Notts County wrap – Notts County 2 Oxford United 4

I don’t look at the tables much, basically, I know the ‘zone’ we’re in – promotion, play-off, mid-table or relegation, I look at the gap between us and being out of that zone, and that’s it. So, I know that we’re in the promotion zone, I know the other teams in our zone and I know that we are four points ahead of not being in that zone. I’m largely oblivious of what’s happening beyond those narrow boundaries.

I was looking at our fixtures for January – Notts County, Swansea, Millwall, Bristol Rovers, Portsmouth, Northampton, and I thought they looked tricky. We could conceivably lose the two cup games. There would be no shame in that, but it wouldn’t be good for our psyche if coupled with moderate league form. The league games are something else; Bristol Rovers in 5th, Portsmouth in 4th, Northampton in 2nd. That’s a tough run that gets tougher and we can’t afford to just write them off like we might the cup games. I started to worry; January is intense; cup games, a Sunday, Thursday, Saturday schedule, the transfer window and the pressure of keeping up a promotion charge; it could conceivably become very uncomfortable, and I’m not just talking about a seasonal cold snap.

It’s wouldn’t be quite the post-Christmas slump some have predicted, it’s more a product of how the fixtures have fallen. If you look at our last 10 games this season any losses we might suffer this month can be clawed back in the spring. But, superficially poor January form could mean we’re in the play-off zone by February and that’s when doubts creep in. It’s just not healthy for a club so aware of its ability to snatch failure from the jaws of success to lose momentum,  particularly just after Christmas. It just fits the preconceived narrative.

So, Notts County – both the result and the nature of it – has gained huge significance. Normally, an away draw would have been fine, but in a month when every point will count, three points from the first game gives us a buffer we desperately need. I’m reasonably confident we can take points in both our home games; if so, then Portsmouth could, effectively, become a ‘free’ game because any points needed at Fratton Park may have already been won at Meadow Lane.    
 
January, for me, is all about keeping things together, no one should be expecting us to sale through it undefeated but damage limitation is a minimum requirement. The Notts County result might just be the most important three points we’ll gain all year.

Coming up – Notts County

The drop

2016, the 30th anniversary of the Milk Cup, the 20th anniversary of our last football league promotion. Things happen when the year ends in a six.

When we met Notts County at the beginning of season it felt like we’d be testing our promotion credentials against a team who would surely be competing come May. In fact, they looked disinterested and shellshocked from their relegation last season. We on the other hand, were breathtaking in pace and style.

They continue to falter in the nothingness of 15th place, but this is still a test of our promotion credo insomuch that we need to start showing some resilience through an unrelenting period which will run throughout January at the very least.

Old game of the day

An important game from the promotion run-in from 95-96. Having had moderate form up to February, we hit a run of form that lasted until the end of the season and promotion. Because of the averageness that preceded it, every point counted. Includes a typically understated goal celebration from David Rush.

Coming up: Notts County

The drop

There are typically two reactions to relegation; the first is the development of a sense of entitlement to return from where you’ve dropped. A few good results early in the season and it’s easy to get into a rhythm that drives you to a successful season. We’ve seen this with teams like Chesterfield, Shrewsbury and Swindon in recent years. The other is the sudden panic that ‘the drop’ doesn’t actually mean ‘to the bottom’ and that there is much further to fall. Bristol Rovers, Carlisle, Portsmouth and Hartlepool have all experienced that.
Early season form is an important factor in determining which type of team you’ll be. It’s easy to become optimistic during close season and believe that you’re about to face a wad of inferior teams. But the differences between top and bottom are far smaller than you expect. County are probably still working out how things are; their opening win over Stevenage will have given them confidence, but their defeat to new derby bedfellows Mansfield will have been a shock on a number of levels. It’s a bit like our constant denial that Wycombe isn’t a derby; to some extent to admit it is to admit how far we’ve fallen. To be beaten at home by them is a deeper pain still.
So this is important for a number of reasons. We need a win, of course. We also need to give a potential promotion rival a bloody nose to knock them off of their stride before they get into it. 

Old game of the day

We haven’t played County for nine years, so not a lot to choose from in the archive. I’m going with this from 1994, a time that football kit design forgot. This was our last game of the season and the day we went down after a decade in the top two divisions. Mathematically it was still possible to stay up, but nobody in their right mind relies on maths.

But, it was also notable for a moment of Joey Beauchamp magic in his last game before moving to the Premier League where he would go on to play for England and win the World Cu… oh.