It felt more like the start of the season than approaching the end as Notts ventured south to take on playoff-chasing Wycombe Wanderers.
The sun beamed down on Adams Park throughout the game, there was optimism in the air, and I fully expected Kevin Nolan’s men to leave with at least a point. This despite the Nolan-inspired upturn in form mainly coming at Meadow Lane, and facing a side in Wycombe pushing for an extended season. Everything about Notts oozes positivity at the moment – what a remarkable turnaround since Alan Hardy took over the club when you consider how low everybody felt on and off the pitch in the final days of the Trew era.
This was a fully deserved win. The Magpies were the better side, and were particularly strong in the first half. And who’d have imagined this team could manage back-to-back 1-0 wins with a resoluteness that hasn’t existed for much of the season.
With Newport and Leyton Orient losing again, the gap to the relegation places is now 13 points so safety is almost assured. With that optimism in the air again, some supporters are even discussing a top-half finish.
Adam Collin – 6 – I’ve said in these pages before that I’m not his biggest fan and, just like against Barnet last week, the clean sheet was mainly in spite of him rather than because of him. When you see an opposing goalkeeper like Wycombe’s Jamal Blackman command his area with such authority, you notice even more Collin’s limitations. His non-existent communication irked Richard Duffy, too. Didn’t really have a save to make but did stand firmer towards the end.
Matt Tootle – 7 – In the middle of his best run of form for the club. Dealt well with the pacey Myles Weston, who was strangely named the home side’s Man of the Match. An industrious showing saw him aim to mirror his matchwinning strike of last week when he burst into the box from a similar position to cries of ‘shoot’ from the away section, only to see this effort blocked.
Richard Duffy – 8 – Nobody epitomises the turnaround under Nolan more than the Welshman. A John-Terry-esque style of performance in how to put your body on the line. Made several timely blocks and interventions. Mark Crossley wrongly told Nolan that Duffy had been our Player of the Season prior to his arrival. However, in terms of performances since Nolan arrived, he’d be a candidate. Illustrating he could be worth a new deal afterall.
Haydn Hollis – 8 – Nolan’s persistent praise of Hollis in the press has clearly done the Youth Team graduate the world of good. Arguably in his best form for the Magpies since the Great Escape run-in under Shaun Derry. Having joked in the past about how he would contain the ‘Beast’ Adebayo Akinfenwa, Hollis finally got to grips with him yesterday, winning that particular battle with a strong and brave showing. Handled Akinfenwa as competently as he did John Akinde last week. A great effort to come off the field against those two without conceding in consecutive games.
Carl Dickinson – 6 – A surprise addition to the teamsheet as a result of an injury sustained by Marc Bola. Fans would have been nervous given the form Dickinson showed earlier in the season. And such as been Bola’s impact, losing the Arsenal youngster threatened to dampen pre-game optimism. However, Dickinson slotted in competently. Not the same threat as Bola going forward but he stuck to his task defensively. One spooned clearance into his own box gave his teammates the jitters, but was solid enough.
Elliott Hewitt – 7 – Seems to have worked his way into Nolan’s affections given his versatility. In a right-wing role Hewitt worked exceptionally hard in attack and defence. A lack of quality at times on the ball was frustrating as he found himself in some useful attacking positions, but Hewitt typified the work rate of Nolan’s men and won his individual battle with Wycombe’s full-back.
Rob Milsom – 8 – Mr consistent churned out another faultless performance. Alongside Michael O’Connor, the pair won the midfield battle. Milsom was everywhere once again, winning challenges, harassing his opponents and keeping a calm head in possession. Must be given a new contract so that he and O’Connor can attempt to build a promotion-winning partnership. It seems they could be capable.
Michael O’Connor – 7 – As hard working as anyone and not afraid to rattle into his challenges. O’Connor offers more quality going forward than Milsom but wasn’t able to show it as much as he’d liked yesterday, particularly once Notts had the lead. It became more about his doggedness and he stood up well to the task. Went close with a decent effort in the second half.
Jorge Grant – 7 – Such a lovely footballer. Everytime he gets the ball in attacking positions he looks like he will create damage. Didn’t really happen for him on that front yesterday, but his sheer presence seemed to worry Wycombe’s full-back. Some of his touches are a joy to watch.
Shola Ameobi – 8 – The matchwinner with a good finish that gave an otherwise impressive Blackman no chance. Ameobi has been a key signing and once again gave his defensive counterparts a tough afternoon. Won every high ball and played intelligently. He also brings the best out of Stead. STAR MAN.
Jon Stead – 7 – Great work to supply Ameobi’s goal. Stead was a willing runner all game, chasing lost corners and running the channels. Could have done better with one early chance when put through, but Blackman produced a fine save.
Alan Smith (for Ameobi, 90) – No time to impact.
Not used: Searson, Clackstone, Howes, Forte, T. Campbell, A. Campbell.