Notts survive trial by long throw.. just

Cheltenham is, by most accounts, a great town. It's just a shame that pre-match we found ourselves sat in some kind of cross between a social club and a community centre that served beer and was showing Preston vs. West Brom on a 12 inch TV. With the commentary in Welsh. For a very dull game that finished 0-0. It was that kind of day for Notts as we huffed and puffed to a credible 1-1 draw at Cheltenham Town, who are being renamed the Stoke City of League Two thanks to their long throw and solitary tactic of kicking it as hard and as high as humanly possibly at Barry Hayles. Then Julian Alsop.

The match kicked off in something resembling a gale at Whaddon Road, with Notts lining up with an unchanged line-up from the side who won 3-0 at Lincoln City in midweek, although Graeme Lee was fit enough to take a place on the bench, with Matt Hamshaw dropping out. Cheltenham lined up in a 4-3-3 formation, who's three-pronged strike force of experienced campaigner Barry Hayles, ex-Leicester misfit Elvis Hammond and one of those Conference strikers who can never quite make it in the league, Justin Richards, gave some indication as to their tactic. Get it forward, quickly. Having witnessed Martin Allen's MK Dons side at this level a few years ago though, it hardly came as a huge surprise.

The Magpies started strongest and young full back Brendan Moloney danced through a succession of red shirts, as he does sometimes, before firing a ball across the face of goal that just needed a touch to take it across the line. At the back, however, Notts were facing problems due to the sheer speed that the Robins got the ball forward at every opportunity. Town's strikers pretty much covered the physical ability of a small country's olympic's squad between them and their pace and power was troubling John Thompson and Mike Edwards. Hayles broke free of a flimsy offside trap but Thompson recovered to nick the ball away from the lurking Elvis Hammond.

The best chance of the match was to follow this and it was created by Notts' playmaker for the day, Kasper Schmeichel, with the Magpies giving up trying to play football early on, due to the wind and the style of the opposition. Which was a silly idea, realy. His huge goal kick sailed over the clearly shocked Drissa Diallo and Lee Hughes found himself one-on-one with Scott Brown, but his shot was tame and well saved by the Cheltenham 'keeper. The hosts then had their best chance of the match, as Dave Bird flew into the box (!) from nowhere but could only steer his header into the grateful arms of Schmeichel. Andy Gallinagh also came close for the Robins, hooking the ball over after another Lee Ridley long throw caused havoc, but more about those later. The opener wasn't far away, though, which owed to Cheltenham's centre backs' insistence that defending on the half way line when facing a gale force wind was a smart idea.

Brendan Moloney chipped the ball in behind Townsend and Luke Rodgers latched onto it, with his pace too much for Town defence. Well, I say latched on, Scott Brown could probably have nipped over to the social club to check if Forest were losing before coming out to claim the ball. As it was, he teased Rodgers and the home fans by coming and then changing his mind, allowing the Notts striker to fire the ball home from eight yards out. It was reminiscent of his first two goals at Lincoln and the ex-Vale man is finally starting to threaten scoring goals as much as he threatens giving linesmen repetitive strain injury.  Notts now began to look like the side who consistently destroy teams at Meadow Lane as they played Cheltenham at their own game by getting some headers in. First Johnnie Jackson came close, then John Thompson steered a header narrowly wide after a Ben Davies corner.

Michael Townsend had a rather optimistic volley over the bar towards the end of the half, whilst Elvis Hammond's presence continued to annoy me. He plays like he's on ice and kicks like he's wearing skates, yet is one of those footballers who always seems dangerous without actually doing anything of note with the football, other than ballooning it harmlessly into the stands. As he did to round off a half that had been scrappy but happy for the Magpies as they went into the Whaddon Road dressing rooms ahead. Half time proved to be one of the more interesting affairs of the season, as small children attempted to chip the ball into a bath from six yards. Unfortunately none of them succeeded at this fiendishly difficult task and the jackpot rolls over to Cheltenham's next home game. Or something.

The second half started with the hosts having been given a burst of life by Martin Allen's half time team talk, as Barry Hayles carried his old legs far enough to drag a shot harmlessly wide of Kasper Schmeichel's far post. Schmeichel was having to be more and more alert, as Ridley's long throws were becoming more and more frequent into the Notts area. The routine was pretty much the same every time as half a dozen players launched themselves at the ball, making it bobble off in a random direction each time. It was like playing rugby. Drissa Diallo did get on the end of one, however, and forced Schmeichel into a smart save from a close range header, and Barry Hayles had a snapshot which clipped the outside of Schmeichel's far post.

Notts were now threatening sporadically, as Matt Ritchie fired over after a clever short corner routine and Luke Rodgers was equally wasteful at the far post after indecision in the Cheltenham defence. It was becoming hard to tell what was going on in the opposition's box from the long throws and corners due to the shallowness of Whaddon Road's away end, although Town were yet to force the ball over the line in one of the constant goalmouth scrambles. Martin Allen threw on Julian Alsop, man mountain and the chap who was once sacked by Oxford for an incident relating to a youth team player and a banana, which didn't exactly indicated a change in tactics for the hosts. Matt Ritchie had another go from range, this time blasting over with his left foot from thirty yards.

Luke Rodgers trotted off after a week which saw him score a hat-trick and get himself arrested in one night, to be replaced by Karl Hawley, a move which seemed to persuade the Robins to finally get the goal they probably deserved. No prizes for guessing how it came. Ridley launched an extra long throw into the mixer and Alsop threw himself at it, possibly connecting and possibly not, but causing sufficient chaos to take about five Notts defenders out of the game. Up popped Elvis Hammond, who's hopelessly ineffective stepovers and wildly mishit crosses had been on the periphery of the second half, to scuff the ball past Schmeichel and in to level. After this the hosts looked likely to score without really creating anything clear cut, bar a penalty shout after John Thompson's tackle in the box. Craig Westcarr had the last word, with his painfully weak shot deflecting into the arms of Brown. Four points in a week on the road is a good return and Notts will probably be happy to have got out of Gloucestershire with a point, having come out of the other side of trial by long throw and long ball just about still alive.

Notts Co - Schmeichel, Moloney, Edwards, Thompson, Jones, Davies, Ravenhill, Jackson, Ritchie (Westcarr), Hughes, Rodgers (Hawley)

Cheltenham Town 1 (Hammond '75)
Notts County 1 (Rodgers '26)
Attendance - 4,134 (729 away)