As the horrors of the Groves regime unfurled the chance of the jolly bit seemed to be receding fast although with Groves being given the boot and the return of Eddie I ended up really looking forward to this trip, even after him having only one match in charge.
The Poppy and Pint upheld the reputation of Nottingham pubs for our pre-match drink (or rather several) and we headed to the match feeling suitably mellow. The team started off playing the usual fluid Eddie way but it was an even tussle. Pugh had a very early attempt on goal saved and McQuoid had a shot from distance well tipped away whilst James had to make a showy save to stop a long range effort by Arquin. Matters continued in this vein until memories of the Groves’ era returned as we shot ourselves in the foot twice.
Firstly a Notts surge was allowed to sweep forward unchallenged and as James came out to dive at the feet of the onrushing opponent he appeared to ‘bottle it’ at the last moment and withdrew his hands. This resulted in a loose ball which the covering, but off balance, Francis played into the middle of our box for some reason. This went straight to the loitering Hughes (Jeff) who scored with ease. Francis further blotted his copybook 11 mins later when he aimlessly passed backwards without looking allowing Arquin to sprint onto the errant ball and slot calmly under the advancing James. Two down and we started to look the ragged side that we had before Eddie’s arrival, just as we had after going behind against Tranmere in the previous match. My halftime text to family and some friends stated that this must make him realise the size of the task. It remained 2 0 at halftime even though it had been an even first period with us possibly shading it. The pre-match mellowness was fading but our trust in Eddie to ‘sort it out’ at halftime meant we retained some hope for the second half.
Rightfully so as well. We soon got into our stride and Pugh again had an early cross shot well saved but we soon started the comeback. McDermott although being challenged by 2 defenders produced a delightful backheal to allow the unmarked McQuoid to run into space and place the ball calmly past Bialkowski. It got better just 9 mins later. Pugh wriggled past several defenders and went down. At the time it did not look a foul and possibly not even inside the box but a penalty was awarded. (Having seen the highlights the ref got it right.) Arter took the spot kick, as Daniels was suspended, and scored with ease to the goalies left.
This second goal woke Notts up a bit and they came into the match more. Addison, who had been poor in the previous match, made many good clearances and blocks looking more like the player of last season. Tubbs replaced McDermott and then Hughes (Lee) came on for them although the evenness remained. A further substitution saw Fetch wheeled on to replace Barnard. Then with 8 mins remaining we shot ourselves in the foot yet again. A cross was knocked away but without much power and the ball fell to Bishop who advanced towards the edge of the box and I could see McDonald rushing out to meet him in a manner which meant I could guess the result. His over eager challenge was late and a stonewall penalty resulted. Campbell-Ryce scored this but the ball somehow squirmed under James after he appeared to have saved it.
This time our heads did not drop and soon after the restart a long ball into their box was flicked on by Fletch which Tubbs collected but was forced wide. He somehow pivoted and put a shot between 2 defenders and the keeper into the net from an acute angle. The County 3 stood there in dismay and disbelief whilst the AFCB players and fans celebrated. Both sides continued to look for the winner in the little time remaining but there were few moments of concern at either end.
So Eddie had worked his magic at halftime again. I thought that it may take him a while to produce any positive football but he has got things going straight away although we are still fragile as I have already mentioned. His first 2 matches in charge could not have been much more difficult being against the unbeaten league leaders and away to promotion chasers although these had not won at home for 4 matches. 4 points from these is a thing we could have only dreamt about a fortnight before.
No one had a bad match here, although Francis will not look back on it with any fondness. The defence still needs solidifying and I’m not convinced that Addison and Elphick is the correct pairing in the centre due to a lack of pace. The midfield is far more expansive and Pugh obviously loves playing for Eddie but this is probably due to the fact that he is an Eddie player and the style set up around him. This style is the traditional AFCB one of getting the ball wide with wingers and overlapping fullbacks. To play it you need midfielders who feel free to get beyond the strikers or at least join them in the box although there must also be awareness not to leave the back 4 exposed. It always seemed to me that the players wanted to sign into the Groves’ style of play (I never really worked out what it was!) but deep down they did not believe in it hence all the uncertainty. One of Eddie’s first pronouncements was that he wanted us to stop passing the ball backwards so much. Amen to that and Francis must be wishing that he signed up to the mantra before the match.
Man of the match is a very difficult choice and much thought narrowed it down to Addison and Pugh. I was going to give it to Addison for a solid display but whilst writing this report my notes, and other sources, revealed just how much Pugh did to cause County problems so he gets the nod.
AFCB: James, Francis, Elphick, Addison, Cook, McDermott, Arter, MacDonald, Arter, McQuoid, Barnard
Subs: Jalal, Zubar, Partington, Fogden, O'Kane, Tubbs (for McDermott, 67 mins), Fletcher (for Barnard, 81 mins)
Phil Nesbitt, Cockfosters