Mind The Gap

Monday, 5 February 2018

Mind The Gap

The gap is now almost non-existent

It looks like 17th March 2018 could be a massive day for football in Nottinghamshire.

Cast your mind back to just over a month ago. Boxing Day, to be precise.

Whilst Mansfield suffered a slight Christmas hangover, eeking out a gritty draw in sunny Cleethorpes against a determined and physical Grimsby Town side, Notts County were doing the business away at Morecambe, smashing them 4-1. If truth be told and judging by the highlights, it could have been eight.

“Mind the gap!” Magpies’ fans taunted on social media.

Mansfield were lurking in 8th place in by no means bad form, but Notts County were ELEVEN points better off in 2nd position. They almost looked uncatchable. They were on a roll, and their fans were as optimistic as they had been since the ‘glory’ days of Sven and Sol.

Sol Campbell wishing he was absolutely anywhere but Meadow Lane

Fast forward a month.  Not quite egg on their faces just yet, but they definitely spoke too soon.
The points difference has all but evaporated. County’s year has begun with Nolan attempting to push their wheel-less wheelbarrow uphill.  They lost crucial midfield playmaker Yates, and struggled to replace him with anyone of significant quality.

The fact that some fans on their forums are claiming that deadline day signing Mason Bennett (4 goals in his last 68 appearances) is a more astute signing than Ricky Miller (42 goals in 43 games for Dover) is simply mind boggling, and smacks ever so slightly of clutching at straws. Hardy promised their fans a goalscorer, and they hardly got that.

Actual image of Kevin Nolan attempting to push a broken wheelbarrow up a hill

It will be interesting to see how January signings for both clubs settle into their respective squads and how quickly.

Could it be that Nolan motivated an average squad to play their socks off for the shirt in the first half of the season, and that purple patch has now come to an end? Have they simply run out of steam? Fair enough, they scored a comfortable victory in front of a bumper crowd on Saturday (£2 a ticket) against a poor Crewe side destined for a relegation scrap, but it may be too soon to tell. It’s wasn't exactly an ideal time for a poor run of form though, however you dress it up, and County’s season may very well hinge on their signings breathing new life into a stagnant team.

Stags, on the other hand, seem to be simply slotting the final pieces into the jigsaw, and made light work of Barnet on Saturday to keep up the pressure on the top three and maintain that one point 'gap' with County.

With regards to our fixture on March 17th… It’s definitely worth mentioning at this point that Notts County haven’t beaten Mansfield in the league since 2005. Fair enough, we’ve spent a few seasons a couple of leagues apart, but it’s still a remarkable stat when you consider how County have always historically been the ‘bigger’ club both on and off the field. The aggregate score since our return to the Football League is 13-2 to the Stags...

It's been party time since 2005...

As much as they try to dress it up, that stat hurts them. Take it from someone who has been on the ‘inside’ (I was backroom staff at Notts once upon a time!), whilst they obviously have significant history (they’re the oldest league club in the world, ya know!) and infrastructure, the fact that they can’t beat their noisy ‘little’ neighbours does more than just rankle. It infuriates.

Their fans’ obsession with attendances does little to hide that contempt. Sure, they average more through the gates on your usual Saturday than rock up at Field Mill. But in a city with a population in the urban area of almost ten times that of Mansfield, their inability to draw a significantly larger crowd week in week out should be - at the very least - slightly concerning, even with the ever more fashionable Forest just across the Trent.

A sea of Amber will be taking over the Waterfront on 17th March... probably to the bemusement of Paddy's day revelers

It’s apparent that February is a huge month for both Notts and the Stags, ahead of a big day out (read ‘drinking session’) for us at Meadow Lane. The Stags have the momentum and the signs are hugely promising, but we don’t want to be sucked into the same trap as County were before January… (‘counting your chickens’, ‘chatting shit’ and all that).
That said, it’s a great time to be a Stags fan and a time we should definitely enjoy. Things have never looked better both on and off the pitch, and for that we owe John & Carolyn Radford, the management team and the directors a debt of gratitude. The atmosphere at Field Mill has never been better and very rarely has our prospects of promotion.

The slayers of Keith Haslam in all their glory

Of course, most Stags fans will be looking to April 14th and the chance to do one over on our fiercest rivals, Chesterfield. But perhaps we are looking at the wrong Derby game when it comes to defining our season. While it’s always enjoyable to smash the Spireites, perhaps we should be focusing our attention on this textbook ‘six-pointer’ (to coin a horrible footballing cliché).

Besides, at the time of writing, we are 26 points ahead of Chesterfield. They’re hardly worth paying attention to, really… how's that for a 'gap'?! 😂