Well, that was fun. Wycombe has proven to be a happy place for Notts in recent years – a Shola-inspired three points last year, a battling 2-2 draw with ten men the year before and that incredible 4-3 win the time before that – and Saturday can be added to the list of enjoyable trips to an industrial estate somewhere in Buckinghamshire.
It also felt like the first time this season, in the league at least, that Notts have really got to grips with what Kevin Nolan wants and put in a performance that reflects their manager’s wishes. It wasn’t pretty, often it was ugly, but in the end Notts got the win through sheer bloody mindedness and came home with three points from a place where not too many teams will win this season.
The first half was, and whisper this, approaching the perfect away performance. Wycombe have become a team who are direct but effective under Gareth Ainsworth, but Notts absolutely swamped them at their own game. Elliott Hewitt and Ryan Yates’ energy took control of the middle, Shola Ameobi pinned the central defenders back and Shaun Brisley, in particular, did a fantastic job of shackling Adebayo Akinfenwa.
It was Notts’ full backs who made the difference, however. Nolan’s system relies heavily on them providing width and creativity, which they did constantly throughout the first half at Adams Park. First it was Matt Tootle finding space to cross for Brisley, who saw his header back across goal somehow cleared off the line, before Dan Jones stepped up.
Having come in for some unfair criticism following the opening game at Coventry City, Jones is starting to show why Nolan signed him. His fantastic set piece delivery had already troubled Wycombe before Richard Duffy steered in a header and, just moments later, another Jones cross was spilled by the ‘keeper before two Wycombe defenders got in each others’ way, producing a comedy own goal without a Notts player in sight. For all of his pace and skill, it was the kind of end product that Marc Bola rarely provided last season – Jones was unlucky not to get another assists before the half was out as Wycombe again hacked off the line.
Things changed after the break as Notts came under some pressure, as you have to really be expecting away from home. Nick Freeman halved the deficit with a fine volley, a goal which gave the crowd a lift and saw Wycombe control the game for the next half an hour. For all of the pressure, however, Notts defended very well, with a Craig Mackail-Smith header the only clear chance that they were able to create. When the equaliser did come, it was an unstoppable free kick from the left boot of Joe Jacobson that gave Adam Collin, another quietly much improved performer, absolutely no chance.
Enter Jonathan Forte. With the momentum having swung massively in the hosts’ favour, the Notts substitute was able to wrest it back. Suddenly there was a threat in behind and Wycombe’s centre backs were turning to face their own goal, which in turn created space for Jorge Grant to operate in. He was crudely fouled on the corner of the box, allowing Jones to send another fine delivery to the far post which Ameobi headed into the path of Forte.
Forte was unlucky not to get another when Notts sealed the game in added time as he hit the post and then saw a close range stab roll along the line, Lewis Alessandra eventually getting his first Notts goal by slide tackling it into the top corner. It would be harsh on Forte not to get a start for the Friday night game against Accrington Stanley, but Wycombe did perhaps show why Nolan is choosing to use him from the bench. It’s hard to see Jon Stead coming on against a tired defence and single handedly changing the direction of a game, which perhaps shows that we still need another good option in attack before the transfer window closes.
Notts: Collin 7, Tootle 7, Brisley 7, Duffy 7, Jones 8*, Hawkridge 6 (Alessandra 7), Yates 7, Hewitt 7, Grant 7, Ameobi 7 (Smith N/A), Stead 5 (Forte 8)