Allen has County smiling again
Notts County were only heading one way when they poached Martin Allen from Barnet in April, and that was back to League Two. Five months later and blogger Stuart Brothers tells Best of the Bets how life at Meadow Line is a lot rosier...
Ante-post betting suggested that Notts County were expected to finish mid-table, but the most recent odds on a top-six finish sees you slashed from 10/3 to 5/2. Have you been surprised by the club’s start to the season?
Absolutely. Our summer signings didn't grab too many headlines but I still had faith in Martin Allen's judgement; I felt he'd earned it really.
A lot of our own supporters thought we'd suffer but I never thought it'd be that bad - but at the same time I never expected us to being going along as well as we have.
The current form is fantastic - there was a lot of talk that the Juventus friendly would be a massive distraction to our League One campaign but I think with seven points from a possible nine since Turin, the fixture has been completely justified.
I think if we keep this up for another two or three weeks then I'll probably re-evaluate my pre-season prediction of mid-table.
As starts to the season go, we've had two epic battles with Nottingham Forest and Tranmere, - and Juventus obviously - so I think we've got more stories to tell from these opening few weeks than most clubs will have all season. Long may the madness continue!
What is it about this side that is so different to the one which struggled last season?
Martin Allen. Absolutely no question about it.
I remember last season, a 3-1 defeat at Dagenham & Redbridge - the last fixture before Allen came in.
We were, for all intents and purposes, dead and buried on the back of seven straight defeats and were pretty much resigned to hoping we'd go down with pride and were looking to Allen building in the summer to bounce back up. That he managed to drag us to safety was pretty miraculous!
He has worked wonders with our players confidence too. Karl Hawley, Ben Burgess and Stuart Nelson have all had issues with their form but Allen has taken to the press to get supporters back on-side and for all three they've turned things around - so far at least!
Martin Allen is certainly a character and seems to have come to the club at the right time. Do all the fans feel the same?
We love him. He's getting the job done on the field, making all the right noises that supporters want to hear off it - we can't ask for much more. You watch an interview and the one thing you feel is that he's just a perfect fit for the Meadow Lane madhouse.
Our recent history with managers is documented enough, but there's a genuine hope right now this is ‘it’ so to speak. We've found a manager who has restored a lot of lost pride in Notts in the short time he's been here so hopefully he'll be at the helm for the foreseeable future.
In the past, you have relied on Lee Hughes as the main source of goals but I’ve noticed him appearing from the bench more recently. Does that say a lot about the squad’s strength in depth?
Lee's form this season has been spot on. I think he's featured in every match we've played which is staggering considering how much he was missing last season for us.
And it's not just goals that he brings. He has always been a pest (I know some readers will be able to think of other ways of describing him!) but his all round game has been vital this year, be it starting or from the bench.
There was massive concern – and I suppose there still is – that we needed another striker throughout the recent transfer window but Burgess has popped up with a couple.
Similarly Jeff Hughes from midfield, and Cristian Montano our loanee from West Ham are both putting them away. We were in desperate need of goals last season but so far this season we're delighted with what we're seeing in terms of squad depth.
Notts seem to have found their feet now both on and off the pitch. Has it been difficult recovering from the Munto Finance era or has it been a pretty easy transition?
There's no escaping the fact that last season was a massive wakeup call. We'll always harbour fantastic (and some not so) memories of the Munto season but last year was definitely a tough one.
We had a great pre-season before it kicked off, and thought we'd give Huddersfield a good test on the opening day - we were hammered 3-0 and struggled pretty much all season apart from at the turn of the year.
It feels sometimes like people's expectations could be managed a little better though.
We're a League One club who were staring down the barrel of administration again just two seasons ago and had Ray Trew not waded in we might not be here now, so when you see supporters spitting their dummies out over not signing a striker you do wonder where the sense of perspective is. We've been in considerably worse positions than this in the past after all.
You played Forest in the Carling Cup earlier this season but who do you most look forward to playing in League One?
You'll always look for the local derby games so Chesterfield is up there. There's a little bit of history from the Munto season with Rochdale, so I imagine there'll be some fun this Saturday when they visit.
For me though, Tranmere is the standout in this division. We've a tasty little rivalry building up there since last season.
We went to Prenton Park on the back of nine straight defeats and, despite them dominating us for much of the game, we took all three points.
They didn't take kindly to it, and they kicked us all over the park the other week when they came to the Lane. We still won again though which made things even sweeter!
Considering the strong start, where do you honestly see Notts in the League One table come May?
Like I said; if we can keep going like this for another two or three weeks (we just know there'll be a speed bump eventually!) then I see absolutely no reason why we can't push on for the playoffs. Martin Allen has us playing some great football at times - but as Saturday at Stevenage showed we're more than willing to play direct and win ugly when the occasion dictates.
The performances against teams like Wednesday and Charlton have been enough to show me we can hang with the big boys in this division on our day so I certainly think there's more to us right now than the mid-table obscurity I had predicted during the close-season.
Go on, I'll stick my neck out and say top six finish!
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