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BUMPER CROWD FAILS TO INSPIRE MAGPIES AS FEAR OF RELEGATION GROWS
THEY had arrived in their thousands, armed with hope and expectation, but as the night closed in and the rain began to fall, it was only fear that remained.
Everywhere you looked there were haunted expressions milling around Meadow Lane at full-time, which was understandable given that Notts County’s proud status as the world’s oldest professional Football League club is under serious threat.
They are six points adrift of safety as a result of Cambridge’s narrow victory and, on this evidence, a miracle looks as if it is going to be required if Dover and Braintree are not going to appear on their fixture list next season.
That may sound over the top, given that there are still several months of the season left to retrieve the situation, but the problem is they are losing games they badly need results from.
Not even the vociferous support of more than 15,000 fans could spark Notts into a performance they so badly needed, as the tale of this game followed a similar path to many that have gone before it.
While nobody could doubt the effort, there was precious little quality in the attacking third which, allied to the weaknesses that still exist when it comes to defending setpieces, meant this was yet another fruitless afternoon.
Manager Neal Ardley has only been in the job since November but looked as though he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders during a post-match analysis in which he bemoaned the same old problems.
You cannot help but feel sympathy for the former AFC Wimbledon manager, who may feel that he has been handed the wheel of the Titanic just as the iceberg comes looming into view. Nobody can doubt his fight and willingness to spare Notts from non-league football next season but it needs to be reciprocated by his players in which only a few carry the leadership required to be successful.
It is not being helped by an alarming injury list, which shows no sign of easing and led one supporter to amusingly ask whether Notts had replaced the training pitch with a minefield. Ardley has been unable to field his strongest team as a result which is certainly having a detrimental impact on any hope of progress.
The absence of players who possess the quality he craves is certainly Taylor 41 Attendance 15,026 noticeable out on the pitch, particularly in the final third, where the lack of Enzio Boldewijn’s pace has been crucial.
Notts huffed and puffed for large spells here but the lack of dynamism and ability to stretch defences ultimately meant that Cambridge goalkeeper David Forde had a comfortable afternoon.
At the other end, Notts defended pretty well, limiting Cambridge to very few opportunities themselves in what, in truth, was an entirely forgettable encounter.
The only time new goalkeeper Ryan Schofield was seriously tested was when he was required to claw Brad Halliday’s ferocious 25-yard drive around the post for a corner.
But it was what followed that undid all their hard work as Greg Taylor bullied his way to win a header from George Maris’s corner to send it into the net.
From then on it was a question of if Notts had the tools to unpick a Cambridge defence that carried the kind of resolve that their manager, Colin Calderwood, was renowned for as a player.
Jon Stead and Kristian Dennis could not hold the ball up in the final third, but, then again, their cause wasn’t helped by the fact neither of them are target men.
The ball often came straight back and while Notts were able to win possession swiftly, the lack of cutting edge proved a serious problem as the visitors knew there was no pace to hurt them.
The only time Notts did get behind their back four came as a result of a lovely move when Cedric Evina crossed low for Dennis. But, from an acute angle, he sent a low shot right across the face of goal.
From then on it was a frustrating exercise of watching Notts bringing a water pistol to a gunfight.
Stead ploughed away like you would expect, as did Dennis, but it was more through hope than in expectation that they would get a
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Ryan Schofield can only stand there as Cambridge celebrate going ahead through a looping header