Sadly now departed for pastures new, Lee Hughes became an icon while at Notts County and his goals in taking us to the League Two title and then keeping us up the following year, allied with his great character, earned him legendary status at Meadow Lane. And there is one game above all that stands out in terms of Hughes’ brilliance for me, and a day that is one of my more memorable supporting Notts. It came during that League Two title season of 2009/10, as the fabled number nine tore poor Burton Albion apart scoring a hat-trick in a 4-1 win at the Pirelli Stadium.
It took Hughes just nine minutes to leave his mark, with his treble coming within this time – albeit either side of the break.
It was Notts’ first action for more than two weeks, coming on Monday, December 28, 2009 – the first action since what turned out to be the only home defeat of the season, against Accrington Stanley on December 12 – Hans Backe’s final act as Magpies boss.
So Dave Kevan was in charge at the Pirelli, with Munto Finance long gone, Peter Trembling on the lookout for £25 million of investment, and fans wondering just where the season was heading. Hughes answered in some style bagging his third treble of the season after earlier efforts against Bradford City on debut, and then Northampton Town.
I missed the first goal of this one though, along with many Magpies, due to the dreadful over-crowding and probably over-selling of the away end by Albion staff. Latecomers, such as myself due to being at a local pub and then grabbing some chips and mushy peas, were forced to grab what view they could from the walkthrough area at the back of the stand. The views were pitiful, and you could only see part of the pitch.
Still, to hear the packed standing area go mad when Ricky Ravenhill struck the Magpies ahead on a bitterly cold afternoon with 13 minutes played was still worth it… and it turned out to be a beautiful volley by the often under-rated midfielder.
Steve Kabba found an equaliser for the Brewers six minutes before half-time, beating Kasper Schmeichel, but Notts weren’t to be denied a half-time lead as Hughes grabbed his first in added-time before the break, pouncing on a Karl Hawley flick-on, holding off the defence and calmy finishing past Artur Krysiak.
At half-time the rush for refreshments in the away end enabled us to get into the ground itself, and we had prime standing position for the second-half action, bang in the middle of the goal Notts would be attacking.
It took just three minutes of the second-half for League Two’s leading goalscorer Hughes to get is 17th of the campaign at that point, taking Craig Westcarr’s past and finishing brilliantly past Krysiak, before rushing to do the ‘Hughesy’ in front of a packed away end – who promptly joined in.
His hat-trick came after he rounded Krysiak and was brought down. At that point he was a reliable spot-kick taker and he duly dispatched from 12 yards, sparking more chaos in the away end as Notts fans rushed forward to acclaim their hero. The atmosphere was immense, Burton were shellshocked and the points were Notts’ – 4-1 up after 53 minutes.
Hughes had been given stick by the home fans all game – arguably more so than at most places despite this being the norm – and he milked the applause of the travelling army, showing his fingers to illustrate how many goals he had scored to the Albion crowd.
And when subbed for Luke Rodgers in the 76th minute, he took his time to wave to all sides of the ground mockingly, to show who was the boss. In truth, he has showed it already. Brilliant.