After Notts County yet again let a lead slip in Tuesday night’s 2-1 defeat at Grimsby in the Checkatrade Trophy, this is now the Magpies’ worst start to a season since 1966.
Never since then have Notts failed to win in any of their opening eight matches to a new season in all competitions, an unwanted feat that they have now matched this campaign.
Yet despite this devastating start, Notts fans are still surprisingly optimistic about being able to turn this season round quickly.
Harry Kewell’s first game was a distinct improvement on anything else seen this season in the black and white, and many fans are now hopeful that the turnaround is well underway.
His side took the lead in his first game, but Grimsby scored twice in the last quarter of the match to win the tie. The Aussie blamed a lack of fitness for this, a worry so soon into a new season, but the first half was the best 45 minutes of football that Notts County have played this season and was the first time since the opening day that Notts have lasted a full half without conceding a goal in it.
The arrival of experienced centre-half Elliott Ward, who has had Premier League experience at Norwich and West Ham was probably the reason that Notts’ defence looked a lot stronger, and there appears to finally be positives to take from a game.
The next game for Notts is a long 200-mile, four-hour trip to Exeter, who have started strongly on the back of their second successive play-off final defeat.
The Grecians sat top of the tree after four games, but three defeats on the bounce, to Fulham, MK Dons and then a 3-0 home defeat to Lincoln has seen them drop out of the League Two play-off positions and crash out of the Carabao Cup.
They did however get a win midweek against Yeovil Town, on penalties in the Checkatrade Trophy, to end their losing streak, though both teams did make a string of changes for that match.
Exeter seem a very solid and organised team. The signing of Jonathan Forte from the Magpies over the summer bolsters their already strong attack, and the combination of Forte, Lee Holmes and Jayden Stockley is one of the strongest in the league on paper.
That being said, you could argue that the Notts frontline is probably stronger and so with the hopeful lift of confidence that arrives with a new manager, Notts fans would hope that the likes of Kane Hemmings and Kristian Dennis can get firing.
Whilst Kewell is still hoping to get some more new signings in before the weekend’s game arrives, with former Bolton midfielder Karl Henry and former Forest ‘keeper Dimitar Evtimov both heavily rumoured to be joining the club, he should have enough at his disposal to field an eleven at Exeter that is capable of winning the game.
Notts now have adequate cover in all positions; right-back Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain was fit to start at Grimsby on Tuesday and so Notts now have balanced cover if Matt Tootle is still unfit to play on Saturday. Andy Kellett can slot in again at left back to replace the suspended Dan Jones and new signing Elliott Ward is almost certain to make his league debut at the weekend.
County’s record against Exeter is pretty good. They’ve only lost four out of their last 24 meetings and are unbeaten in their last four journeys to St. James Park, winning the last two to an aggregate score of 5-0. Any repeat of that this time around will be more than welcome for Harry Kewell’s first league game officially in charge of Notts County.
Notts’ 2-1 defeat at Grimsby was the first time in seven matches that they have not conceded at least three goals in a game, so with the defence seeming to be improving, alongside the fact that Notts have scored in each of their last four matches despite losing them all, things do appear to finally be on the up.
Whether they are on the up enough for Notts to register their first win of the season on Saturday is another matter though, but I can see no reason why Notts can’t leave Exeter at 5pm on Saturday with their first three points on the board.
Picture Credit: Notts County