After all the talk of Alan Hardy and Kevin Nolan’s new era creating a feel-good factor at Meadow Lane – something almost unheard of for a club placed 90th in the Football League – this trip to Brisbane Road confirmed something special may be ready to happen for the Magpies.
This seemed like a proper away day. It felt like a throwback to the successful 2009/10 season. A 700-strong travelling army in the capital, many clearly having enjoyed themselves in the local watering holes on the Leyton High Road, all giving their complete backing to Nolan’s men.
The unnecessary flairs aside, it was all good-natured and certainly served to inspire the men in black and white. Hardy spoke of the need for a 12th man, and the fans have certainly responded and can take a lot of credit for staying positive when Orient pulled it back to 2-2. That continued belief in the players, allied with a new-found resilience under Nolan, saw the Magpies through to a deserved victory. And a significant one. Provided the season ends as we all hope, this will be one of those trips many will look back on fondly.
This was my first chance to see our new signings, having missed the defeat at Accrington win over Cheltenham and thrilling draw with Exeter. I’d describe their contributions at the Matchroom Stadium as largely positive. Certainly, you’d feel that if the usual suspects had been playing instead of the likes of Marc Bola, Shola Ameobi and Jorge Grant, the result would have been very different.
Adam Collin – 5 – I don’t like this goalkeeper. The trouble is, I’m no fan of his understudy either (more to come later this week on that subject). In real time, I suspected he could have done better with Orient’s first, and that his tendency to push the ball back into trouble had saw him come a cropper. Looking back, he was rather unlucky with this one, and had no chance with the second. However, his reluctance to leave his line means he fails to command his box and invites pressure.
Josh Clackstone – 5 – Was given the run around by Orient’s best player, Gavin Massey. A real baptism of fire for the young Hull loanee on his first league start. In fairness, even more seasoned pros would have struggled to contain the in-form Massey, who consistently beat Clackstone for pace and trickery. Kudos for keeping his head up and sticking to his task.
Elliott Hewitt – 6 – He’s suspect defensively when he plays in his preferred position at full-back, so to ask Hewitt to produce the goods at centre-back is a big ask. At Orient, he came out slightly on the better side of average. Not at fault for their goals, but hardly a calming presence amidst a frenetic match – particularly for the even younger Clackstone outside of him.
Richard Duffy – 6 – His goalscoring run may have ended, but Duffy’s experience in a very young back four was an important influence for the majority of the game. Stood still to allow a key header in the build-up to Orient’s first, though, to blot his copybook. Will hope Thierry Audel is fit for Yeovil next week.
Marc Bola – 8 – Even before THAT skill in the lead-up to the winning goal, Bola had been excellent. As you’d expect of an Arsenal graduate, he used the ball intelligently. Some had questioned whether he would be up to the task defensively, but he had the better of his winger throughout, even when needing his pace to get back in position.
Jorge Grant – 7 – No disputing that this was his goal, after the deflected effort he’d claimed against Exeter. Showed a willingness to get involved from the off and was rewarded with the opener. It’s been rare to see a Notts midfielder dart beyond the strikers this season. This was a welcome change. Finished it well and mucked in defensively. Wrongly penalised for a foul after one particularly full-blooded tackle.
Michael O’Connor – 7 – Clearly enjoying the influence of Nolan and a more consistent run in the side. The captain battled well and was always available for the ball. Not one of his more influential days going forward, but won the midfield battle with his partner Rob Milsom.
Rob Milsom – 8 – I’ve been a critic of Milsom before, not really understanding the contribution he adds. However, yesterday he shut me up. Put in a tremendous shift and nullified Orient’s attacking threat through the centre. Milsom seemed to be everywhere trying to stop the men in red, and used the ball intelligently too. Perhaps Nolan has a point about not being needed himself.
Mark Yeates – 7 – Without setting the world alight so far, Yeates has been an important signing. He offers an outlet and loves to get hold of possession. Another who is willing to turn defence into attack quickly and provided a superb pass for Stead’s first. Would like to see his fitness improve to complete a full 90 minutes.
Shola Ameobi – 8 (Man of the Match) – How crucial could this signing be? Ameobi is not going to score lots of goals, and doesn’t look much of a goal threat. For a striker, that’s not particularly ideal, especially when he has replaced one in Jonathan Forte who does know where the net is. However, Ameobi is much more than that. He won EVERY header, his hold-up play was superhuman and, just as importantly, he has freed up Jonathan Stead to be the goal threat he showed at the start of the season. Orient just couldn’t handle him.
Jonathan Stead – 8– His overall play wasn’t that great, but how can you argue with two goals and an assist? Clearly enjoys letting Ameobi take the brunt of the physical battle, allowing him better use of the ball in the final third. That said, he was happy to take one for the team to set Grant free for the opener. Stead’s winner was typically composed at a potentially crucial moment in the season.
Curtis Thompson – 6 – Slotted in on the right to help see the game out. Little impact on the ball.
Alan Smith – 5 – Too little time to make a contribution.
Subs not used: Loach, Dickinson, Hollis, T Campbell and Forte.