Another home game, another three points handed to the visiting team. This time it was probably our costliest incidence of the season of gift-wrapping a limited opposition the win at the Ricoh Arena, with Orient now on a run of form that will probably see them sail their way to safety. With five of our six remaining games against fellow relegation strugglers, that generosity has to be stamped out.
It wasn’t just the defeat, we were arguably the better team, it was the lack of incisiveness, especially after falling behind. Tony Mowbray’s appointment has lifted the team from the desperate situation it was in a month ago but it is alarming that we have yet to take a single point from a losing position since his arrival. Along with the poor home form, this inability to fight back from falling behind will have to be addressed if we are to stay up.
The biggest blow of all has been the loss of Dominic Samuel to injury. The Reading loanee has been our only reliable goal-scorer this season and the penetration he provides is hard to find elsewhere in the team. That performance against Orient where Frank Nouble failed to register a shot on goal, Sanmi Odelusi and Jim O’Brien were ineffectual too, left young George Thomas with far too much of the attacking burden than he could handle. If the loss of Samuel is to be softened, the senior attacking players in the team will have to take more responsibility than they did on Wednesday night.
For this coming trip to Notts County, we need big game performers, making the return of Reda Johnson to the squad a vital boost for the team. With Johnson in the team, our form is play-off worthy and our current league position is an indication of just how long we have been without him. Johnson’s struggles for fitness will probably mean that Mowbray will not be tempted to throw him back into the team right away but his presence in the match-day squad should lift the confidence of the team after a potentially devastating result last time out.
Dominic Samuel’s injury absence, coupled with that of Marcus Tudgay has made the return of wunderkind James Maddison more vital than it had been. Maddison is set for a place on the bench after impressing Mowbray in under-21s performances, he’ll be joined by the misfiring German striker Nick Proschwitz who has plenty of room for improvement after his first three games for the club.
Possible Line-Up: (4-2-3-1) Burge; Willis, Pennington, Martin, Stokes; Ward, Fleck; Odelusi, O’Brien, Turgott; Nouble.
Last Time We Met
Notts County will win the award this season for being the most cynical side to play at the Ricoh Arena. Under Shaun Derry, Notts kicked, dived and time-wasted their way to a 1-0 win that put them in touch of the top two back in November. They were a limited team but one that was playing to a common goal and knew how to get the very best out of their abilities, something that this Coventry City side has failed to do this season. A cast-iron penalty shout from a foul on Gary Madine was our only hope for a point as Notts County expertly held on for all three points.
How Are They Doing?
In the 23 league games that Notts County have had since they played us back in November, they have won just three games and now find themselves mired in the relegation battle. Shaun Derry was sacked three weeks ago and the club have recently failed to appoint Martin Jol’s former assistant manager Ricardo Moniz. Whilst those three wins have all come against side in a similar league position to where we currently are, their home form has been poor which probably makes us slight favourites here.
Notts County’s team is a fairly limited one overall but caretaker manager Paul Hart has plenty of experience to call upon which could swing the match in Notts’ favour. The spine of the team of Roy Carroll in goal, Hayden Mullins in defence, Gary Jones in midfield and Garry Thompson their top-scorer are all older than 34. This is a team with the ability to really bully our young team in all areas of the pitch.
Up front they have the powerful Hungary international Balint Bajner who has been a somewhat frustrating presence in the team since joining in January from Ipswich. In his career Bajner has been subject to a meme in Hungary of ‘No Bajner, No Party’ which saw the club block their Facebook page in Hungary soon after his arrival. The forward has two goals in 13 appearances but his height of six foot five makes him a significant presence up top.
Notts County have been boosted by the return of Jimmy Spencer to full fitness after the ex-Huddersfield forward scored the goals that helped the club to a miraculous survival last season. Spencer is another physically occupying centre-forward who will test the mettle of Aaron Martin and Matthew Pennington. Top-scorer Garry Thompson has been a winger throughout his career but has been used mainly as an emergency centre-forward where his work-rate causes problems.
There are also two ex-players in the Notts County ranks in the form of Blair Adams and Billy Daniels. However it is possible that neither could be involved in this game, which is especially surprising in the case of Blair Adams where Lincoln City loanee Sean Newton has been preferred for his set-piece delivery. Daniels, after scoring a spectacular goal on his debut, has failed to nail down a starting spot in the Notts County team.
Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Carroll; Dumbuya, Hollis, Mullins, Newton; C Thompson, Jones, Noble, McCourt; Bajner, G Thompson.
You only have to cast your mind back to our relegation season from the Championship to remember how key these fixtures over the Easter period can be in a relegation scrap. Back then, it was a momentum-turning defeat to Bristol City on Easter Monday that meant that a supposedly kind remaining fixture list of ‘easy’ home fixtures could not be capitalised upon. A defeat here would not be as grave as it was three years ago but it would really place the pressure on our poor home form to save our backsides.
Those of you who have listened to this week’s Nii Lamptey Show (and if you haven’t you really should), will know that I have predicted a 2-0 win for us in this game. I’m not entirely sure why I predicted two goals and a clean sheet, perhaps a couple of bloots forward from Lee Burge catching the wind will help us on the way. I am going to stick with my prediction of a Sky Blues victory.