Notts County got 2013 off to the worst possible start they could have wished for, as Milton Keynes Dons recovered from their last two home defeats to Walsall and Coventry respectively, to pick up the 3 points at Meadow Lane and cement their position in the top six in League One.
There was only one change to the starting 11 that went away to Shrewsbury Town on Boxing Day, as "Magpies" manager Keith Curle was forced to replace Jeff Hughes at left back due to the player picking up five bookings and resulting in a one match suspension.
Jeff was replaced at left back by the returning Jordan Stewart, who had just recovered from a Hamstring injury, in what was an otherwise unchanged starting line up and formation (4-4-2) The "Pies" almost got off to the best possible start, when right back Julian Kelly picked out on loan Watford striker Chris Iwelumo with an accurate diagonal pass out of defence. The experienced Scotsman headed the ball down to skipper Neal Bishop who then laid it off to Alan Judge but his resulting effort went over the bar.
Milton Keynes then took the lead on 6 minutes with a rather soft goal to concede it has to be said. A free kick on the left wing from on loan Brighton midfielder Ryan Harley was not dealt with properly by the home defence with nobody marking Darren Potter in the penalty area, who was allowed too much space to head the ball past Bartosz Bialkowski and make it 1-0 to the visitors. Terrible defending it has to be said!
The "Dons" then doubled their advantage on 13 minutes, with again, more lacklustre marking and defending it has to be said. Daniel Powell, was given too much time and space in midfield, and he was allowed to skip past centre-back Gary Liddle into the box and then prod the ball past Bialkowski into the bottom left corner of the goal to make it 2-0, and give the "Magpies" an unwanted and unnecessary mountain to climb in this early stage of the game.
It should, have been 3-0 on the 25 minute mark, when in form "Dons" striker Ryan Lowe, was found unmarked in the box after a good flick on, but his placed effort was well turned away by Bialkowski, before Dean Bowditich followed up with a shot of his own but it went well wide of the mark. As half time approached, Notts did manage to start breaking down their visitors to Meadow Lane, as Lee Hughes centred the ball for Chris Iwelumo who headed it wide from outside the six-yard box, whilst fellow loanee Andre Boucaud produced a long ranged shot that skidded past the left hand side of the post.
Jamal-Campbell Ryce, playing on the left wing, was also growing increasingly into the game in the first half, as he delivered cross after cross into the box, and he was unfortunate not to see one of them converted in, especially in added injury time, when captain Neal Bishops header looped over onto the roof of the net.
Changes were needed to be enforced by the manager Keith Curle at half time, and he didn't fail to surprise, as he took off forward Chris Iwelumo, who was playing the final game of his loan spell from Watford, and replaced him with joint top scorer Yoann Arquin.
The first effort of the second half came from Milton Keynes Dons, as centre-back Shaun Williams lead out a breakaway move from the heart of defence and following an exchange with full back Adam Chicksen, Williams fired inches wide of the bottom left-hand corner from the edge of the box.
On the 56 minute mark, the "Magpies" had the perfect opportunity to put themselves back into the game, when Antony Kay, sent Alan Judge tumbling inside the area. Graham Salisbury immediately pointed to the spot, and up stepped Jamal Campbell-Ryce to slot the ball past opposition keeper David Martin to make it 2-1 and give the "Pies" a chance to get something out of the game.
Second half substitute Yoann Arquin wasted a golden opportunity to make it 2-2, when Lee Hughes produced a smart pass to send the Frenchman through on the right channel. Arquin then broke into the penalty area after getting past Antony Kay, but his placed shot was saved and turned away by Dean Martin, who reacted well to sharply save down his right hand side.
Notts continued to dominate the proceedings in the second half, as the "Dons" were camped inside of their own half, and it seemed as if an equaliser would soon be on the cards for the home side. The Notts faithful thought that came to fruition when Julian Kelly surged past Adam Chicksen on the right wing, and delivered a low cross which Lee Hughes was unlucky to see his effort come back off the crossbar.
