CARLISLE UNITED 0-4 NOTTS COUNTY
So, it was that time of year again yesterday, as Notts made the long trip of approximately fifty years back to Carlisle, to face a side who have been struggling horribly to find the home form that nearly earned them a play-off place under Greg Abbott last season. Despite Notts' painfully comfortable 3-0 win at Brunton Park on the opening day of last season, the Cumbrians actually boasted one of the league's finest home records for much of the season, with plenty of sides dispatched at ease as Carlisle threatened a genuine bid for promotion for much of the campaign. Times have changed since then, though, with some key parts of Abbott's sides upping sticks in search of, presumably, some actual civilisation. We're all aware of how much of a loss Francois Zoko has been, but equally difficult to cope with have been the departures of midfielder Tom Taiwo to Hibernian and the loss of talismanic forward Lee Miller to serious injury. Mike Edwards has also struggled to help improve a defence that was already seriously lacking in pace and subtlety, whilst loanee forward Joe Garner hasn't exactly set the world alight on his return to the club from Watford.
Notts, meanwhile, have been suffering similar troubles at home, with both Stevenage and Tranmere Rovers taking maximum points from Meadow Lane during one of the most difficult weeks of Keith Curle's reign thus far. Away from NG2 though, and things could barely be more rosy, with Curle yet to suffer a single defeat on the road during his eight month spell as manager. Having come away with points at Charlton Athletic, Sheffield United and Milton Keynes during that time, Notts have every right to go into away games without any fear - and they did so again as they overwhelmed a poor home side almost from the off. Zoko was again consigned to the bench as Curle switched Jeff Hughes into the centre and put Alan Judge out wide, a move which immediately paid dividends as the Irishman set about terrorising young full back Brad Potts. That particular duel headed in Judge's favour after just twelve minutes, as he glided inside Potts before bending an inch-perfect cross onto the head of the unmarked Jeff Hughes to give Notts the lead. Garner could've equalised almost immediately for the hosts, but Notts were to be grateful to Bartosz Bialkowski, who had just about his only action of the entire afternoon as he beat away the former Forest striker's close range effort.
Judge was to pick up a knock soon after - a dead leg after a full-blooded challenge with Garner, but he still had time to play a part in Notts' second goal. Losing the hapless Potts once again, he slipped a beautiful reverse pass into the path of Jordan Stewart, whose low cross was tapped in by captain Neal Bishop, making a late run into the box. This settled any nerves Notts had and they took full control of a game that was becoming increasingly like a training session. There was a strange flatness in Carlisle - a complete lack of enthusiasm emanating down from the fans and through their players. Stuart Atwell, never likely to be anonymous, got himself involved on the stroke of half time as he wrongly booked Jamal Campbell-Ryce for a late challenge before eventually realising that the perpetrator was Yoann Arquin. Judge had also limped off by this point, to be replaced by former Carlisle favourite Zoko on the left wing.
Happy with a half-time lead, Notts were able to completely kill the game within ten minutes of the restart. It was Zoko who, somewhat inevitably, netted against his former club and once again it was young Potts who seemed culpable. A neat flick from Arquin released Zoko, who had far too much pace for Potts, powering clear and neatly slotting the ball past Gillespie with his left foot. If this wasn't enough to confirm Notts' superiority, then a fourth less than a minute later absolutely rounded things off. It was Jamal Campbell-Ryce's pace that caused the problems this time, as he jinked away from Chris Chantler who crudely bundled him over in the box. Campbell-Ryce dusted himself off and tucked away the penalty as Carlisle threatened to completely self destruct. In truth, had Notts really fancied it, they could've scored as many as they fancied. As it was, perhaps sensibly, the game slowed to almost walking pace as Notts were happy to see out the match against desperately poor opponents. Romello Nangle, the youth team forward who made his debut against Bury last month, was even able to see nearly half an hour as he replaced Campbell-Ryce. Things wound down to a timid conclusion as Carlisle thrashed a handful of long range shots high and wide, but the full time whistle must've come to a relief to their players and fans. For Notts, it becomes the latest on an ever-burgeoning list of successful excursions.