SCUNTHORPE UNITED 2-2 NOTTS COUNTY
RIBEIRO '13 L HUGHES '34, '82
When I look back on our narrow failure to make the play-offs last season, there is one game that particularly sticks in the throat. Not the capitulation against Bury at Meadow Lane, which was just a display of clinical finishing from an away side, but the 0-0 draw at Scunthorpe United when Notts dominated the entire game but just couldn't find a route to the back of the net - with Alan Judge, inevitably, hitting the woodwork. Eight months on, and still without an away defeat since before that draw, Notts had the chance to exact some form of revenge with a trip to Glanford Park this weekend, to face an Iron side who have seen new life breathed into them with the return of Brian Laws and successive away wins at Coventry City and Walsall.
With Leon Clarke the division's joint leading scorer and his partner, former Notts man Karl Hawley, having stunned the footbaling world by actually getting a couple himself, the hosts posed a serious goal threat but possess a defence so porous that it has seen them marooned in the League One relegation zone despite their ability to score. Perhaps with this in mind, Keith Curle opted to rest Notts' two leading scorers in Yoann Arquin and Francois Zoko ahead of a tough trip to Preston in midweek, with Lee Hughes coming in for a rare start and Alan Sheehan returning after injury at left back, allowing Jeff Hughes to move into a more advanced role.
In the freezing setting of Glanford Park, with its away end that possesses the least comfortable seats-bolted-onto-terracing hospitality in the league, Notts set about controlling the opening stages, passing the ball neatly and controlling possession. There was some frustration when they ventured into the small area of the pitch that appeared to have a large puddle in it, but for the first ten minutes Notts monopolised possession and seemed well on top. Then Scunthorpe got it and attacked at genuine pace, with Sheehan's rustiness being harshly exposed by Mark Duffy and Christian Ribeiro. The Welsh full back marauded forward, played a one-two with Duffy and glided past Sheehan into the box, steadying himself before bending a calm finish past the stranded Bialkowski and into the far corner. It was a fine finish for a side who began to grow in confidence, Karl Hawley showing some of the form that made him so popular at Notts - seeing the ball break to him with a clear shot on goal from the edge of the box but opting to delay, attempt a Cruyff turn away from goal and then fall over.
Lee Hughes had Notts' first real chance, heading straight at another ex-Magpie in Steve Mildenhall, although he was flagged offside from Jamal Campbell-Ryce's cross. It was to be JCR's only contribution of the afternoon as he was flattened by a Scunthorpe defender when bursting forward, suffering a head injury that was to force him off and allow Arquin to join the game earlier than expected. Immediately this seemed to give Notts a little bit more attacking impotus and we were level, almost entirely down to a fantastic piece of play from Alan Judge. The Irishman picked up the ball from a throw-in, skipped past a weak challenge and crossed to the near post, where Hughes got across his marker and flicked a header past Mildenhall and into the corner. If anything, however, this goal seemed to give Scunthorpe more motivation to pour forward and they twice came close to getting back infront. Firstly, a quick break saw the ball crossed to Leon Clarke at the far post, whose header was brilliantly tipped onto the bar by Bialkowski. Then, from a corner, Hawley somehow failed to touch the ball home when standing virtually on the line, flicking it straight into the midriff of Notts' Polish goalkeeper.
When Clarke then raced clear it seemed as though Scunthorpe would get themselves back ahead, but he was denied by a wonderfully timed challenge from Notts centre back Damion Stewart, who also picked up a knock in the process of reaching for the ball and knocking it away. It was all in vain though, as the hosts regained the lead in the dying seconds of the half. Another break down Sheehan's left side saw the ball drilled across, where French midfielder Damien Mozika was completely unmarked and just managed to squeeze a powerful shot past Bialkowski and into the net. It was a blow for Notts, who were happy just to get through to half time with a one goal defecit as Scunthorpe's momentum grew.
The second half, however, became a different story as Notts were able to regain their monopolisation of possession and knock the ball about at will. Despite this, however, Notts struggled to break down a hard-working defence who remained well organised and cleared a number of crosses that had been well carved out by the Notts attack. The game then changed on a controversial decision - a high ball to Arquin was won by Scunthorpe captain Paul Reid, who also caught the Frenchman in the back of the head with his arm. The referee quickly gave Reid the red card as Notts protested, a decision that I feel was inevitable despite the lack of true malice in the challenge. Reid had lead with his arm and caught Arquin, leaving the referee with little real option but to reach to his back pocket.
After this, Notts began to control things completely. They had a goal disallowed when Hughes got the final touch to Sheehan's cross-cum-shot, before the veteran forward poached an equaliser as a Sheehan corner bounced to the far post. Hughes spun brilliantly, pivoting before smashing the ball home with his left foot. As Notts poured forward trying to win it, Scunthorpe began to sit deeper and deeper, but the Magpies were unable to find a way through and were forced to settle for a frustrating point. Labadie fired high into the Lincolnshire sky as the substitute burst forward from right back, whilst the last action of the game saw Bishop just fail to get enough contact on another Sheehan set piece.