.
However, in typical Notts fashion, it was they who went behind as a Joseph Desire-Job cross-cum-shot was directed into the net by an unfortunate Ian Richardson who had attempted to through his body into the path of the ball.
From then on, the individual quality of the Boro players was enough to kill the game as they began to claw their way inch-by-inch back into the game which, against the run of the play, they were leading.
The cause that Notts were fighting hard to keep alive was soon to take a massive blow as Tony Barras was sent off for a tackle on Michael Ricketts. A decision which, although him being the last man, could easily be argued as Ricketts, like Bolo Zenden was doing so very often, went down like he had been shot by a sniper after being on the end of some minimal physical contact from the Notts skipper.
Still Barras was dismissed by a referee who, to be fair, had not put a foot wrong all afternoon.
Notts were nearly instantly punished from the resulting free-kick as the only thing that denied Frank Queudrue was the angle of the goal as the ball struck it cleanly and bounced clear.
In the 35th minute, French wing-back Frank Queudrue became the referee’s second addition to the book as he was cautioned for a foul on the County architect, Darren Caskey.
Shortly after and Mildenhall was doing what he does best as he made a simply mind-blowing save to keep out Michael Ricketts.
Ricketts was again off target as he fired wide shortly before Ian Baraclough lashed a shot off-the-mark at the other end.
Mildenhall was again entertaining in front of a ground which was competing for atmosphere with the moon when he palmed over a Queudrue header from point-blank range.
County’s first genuine challenge to Boro ‘keeper, Bradley Jones, as Mark Stallard managed to turn Danny Mills inside-out before firing a shot down the throat of Jones.
Jones however was again tested as County’s Kevin Nicholson got a shot away, only for it to be caught by the junior ‘keeper.
With little going on in between the 45th and 62nd minutes, apart from the above, McClaren decided to shuffle the pack as he brought on Massimo Maccarone and James Morrison replaced Joseph Desire-Job and Michael Ricketts - the impact, instant.
Bolo Zenden the scorer as he fired a well-struck volley past Mildenhall from some range on 63 minutes as Notts’ numerical disadvantage begin to take its toll.
Dearden then introduced Michael Brough to the 15,000 strong crowd as he replaced Ian Baraclough before youngster Shaun Harrad, making only his 6th appearance for the club – all of which are from the bench – came on as Clive Platt was sacrificed.
Mark Stallard nearly grabbed a consolation goal as his snap-shot trickled wide to the dismay of the travelling Notts crowd after a run from Boro’s Stewart Downing found the winger striking the ball against the up-right.
With the romance of the FA Cup over after victories against non-league Shildon and