It seems like ages since Notts last had a match - the disappointing home defeat to Accrington, so it was nice to get back on the road today for the shortest trip of the season to face Burton Albion at the Pirelli Stadium for the first time ever in a competitive game. Paul Peschisolido's Burton side are unbelievably erratic, far more so than even Notts, so we weren't sure what to expect from a side who were the first to take points off the Magpies at Meadow Lane this season. One thing's for sure, there's been plenty of entertainment for Brewers fans in their first season in the league. Last time out saw a 6-1 demolition of play-off challengers Aldershot, they've managed to ship 10 goals in two games against Chesterfield, they've managed to lose to Darlington and were incredibly lucky to scrape past Oxford City (a non-league side who sound like they should be more important than they are) in the FA Cup. Then there's the array of former Notts players on show in Staffordshire and the locals all appearing to be terrified of some Notts fans being in the home end - it all made for an intriguing tie.
Notts lined up in a 4-4-2 formation with Johnnie Jackson randomly being placed at left back, which doesn't say a lot for Daniel Jones' future prospects at the club. Captain 'Calamity John' Thompson partnered Graeme Lee at the back and Karl Hawley came in upfront and loanees Matt Ritchie and Brendan Moloney were both in the squad for the final time unless their spells are extended. Of the ex-Notts contingent, Paul Boertien and Greg Pearson (yes, we're counting him) started with Michael Simpson, Guy Branston and Shaun Harrad occupying spots on the bench. On arriving in Burton, NCM was somewhat surprised by the police presence which seemed to be gearing up for the arrival of a small country's entire armed forces or Port Vale's away support. Vans of Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire police lined the streets around the Pirelli Stadium, clamping down on disorder. Inside the ground we were impressed by how smart it was - but appalled by the organisation and facilities. Whoever told Albion that the away terrace holds 1,600 people or whatever was lying. It was absolutely packed by kick off, with late comer Tom spending most of the first half trying to find somewhere he could see the pitch. People with seated tickets and even without any at all seemed to have got in and in the end a load with tickets were turned away. The stewards' attempts to preserve their yellow lines were futile. They never did have the sense to move people to the empty seats next to us though - despite there being literally nowhere on the terrace where a human being could fit.
Notts immediately poured forward after the kick-off and should've taken the lead inside the opening minute. The Brewers gave Brendan Moloney far too much space and allowed him to burst forward and slide the ball into the path of Karl Hawley, who tried to lift it over Artur Krysiak but was denied by the sprawling Pole. The lively Steve Kabba then twice came close to opening the scoring for Burton in a game that raced from end to end. Firstly Notts failed to deal with a cross and his looped effort dropped wide of the near post and then, after calamity John had got into a right mess with Keith Gilroy, managed to knock the ball wide with his face despite being completely unmarked six yards out. It was a real let off for Notts and it's importance was shown as the Magpies took the lead shortly after with a rocket from Ricky Ravenhill. Ben Davies' corner was headed to the edge of the box where Ravenhill, a man who earns his living by 'breaking up play', swung a right boot at the ball and saw a fizzing volley fly into he net. Clearly stunned he raced the length of the pitch to celebrate with Schmeichel as the away fans went delirious on the packed terrace.
Craig Westcarr nearly doubled the lead but Krysiak was able to beat away the ball with his legs after the winger shot from a narrow angle, whilst Greg Pearson came close to levelling for the hosts. Calamity John was again caught hopelessly out of position and stopped completely (for other evidence - see Bournemouth A), allowing the former Notts trialist to hit a dipping volley onto the top of the bar and away, much to the relief of everyone. This wasn't an easy chance, but his next miss really was. Some more hopeless defending saw Gilroy in acres of space and his low cross found Pearson about a yard out, but somehow he managed to prod the ball wide instead of into the net, much to the amusement of all. It was a shortlived reprieve though as Kabba did level after some more suicide at the back. A clipped free kick caused sheer havoc and Pearson's flick on was ignored by Thompson, allowing Kabba to prod it past Schmeichel and in for a deserved leveller. The hosts only had parity restored for five minutes though as Lee Hughes ensured Notts went in at the break ahead.
Karl Hawley's clever flick on released the division's leading scorer and he calmly slotted the ball past Krysiak and into the far corner before celebrating infront of the home fans. Probably because they'd been hurling abuse at him all game, but we couldn't hear a peep out of the Burton support, so we're not sure. We do expect the cries of moral outrage from Staffordshire to be rolling in soon, though. Half time saw the world's longest queue for the toilets, food, drink and the police standing around looking menacing. Trying to get back to find my dad wasn't easy and involved all the skills i've honed catching busy trains over the years. The game was to be over as a contest soon after i'd fought my way back into position though as Hughes ran riot for a seven minute hat-trick.
Firstly he found a huge pocket of space in the Burton back line and calmly latched onto Craig Westcarr's through ball before curling it past Krysiak and into the bottom corner and racing off, this time to celebrate with his own fans. With the next attack he raced clear of some pretty dodgy attempts at challenges but a heavy touch took him near to Krysiak. Any Burton fan will call what happened next a soft penalty, but we're just going to call it sheer stupidity from a goalkeeper who was by far their best player otherwise. Hughes cleverly knocked the ball away from the Polish 'keeper, who clattered into him for no good reason, meaning that the ref had little choice but to point to the spot. Hughes duly obliged, slamming the ball into the roof of the net for one of the season's quickest hat-tricks and to pretty much seal the points for Notts.
Johnnie Jackson was the next to have a go at getting in on the act, forcing Krysiak to tip the ball over the bar after firmly connecting with a Davies corner. Then there was some more fun and games with Hughes as, we think, he went over in the area. We couldn't see it, but we reckon that's what happened. Having already received a soft booking (carrying on after being given offside - despite the defender doing the same!) the home players, including BIG Guy Branston, demanding action and decided to start a fight in the process. The referee chose to let Hughes stay, although he was replaced by Luke Rodgers anyway, whilst booking three others for their involvement in the handbags. Jackson cracked the bar after a good move before giving away a penalty at the other end for a clear push on Shaun Harrad. Penalties are becoming little more than an inconvenience now though with Schmeichel seemingly unbeatable, this time saving Kabba's strike. There was still time for Krysiak to save from Matt Ritchie as Notts sealed an emphatic away win and moved up to 4th in the table, nicely placed outside the promotion places.
Notts Co - Schmeichel, Moloney, Lee, Thompson, Jackson, Westcarr (Ritchie), Ravenhill, Bishop, Davies (Hamshaw), Hughes (Rodgers, Hawley
Burton Albion 1 (Kabba '38)
Notts County 4 (Ravenhill '13, Hughes '45, 48, 53)
Attendance - 5,801 (Lots and lots of Notts fans)