NOTTS COUNTY 3-3 IPSWICH TOWN
I've got to confess - i've neglected this pre-season somewhat. Normally i'd be all over the place, trying to glean bits of soon-to-be-proven meaningless pieces of information from XI games at Hucknall or Ilkeston, but with Notts' slightly left-field pre-season schedule this year the first game i'd managed to get to was Saturday's entertaining draw with Ipswich Town at Meadow Lane. I missed the glamour ties against Galtasaray and Rayo Vallecano whilst sunning it (and catching suspected pneumonia) in Spain, but in all honesty, the match against Mick McCarthy's side was the only real one in Notts' schedule that was likely to give any real indication of what we could expect from the season ahead.
That was, at least, until Chris Kiwomya named something of a scratch side - with a back four of Liddle, Smith, Hollis and Sheehan looking decidedly understrength. Further forward things looked stronger though and the midfield of Campbell-Ryce, Fotheringham, Labadie and Bell is probably odds-on to start at Bramall Lane on Friday, whilst new man Danny Haynes partnered Enoch Showunmi in attack. Pre-season games tend to be cagey, half-paced affairs, but this one started in a surprisingly frenetic fashion, with Ipswich's front two of Daryl Murphy and David McGoldrick causing early problems for Notts' reserve centre back pairing. Notts had the first real opportunity though as new boy David Bell drifted into the centre from the left flank and played a perfectly weighted through ball for Showunmi, but the big man failed to really get the ball under control and saw a clumsy finish comfortably saved by Scott Loach. A couple of half chances passed, but the Tractor Boys gradually gained the upper hand and took the lead with a slick move down the left hand side that again exposed Gary Liddle's deficiencies as a makeshift right back and highlighting the importance of missing full back Mustapha Dumbuya. A neat back heel from Murphy played in Jay Tabb, who waited for support in the form of midfield partner Luke Hyam, who connected with Tabb's cross to nod Ipswich into the lead.
This threatened to open up the floodgates and more questionable defending led to an Ipswich second as Manny Smith misjudged a ball forward, losing out to ex-Notts man McGoldrick. He charged into the box and saw a cross-shot turned into the net by Murphy who had escaped the attentions of the struggling Hollis. The young centre back went off injured before half-time with fellow youth team graduate Curtis Thompson coming on at right back and Liddle moving back to his favoured position in the centre of defence, but only after Danny Haynes had bagged his second in two appearances for the club to reduce the defecit. Jamal Campbell-Ryce teased his defender in the box and saw his cross deflected into the path of Haynes, who swept home a first-time finish with a minimum of fuss. This seemed to lived the home fans up, with a drummer at the top of the Main Stand showing plenty of enthusiasm but sadly all of the rhythm of an epileptic octopus with a snare in laserquest.
Half time brought the expected raft of changes from both sides, with Notts noticeably switching to a 4-3-3 system in an attempt to stem Ipswich's domination of midfield - the pairing of Labadie and Fotheringham in the first half having lacked balance and presence. With Dean Parrett, Andre Boucaud and Gavin Mahon in the centre Notts began to control possession more, but fell further behind thanks to a stunning strike from Paul Taylor. The positioning of Notts' veteran (well, elderly) goalkeeper Kevin Pilkington was suspect, but Taylor's strike was still stunning to find the net from thirty yards. Notts weren't deterred though and pulled a goal back with a goal that you will see repeated hundreds of times this season at all levels.
For an entertaining game with plenty of neat play, there was still time for a timeless chipped free-kick into the box from Parrett, which six players all tried to head in varying directions, succeeding only in patting it down to Adam Coombes who bagged a goal on his trial outing. Indeed, the pace and presence of Coombes was troubling Ipswich, along with the enigmatic powers of Yoann Arquin in a front three with Andy Haworth. Where the first two were excelling, however, Haworth managed the noteable feat of not touching the ball once in any memorable fashion for his entire appearance. Not to worry, though, as Arquin had the bit between his teeth and equalised with a goal of sheer pace, power and poise. Picking the ball up on the half way line he accelerated away from two defenders then glided past three more before steering the ball home from just inside the area - to remind the Notts management and fans of just what the Martinique international is capable of when the stars have aligned in a favourable manner.
This rounded things off, although Arquin and Coombes both had chances to win it, to end Notts' pre-season preparations on a promising note. Indeed, the impressive second half performance perhaps clouded memories of a disjointed and clumsy first half display. Much to ponder for Kiwomya, Jones and Watson, then, with Bramall Lane just a matter of days away.