Notts County 2-0 Carlisle United

Last updated : 04 March 2012 By Jacob Daniel


Forte '33

Sheehan '39

Attendance - 6,451 (650)

Notts - Nelson, Freeman, Edwards, Chilvers (Stewart), Sheehan, Bishop, Bencherif, Judge, J Hughes, Burgess (Mahon), Forte (Demontagnac)

Carlisle - Collin, Simek, Michalik, Murphy, Chantler, Taiwo (Noble), Berrett, McGovern, Zoko, Miller, Madden (Cook)

It wasn't supposed to be like this, was it? Keith Curle's appointment was supposed to mark the beginning of an era of unprecedented disaster so calamitous that today's game was only supposed to be watched by thirty seven people who were all drowning in a sea of discarded season tickets. Admittedly, four games isn't a very long time, but Keith Curle is currently making us look pretty ridiculous. 

     Tuck in...

Today's game with Carlisle United at Meadow Lane probably represented Curle's biggest test so far, with the Cumbrians level on points with Notts and in direct competition for the last League One play-off place. With Lee Hughes suspended thanks to the Football League's farcical appeals process and Cristian Montano failing a late fitness test, Notts also looked distinctly light going forward, with Ben Burgess and Jonathon Forte being the only real partnership Curle could deploy. Elsewhere, Alan Sheehan returned from a two game lay-off at left back, whilst Liam Chilvers and Mike Edwards partnered each other in the centre of defence, Hamza Bencherif kept his place in midfield and Kieron Freeman came back from poncing around being an international. For the visitors, Paddy Madden partnered former Magpie Lee Miller upfront, whilst the appearance of useless Slovakian monster Lubo Michalik in defence raised a smile from NCM.

Notts started brightly and created the first opening of the game, with Sheehan's cross bouncing to the far post where Forte tried a ridiculously over-ambitious bicycle kick that flew harmlessly wide, whilst at the other end Madden wriggled away from a couple of challenges and drove the ball high into the Kop from the edge of the box. It wasn't exactly a vintage opening to the game, with the ball charging around midfield like a deranged squirrel, with neither side able to bring it under any sort of control at all. Bencherif and Neal Bishop tried to restore some semblance of order by thwacking the ball towards the Carlisle goal, but neither effort seriously threatened Adam Collin, rivalling Stuart Nelson for the day's most luminous goalkeeper.

The first proper chance came after twenty minutes, when the second Carlisle corner in a row found the header of the unmarked Miller, but his effort had no pace or power at all and was basically controlled on the line but the handily place Jeff Hughes. This set off another period of tedious ping pong, mainly on the Notts right, which really is beginning to resemble a field that has just been ploughed by a blind, drunk farmer. Happily, when the ball finally emerged from the Main Stand cesspit, it was Notts who struck the first blow to their play-off rivals with the game's first bit of genuine quality. The usually heavily involved Alan Judge had been peripheral at best up to this point, but he picked up the ball on the right, jinked past a half-hearted Carlisle challenge and teased over an absolutely delightful cross that Forte expertly guided past Collin and into the far corner having been left in an ocean of space by the Carlisle defence.

This really lifted Meadow Lane and, within five minutes, the lead was doubled. The pace and trickery of Forte was really beginning to trouble the hapless Michalik, who clumsily hacked down the Southampton loanee having lost out on a loose ball. Alan Sheehan gladly accepted his chance, stepping up to bend a fantastic free kick around the wall and into the top corner, leaving Collin grasping at nothing more than the crisp Nottingham air. It wasn't really a lead that Notts' first half showing merited, but there was no denying the genuine quality behind the execution of both Notts goals. The same, however, could not be said for the Carlisle attack who wasted their first clear opportunity of the game, Madden scooping a volley high over the bar after a loose ball dropped his way in the box to conclude the first half.

The second period began just as the first had ended, with former Bohemians striker Madden fluffing his lines horribly. As with just about every game this season, Notts felt it necessary to gift their opponents a chance within the first thirty seconds of the restart, losing the ball and allowing James Berrett to scamper away down the right and cross for Madden, who scuffed a shot harmlessly wide of Nelson's goal when in acres of space. Thankfully, Notts heeded this warning and were able to start on the particularly simple task of containing a toothless Carlisle attack, although Gavin Mahon was sent on for Ben Burgess after an hour to help shore things up.

The onus was on Carlisle to find a way back into the match, but Greg Abbott's side never really looked like they were going to do it. Miller was left to huff and puff but mainly wave his arms around in the style of a particularly exasperated toddler, whilst the usually lively Zoko was finding himself wandering off down more back alleys than a low end prostitute. Peter Murphy headed wide from a corner, but it was becoming more and more difficult to see Carlisle fashioning a genuine chance, let alone an actual goal. For their part, Notts looked dangerous on the break, despite the Cumbrians' propensity to cynically hack down any Notts player who looked like he may be running with the ball towards their goal. Judge got this treatment from Michalik once, with the hopeless beast then escaping a second for effectively clotheslining Forte, the referee instead opting to book Murphy for a foul on Judge that happened at the exact same time.

Lubo Michalik makes a challenge

Notts' best chance of the second half came when Freeman and Judge worked space on the right and the latter's cross was missed horribly by Collin, hit the head of Forte and dropped around an inch past the far post. It would've killed off the game, but instead the visitors retained the dwindling hope that they could still get something out of the match. It never really looked like it was going to happen though, with Nelson even being confident enough to pretend that he actually had to try to save Murphy's free kick, rather than just standing there and catching it. Ishmel Demontagnac and Damion Stewart were given a few minutes to run aimlessly around the pitch before the ref decided enough was enough and Curle's side took their new manager's record to four wins out of four without conceding a single goal.

It was the first game in which i'd seen Notts under Curle and, in truth, it merely confirmed what seemed obvious from listening to the games and other peoples' opinions. Notts are far from brilliant - Curle himself admits to a lack of fluency and fluidity in his side - but their defensive shape and closing down is absolutely fantastic. Under Allen, Notts often seemed to lose their shape constantly throughout a game and players would often find themselves closing down the ball alone, but there was none of that in evidence this afternoon. Every time a Carlisle player had the ball in a threatening position, he was quickly pressed by two or three Notts players before anything dangerous could really come of it. Notts still lack composure and incision in the final third and too many dangerous breaks are curtailed by an ill-advised series of backwards passes, but the signs are certainly promising.

    Play-offs beckon...

We have gone into sixth place, and this is probably the most confident i've felt all season about putting up a proper fight about staying there. Seeing the inadequacies of the opposition can only exacerbate that feeling. At least with Notts and the Stevenage wrestling society, you do get the feeling that we are both hard to beat. It seemed that the only tactics needed for beating Carlisle were to make the ball go somewhere near their defence. If they get into the play-offs on that performance it would be an absolute miracle. In terms of Notts' chances, we are definitely a work in progress. But in such an inconsistent and average division, it wouldn't be a surprise if that proved to be enough to sneak in through the back door.