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Nottingham Post - - SPORT - By LEIGH CUR­TIS

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

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