There was another substitute for the "Pies" on 78 minutes when Jamal Campbell-Ryce made way for Ivorian Francois Zoko, and the former Carlisle frontman almost made an immediate impact, when he ran from the left flank and crossed the ball into the box which found Julian Kelly, who was then able to feed Alan Judge, but the Irishman's firm effort went agonisingly over the goal. Four minutes of added time were introduced by the Fourth Official, as Manager Keith Curle brought on former Leeds United striker Enoch Showumni for Julian Kelly, as Notts County went to four up in attack with Lee Hughes, Francois Zoko, Yoann Arquin and Showumni to try and grab the equaliser. There were a few chances in this added period as Notts threw bodies forward, with Arquin going close with a headed effort, Zoko forcing a save out of Dean Martin, and Centre-back Manny Smith firing wide from close range, but it was not to be, as the "Magpies" fell victim to the Dons at Meadow Lane and saw themselves slip further down the NPower League One table to a mid table 13th position; 6 points adrift of the play offs. However, the "Pies" do have two games in hand, so there is all still to play for as we go through 2013.
My Man Of The Match: Alan Judge: Was involved in the majority of our play once again. Ran tirelessly down the wings, created chances and was unlucky not to put himself on the scoresheet.
Notts County: Bialkowski, Kelly (Showumni - 90), Liddle, Smith, J.Stewart, Campbell-Ryce (Zoko - 78), Bishop, Boucaud, Judge, L.Hughes, Iwelumo (Arquin - 46)
Milton Keynes Dons: Martin, Lewington, Chicksen, Kay, Williams, Potter, Powell, Harley, Bowditch (Smith - 45), Lowe (MacKenzie - 90), Balanta (Doumbe - 65)
Attendance: 5,325 (Including 311 away supporters)
NPower League One Positions:
Notts County: P: 24, W: 9, D: 9, L: 6, Points = 36 (13th Position)
Milton Keynes Dons: P: 25, W: 12, D: 6, L: 7, Points = 42 (6th Position)
Keith Curle (Notts County Manager): “We gifted them two goals and, home or away, if you gift teams goals you’re going to find it difficult. We created some good opportunities and should have got something out of the game. The performance in the second half showed what we’re about and we’ve got to start games at Meadow Lane like that. I’m as frustrated as anyone and I know that the owners are very frustrated because it does affect us. We just needed that little bit of luck, that little break that you need in the box, but the ball just wasn’t quite falling right for us – but, it will do.”
Final Word: I'm rather annoyed at that performance by the team. The two goals we conceded are really soft and could have been so easily avoided had we marked the opposition better and stuck ourselves in more with "meaty" tackles. Win the ball back! & keep the ball on the ground instead of hoofing it in the air! Theres no point in long balls unless we know its going to reach the desired destination. Chris Iwelumo, will be going back to Watford today and even though he has been good in regards to heading the ball down and bringing others into play, I cant see him coming back to the club. I really hope we utilise Enoch Showumni at some point soon! He's a decent striker, who can run, control the ball and head it down, as well as bring others into play. If he can recapture the form he had for both Leeds United and Tranmere Rovers, then we will have a fine player on our hands, so Keith? Please start him at some point along side Yoann Arquin up front.
Overall, we did pick ourselves up in the 2nd half and played a little bit better but I just felt we weren't good enough that afternoon and we deserved to be defeated. After looking at the League table, 13th and 6 points from the play offs in 6th, its not ideal, but we can get back into the top six, especially with our two games in hand, so it is thoroughly achievable!
I really hope we sign a new striker to replace Chris Iwelumo, as well as sign up Andre Boucaud on a permanent deal from Luton Town, Also, I hope Keith Curle will attempt to sign some young, new defenders in January, but I can dream cant I?
Finally, I hope we do all we can to keep a hold of Alan Judge in the January transfer window. If a Championship club comes in offering some ridiculous amount, then fair enough, cash in on him and buy a suitable replacement, but we cant afford to lose him, especially in January and the rest of the season to go, so I prey that the board do all they can to keep Judgey at the club, and whilst they're at it, offer him a new contract! Cheers..
Well, that's it from me this week. I'll be back next weekend with some more reaction from our away League game to Portsmouth.
Keep the faith! & Come On You Pies!