Notts remain top...but only just

Last updated : 12 September 2005 By Rob Davies
Gudjon Thordarson's side remain the front-runners in League Two, sitting ahead of fellow surprise packages Grimsby Town on goal difference, though there were frequent moments during yesterday's action-packed game that it seemed the Magpies would lose their slot at the peak of the table.

After a dreadful first half, a shocking piece of refereeing and gamesmanship led to the sending off of Notts striker Steve Scoffham in first half stoppage time.

This, in turn, led to a much quicker tempo in the second period, in which numerous chances for either side wielded just two goals, but threatened many more. On-form Glynn Hurst gave Notts a 55th minute lead after a Matthew Gill strike was parried, but Ben Davies finally equalised for Chester in the 70th minute, after the visitors had piled on the pressure.

Palmer: Recalled
Notts boss Thordarson - still undefeated in the league since being appointed as Magpies manager - made just one change to the team that drew 1-1 at Darlington last Friday night.

Chris Palmer was re-called on the left wing, at the expense of Lewis McMahon - who dropped to the bench. Gill kept his place alongside Mike Edwards in midfield, while Andy White had to again settle for the role as a substitute, despite scoring the Magpies' equaliser at Darlo.

While this match was given a heavy pre-match billing and was played infront of - to the naked eye at least - by far the biggest home support of the season, the first half brought back shuddering, haunting memories of the last campaign.

In the entire duration of the first period, neither goalkeeper - Notts' Kevin Pilkington and Chester's Chris Mackenzie - were required to make a save of any note, though Pilkington did deal with a few aerial balls extremely well.

The Magpies were happy to play the long ball, with the midfield duo of Edwards and Gill's limitations exposed in a dire first period. Hurst and Scoffham were devoid of service, with Palmer once again anonymous on the left.

It was as poor as it gets, with the only blessing being that Chester themselves didn't look up to much.

The game, however, was to turn on its head at a stage when most supporters had gone downstairs in order to purchase some medically-needed alcohol.

A long Pilkington punt appeared to be going straight into the hands of his opposite number as Scoffham jostled with Dave Artell in an attempt to reach the clearence.

It looked like a nothing ball, though Scoffham's frustration at a poor first half got the better of him, as the 50/50 bout of pushing ended with the striker dumping the former Mansfield centre half firmly on his arse.

Scoffham: Sent off
It was certainly a foul - and a petulant one at that - but what followed was an example of what is wrong with modern-day football.

The referee, who initally seemed unsighted, hared towards the penalty area, where the traditional bout of handbags over a nothing challenge was beginning to take place.

Without consulting either linesman, he promptly called over Scoffham, before giving the livid striker his marching orders, apparently for a punch to the face of Artell - who staged a mircaculous recovery upon seeing the ex Gedling man leave the field.

When 6ft 5in League Two centre backs are going down in the way the moronic Artell did after a nothing challenge - that Scoffham has been putting in for much of the season - then there's something going badly, badly wrong in the game of football. You can take the boy out of Mansfield, but you can't take the Mansfield out of the boy. Apparently.

Whatever the ins and outs of the decision, there can be positives to take from the decision in that it provided people something to talk about at the interval, it allowed the home crowd to find its voice as they berated both Artell and the match official and, most importantly, it was the catalyst for a bloody good second half.

Half Time: Notts County 0-0 Chester City

For a man whose made his name as something of a defensively-minded manager, it came as something of a surprise when Thordarson opted to bring on a striker at the interval to replace the gap vacated by Scoffham, instead of simply playing 4-4-1.

Palmer - one of the few players whose contribution this season has been below-par - was the man replaced, with big Andy White brought-on to provide his usual presence in attack.

If the first half was dull, the second was in complete contrast, with chances aplenty for both sides and the game being played at a frantic pace.

Hurst: On Target
Though Thordarson's decision to bring on White signalled intent, it was the visitors who created the early openings.

Another of Chester manager Keith Curle's ex Mansfield brigade, Tom Curtis, first fired into the side-netting, before Sean Hessey fired a dangerous low effort that thwacked Pilkington's upright.

Despite Chester seemingly looking the more likely of the two sides to break the deadlock, it was the hard-working Magpies who did it and again it was talisman Hurst who was on-hand to fire home.

An excellent four-man move involving the tireless David Pipe, Edwards, Rob Ullathorne and Gill - who enjoyed arguably his best half of football for Notts after the interval - ended up with Gill's curling 25-yard effort stinging the palms of Mackenzie, though the Magpies' top scorer was on-hand to somehow scramble the ball home with a mis-hit left-footed strike.

The goal did nothing to halt the frantic pace of the game, though, with Hurst and White unsettling Chester's central defence pairing of Artell and, yet another ex Stag, Luke Dimech.

Gill, Edwards and Pipe, meanwhile, continued to work tirelessly in a bid to keep the Magpies in the ascendency, whilst the again-excellent defensive pair of Kelvin Wilson and Julien Baudet were keeping things reasonably tight at the other end.

That excellence was typified by a breathtaking goal-saving tackle by Wilson to deny Ryan Lowe, as the teenage starlet slid in beautifully to cleanly take the ball when the angles had looked against the Notts defender.

Despite the Magpies' hard-work, though, the Chester equaliser - when it came - did have an air of inevitability about it, with the Blues' matching their opponents improvement after the break.

It was a sloppy goal to concede from a Notts perspective, with full-back Brian O'Callaghan beaten too easily down the left hand-side, the ball eventually came to Davies who cooly steered his left-footed effort past Pilkington.

The mulleted midget, though, then embarked on wild celebrations that earned him a yellow card. Though his haircut himself should have automatically a booking, the referee - dire throughout - was again having none of it, leniently giving the midfleider just a booking.

Gill: Impressive
Two minutes after Davies' strike and Hurst really should have put the Magpies back in front.

A slide-rule pass by Pipe had sent the striker cleanthrough on goal, but Mackenzie was able to produce a decent low stop down to his left, with the ball running out for a corner.

It was to be Hurst's last-act, with the striker replaced by Jake Sheriden with 15 minutes remaining.

Sheriden - a winger by trade - was making his home debut and was to slot in just behind White, with Thordarson hoping his pace would cause the tiring Chester rearguard problems.

However, with nine minutes left - it was the visitors who really should have gained the advantage, when the on-form Lowe missed an absolute sitter.

Yet ANOTHER Mansfield old boy Scott McNiven - who had previously been pre-occupied arguing with a ball boy - produced the perfect cross which Lowe only had to make contact with to score, but the forward missed the ball altogether, giving Notts one almighty let-off.

There was still time for further chances either-side though, in this relentless encounter.

Pipe, after giving another all-action performance, fluffed his lines when hard work by Sheriden had given him a great oppurtunity, blazing high and wide, before the lively Davies twice came close to winning it at the other end - with his second stoppage time effort cannoning the angle of post and bar.

It wasn't to be, however, with there being little doubt in most supporters minds that a draw was a fair encounter between these two on-form teams.

Full Time: Notts County 1-1 Chester City

So, another game that was by no means a vintage display and, yet, we're still unbeaten this season. So far, we've far exceeded all rational expectations - but it's a marathon, not a sprint, and many supporters would do well to remember this.

The sending off of Scoffham - Gudjon said he will appeal - would have spoilt the encounter but, at that stage, there was no encounter to spoil. Therefore, we should take the positives smattered from this game and, once again, enjoy the fact that WE - Notts County - top the table, for now, at least.

Match Ratings to follow.