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Joe Jones
Joe Jones

Notts County 2017-18 mid-season review: Will a year of rebirth culminate in a season of glory?

When Notts County fell to a 3-0 hammering at Coventry City in the first matchday of the season, the Black and White Army could have been forgiven for thinking "and... here... we... go... again!" The Sky Blues were rampant, while the Magpies looked like rabbits in the headlights.

Of course, this now feels like it could just as easily have been years ago, because it proved the shock to the system which galvanised the team, with all the players outraged they could allow themselves to fall to such a defeat and manager Kevin Nolan, a stickler for perfection, also taking the hammering almost as a personal affront.

Since then, Notts have gone from strength to strength and, at the midway point of the season, sit second in the table, five points clear of third-placed Exeter City and six of fourth-placed Coventry, and with an impressive goal difference of +15 which, whilst not the runaway dominance of Luton Town, still denotes a side that's rightfully where it belongs in the upper echelons of the table.

It took a while for Notts fans to be convinced, given the amount of false dawns we've had and bearing in mind the poor start to the campaign, but already in the EFL Cup game against Scunthorpe United it looks like a reinvigorated side.

Claiming local bragging rights against rivals Chesterfield was a major boost, even though they've had a shocker this season so far, and in the win over Wycombe Wanderers, where the previously familiar pattern of taking the lead and being pegged back was then broken with Notts scoring two late goals, there was a sense that things were going to be different.

September was en route to being literally the perfect month, as Notts surged to the top of the table and thrashed their nearest challengers at the time, Exeter, 3-0 on their turf. Then came the return to earth in the form of defeat at Mansfield, which in previous seasons would have heralded the beginning of the decline.

In hindsight we can look back and realise that didn't happen, but October proved a tricky month, with draws against Forest Green Rovers and Carlisle United and a defeat at Crewe Alexandra, but the win over Barnet and the hammering of Newport County kept Notts top of the standings heading into November.

The first round of the FA Cup was negotiated in superb style with a comeback 4-2 win over League One side Bristol Rovers, while in the league, Notts continued to pick up points, although having to share the spoils in draws at Stevenage and Yeovil Town eventually saw Luton sneak up behind the Magpies and take top spot in the table.

As of Christmas Day 2017, Notts County sit second in the standings and, despite having drawn all three of their league games so far this month, the open nature of League Two this season means they still have a healthy advantage over the teams directly below them.

It's not just about the points though - it's about the team's attitude and mentality. Numerous times Notts were either losing or drawing when they found the inner strength to nick a late goal or three, as we saw against Cambridge United.

The interesting thing is that, compared to this time last year (a period which I shall henceforth refer to as "the dirt" - I'd like to use a stronger word but you know, family site and all that), a lot of the players are still the same. But while last year their heads would drop, this year they will simply not give up. The players are lions when last year they were sheep.

This is testament to the different state of affairs at the club - Alan Hardy's takeover of the club and subsequent repairing of the club infrastructure, as well as the appointment of Kevin Nolan, have been the footballing equivalent of turning an abandoned, dilapidated, rat-infested building into a luxury mansion worthy of hosting a G20 meeting.

Indeed, the fact that I can talk about drawing at Yeovil and against Forest Green as negatives when, this time a year ago, it would have been easier to draw blood from a stone than for Notts County not to lose, it shows just how expectations have naturally increased alongside the standards.

So here we are, on Christmas Day, halfway through the season, and well in with a chance of promotion. Except for the first two weeks of 2017, which were traumatic, the year has been a wonderful rebirth for Notts County, with Hardy and Nolan as the miracle workers.

What will 2018 bring? Hopefully, fingers crossed, it will bring more of the same and culminate in glory at the end of the season but, if one thing is certain, is that we have our Notts back.

Merry Christmas all, thank you for all your support over the season and the year so far, and stay with PON as we continue to bring you all the latest Notts goodness across the festive period and into the new year!

COME ON YOU PIES!!

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