NOTTS COUNTY 1-1 LEYTON ORIENT
I'm not even sure why any of us going to watch this Notts team any more, to be honest. Watch any DVD of any Notts game this season and you can be sure you'll see a side sat far, far too deep, putting nowhere near enough pressure on the opposition and attempting to conduct football games virtually from within their own penalty area - that this is continuing after a change of manner may just mean that these problems are terminal for this group of talented but utterly infuriating footballers.
Having missed Saturday's 1-0 win at Meadow Lane, where Notts managed to soak up huge amounts of pressure and just about scrape their way to an undeserved win over the relegation haunted Cumbrians, I still wasn't prepared for the first half an hour of last night's clash with Leyton Orient. Notts dug in and set up camp in their own area against a side who saw their season all but ended with defeat to local rivals Southend in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy area final, before finally breaking out and scoring one of the goals of the season through captain Neal Bishop. That they managed that with their first foray over the half-way line is, in a nutshell, this team - when they fancy it they actually look quite good.
As far as Notts' team selection went, the surprise was that young defender Haydn Hollis was given only a second league start for the club alongside Deal Leacock, coming in for Jeff Hughes who seems to have replaced Julian Kelly as the man who keeps being undeservedly dropped. As good as it was to see a player produced by the club in the side, I do continue to wonder why Notts seem so intent on destroying the career of poor Manny Smith. Notts immediately set about their favoured style of football early on against the O's - fizzing crosses across the edge of their own penalty area with absolutely no direction or purpose at all. The inevitable then happened on ten minutes - Notts played Bialkowski into a hole, his sliced kick found Martin Rowlands whose shot was parried straight to the feet of Charlie MacDonald. Luckily for Notts, the Orient lone frontman was offside and they'd got away with one.
Almost more irritating than Notts' refusal to try and pass the ball forwards, though, was the unbelievable lack of pressure they put on a side who clearly couldn't believe that they were being given so much incentive to attack. Notts seemed to be trying to defend with two banks of four, putting no pressure on the ball whatsoever - as if they were playing at Old Trafford rather than hosting the mighty Leyton Orient. The one positive for Notts being that a combination of a lack of Orient creativity and the fact that we were actually defending quite well meant that the visitors were restricted to long range efforts by Rowlands and Leon McSweeney, neither of which troubled Bialkowski unduly. Then, just after half an hour, something amazing happened. Out of nowhere, André Boucaud pressed the Orient midfield and immediately won the ball, the visitors presumably struggling to cope with Notts actually trying to get the ball off of them for the first time. Within four quick, incisive passes involving Bishop, Zoko and Judge, Notts' captain had moved onto the ball and bent it past Jamie Jones from the edge of the box with his left foot. Passing it towards the other team's goal can help you to score, apparently. Who'd have thought that?
Within seconds of taking the lead Notts were back on the defensive, as Jimmy Smith cracked the bar after Notts again decided against trying to tackle him. The same man ballooned a shot over the bar before the completely anonymous John Cofie got his first involvement of the game - being stretchered off after being caught by a stray arm in the centre of the park. The equally peripheral Zoko was then withdrawn at half time, with Jeff Hughes coming into the side that should've started with him. Notts immediately looked brighter and came close when Hughes burst forward from defence, finding the equally inventive Yoann Arquin who never got hold of his shot which was comfortably fielded by Jones.
Arquin and Judge both had further efforts for Notts, who had at least begun pressing the O's when they got into the Notts half rather than just our own penalty area, but an equaliser was still to come as substitute Kevin Lisbie made a quick impact. A long ball forward caught Hollis entirely out of position and Lisbie helped the ball towards MacDonald, who was brought down by a desperate last ditch Dean Leacock lunge. Lisbie stepped up to take the penalty and placed it into the bottom corner, leaving Bialkowski with no chance. After this the game opened up slightly, although nowhere near as much as you'd expect with a point being of little use to either teams' fading play-off ambitions. Roman Vincelot and Arquin both missed simple headed chances from within the six-yard box when it seemed easier to score. Meanwhile, out on the right, Jamal Campbell-Ryce seemed to have been having a game-long disagreement with his own feet which had mainly involved being tackled by the pitch or hoofing crosses into the Family Stand. When he was played into two great positions late on he summed up his appalling form by smacking two shots into Jones' midriff with three players screaming for a pass on both occasions. That was that - and the sense that this Notts side is still refusing to be as good as it could be continues. For one brilliant, shining minute of this match we scored a team goal that will be outdone few times in League One this season. For the rest we were hopeless, showing the urgency of a man trying to catch a train to Scunthorpe.
I leave you with this quote from the official site's match report:-
"CURRY LOUNGE FANS' MAN OF THE MATCH: XXXX"
Quite, Curry Lounge. Quite.