Firstly, can we just enjoy the fact that we have beaten Morecambe? Forget going into the top three for a minute, forget the unbeaten home record and the back-to-back clean sheets. All lovely things to open the Sunday papers for, of course, but I want to reflect a little more on bringing to an end a quite woeful run against the Shrimps.
Really, a victory against the minnows of our division – alongside another of our bogey sides in Accrington Stanley – shouldn’t be cause for such exuberant celebration. However, there are reasons why on this occasion it can be. Going into Saturday’s Meadow Lane encounter, Morecambe had won five of the meetings between the sides, compared to just two for Notts. The Seaside outfit did the double over the Magpies last term, and claimed four points the campaign before that.
But moreover, it’s the manner of some of the defeats that have hurt. Of course, entirely rightly, when facing Morecambe Notts fans demand and expect victory – home and away. They are regularly tipped for relegation, simply as they regularly have a bottom two budget. But under the tutelage of the astute Jim Bentley, Morecambe are no soft touch. And have often conspired to shock Notts.
Who can forget the 4-1 mauling in January that directly preceded Alan Hardy’s takeover, as current manager Kevin Nolan looked on, surely having some doubt about taking over the wreckage in the days afterwards. How about the same scoreline at the start of the previous campaign, as Ricardo Moniz’s carefree football produced careless consequences in defence?
Even the heroes of 2009/10, the League Two title winners, didn’t have it all their own way. One of just seven defeats came at the Globe Arena. Memorably, Sol Campbell made his solitary unremarkable appearance for the club that day.
So victory over Morecambe is to be admired by Nolan’s men. Especially when viewing the Shrimps’ lineup contained Adam Campbell, released from Meadow Lane in the summer and sure to be desperate to prove a point. Plus Garry Thompson, top scorer for Notts three seasons ago. Then they had that wily old campaigner Kevin Ellison to call upon from the bench too, and he loves a goal against us. Not Vadaine Oliver, though, he of course was suspended.
The 2-0 win allows us to thoroughly enjoy the other positives it has brought, namely moving into the automatic promotion places and being able to peer down at Steve Evans’ Mansfield Town.
It was a thoroughly deserved win, too, while never being quite completely satisfying. It’s clear that Notts are unlikely to produce thrilling, scintillating football this season, nor handout any thrashings. However, it’s equally obvious that nobody is going to get an easy game out of Nolan’s men. We’ll be effective, we’ll be hard working and we’ll be in with a chance of winning most games, largely because we have one or two players extremely capable of a moment or two of brilliance to win games but are otherwise a team reliant on determination, commitment and togetherness.
All of the above was evident in 90 largely forgettable minutes on Saturday. Defensively, we are looking much stronger than last term, evident in the form of a third clean sheet of the season, although in truth, Morecambe only threatened in stoppage time with already Notts 2-0 up. A genuine moment of quality put Notts ahead as defender Dan Jones curled in a delightful free-kick for his first for the club. And Jorge Grant got his second assist in two games as he played in Jonathan Forte to do what he does best, run clear of the defence and slot past the keeper, further endearing him to a supporters’ base clamouring for him to start games. He will against Swindon on Tuesday.
In a fleeting mention of Notts’ form on Channel 5 highlights show Goal Rush, presenter Colin Murray and pundit Michael Gray spoke of the performance of Jones, labelling it brilliant. Being honest, they probably only saw his goal given the amount of games they have to analyse. But he is getting better with every game after his woeful opening day display in the defeat at Coventry. Even though the sight of 36-year-old Thompson searing past him twice in the opening five minutes caused alarm.
Richard Duffy and Shaun Brisley dealt with everything that came their way, while Terry Hawkridge was forever industrious and Ryan Yates equally so. Grant remained the man most likely to produce final-third quality, and Forte was a huge threat to Morecambe’s backline from the moment he replaced the injured Shola Ameobi.
Elliott Hewitt deserves his own paragraph. He was excellent. He proved just why he is keeping out last season’s Player of the Year, Rob Milsom.
The biggest concern, though, is Jon Stead. Top goalscorer in each of his two seasons at the club, Stead is struggling this term. He worked extremely hard and showed daring on the ball to try and fashion an opening. But fans, and even his teammates, became annoyed as shot after shot speculatively ballooned over or wide. At the start of last season, one or two of those went in for Stead. But since an untimely injury against Crewe in October last year, which put him out for two months, Stead has cut a forlorn figure. Nolan really hasn’t seen the best of him.
Just five goals in 31 appearances since returning from injury speaks volumes. Now he is almost trying too hard. Hopefully Ameobi’s injury will be a minor one, because the time has come to take Stead out of the firing line and let the in-form Forte spark alongside Ameobi. Some will argue that Ameobi himself is yet to score, but his game doesn’t thrive on goals – Stead’s does.
That’s a concern for another few days yet though, let’s keep on celebrating actually beating Morecambe first.
Match ratings: Collin 7, Hunt 6, Duffy 6, Brisley 7, Jones 7, Hawkridge 6, Yates 6, Hewitt 8, Grant 7, Ameobi 6, Stead 5. Subs: Forte 8, Milsom 7, Alessandra 6.
Photo by Andy Stokes