The 'pies flew to the top of League Two as Jorge Grant continued his excellent form. Here's what our Colin made of it all
Mike Godwin, American attorney and author, may not be someone you'd naturally associate with an article about Notts County or one of the hottest properties in lower league football. I doubt he's even heard of Jorge Grant, to his eternal shame. But Godwin's interest might be piqued if he were to look at online interactions surrounding the scintillating September form of Notts County's (just for emphasis) number 10.
Godwin's law suggests that the longer an online conversation is, the more likely a reference or comparison to Hitler will emerge. And so it is that the longer Grant kept ripping League Two sides a new one, the more likely it was that you'd find anxious fans discussing possible 'recalls' and fearing January like the seat of an exercise bike.
Grant's post-match comments against Exeter regarding his future should've done much to reassure the Twitter-twitching of the Notts faithful. He's enjoying his football and believes he can (somehow) get better still. Poignantly, when asked about feedback from across the Trent, he seemed to allude to having had little contact from them (apart from my Red mate, Jonny, who accosted him in Nando's).
September started with a 1:0 win at Port Vale, a side seemingly desperate to follow Notts' own trajectory as it struggles to recover from a foreign manager and imports, straight into a tough-talking managerial rookie (who would also be sacked fourteen days after Notts' win). Eight months with John Sheridan and they might just make a good appointment. Grant didn't score, but assisted Lewis Allesandra for a 67th minute winner.
Grant's role against Morecambe was significant too, as Notts now clearly have a man to be watched. So, it perhaps surprised Morecambe, and goalkeeper Barry Roche in particular, that it was Dan Jones who lined up a wonderful free kick to open the scoring with Grant the decoy. Jonathan Forte added the second, underlining Kevin Nolan's assertion that Notts were neither a one-man team or reliant on a single 20-goal striker, thanks to a through ball from Grant.
Nolan subbed Grant off vs Morecambe on 88 minutes, and it would be a further 77minutes into Swindon's visit to the Lane before Notts fans would see him again. By which time Notts had already taken a 1:0 lead thanks to Jon Stead's penalty and were looking comfortable in possession. Perhaps a risky strategy to leave someone in such rich form to sit out the majority of a match, but the logic of keeping Grant fit through proactive rather than reactive methods is one that will surely pay dividends for as long as we have him. And that type of player management is only likely to convince other clubs that we can nurture their talented players too.
Four days later and Nolan's management of Grant's game time was rewarded by a 55th minute goal as Forte fed Grant to finish from close range against Crawley, his fifth of the season. Yet the game was also significant because it marked Notts' fourth consecutive clean sheet of September, thanks largely to a settled back four featuring big performances from Adam Collin, Shaun Brisley and Richard Duffy. As Grant's form began to trigger trans-Trent tweets , the solidity of Notts' back line went largely unheralded.
The visit of Lincoln to Meadow Lane looked to offer the toughest test for Notts and its standout performers. And they probably would've been, had Knott not been sent off in the 28th minute for a dangerously high challenge on Ryan Yates. Playing against ten men allowed Notts' qualities to come to the fore once more, with Grant adding to his tally as one of four goal scorers. Terry Hawkridge opened his Notts account by finishing the scoring against his old club, whilst Matt Tootle scored arguably the game's best after some excellent work from Jon Stead. Only by conceding early in the second half did Notts blot their defensive record, but stood firm to some late Imps pressure.
Leaving Meadow Lane that Saturday, top of the league and seemingly firing on all cylinders, there was the genuine feeling that we'd never had it so good and the genuine concern that it couldn't last. Especially as an away fixture against second-placed Exeter was just three days later. A team who hadn't conceded at home since May of last season....
It took Notts and Lewis Allesandra just two minutes to end that particular record with an audacious lob over the keeper. Despite five changes from the team that started against Lincoln, including another place on the bench for Grant, Notts continued where they finished the Lincoln game: comfortable in possession and resilient in defence. So, when Grant entered the game on 57 minutes, there felt an almost inevitability that he would get his name on the scoresheet once more. But he didn't. It was twice. Goals on 61 and 82 minutes not only set Notts hearts racing but catapulted him into national interest, with Twitter accounts such as @TheNinetyTwo hailing him as one of the top u22 players in the country. The Godwin/Grant phenomenon was so palpable that Nolan and Grant himself were forced to clarify the loan situation in an attempt to quell the concern that Notts fans could not take his time in a black and white shirt for granted.
With Notts in this type of form, who could blame fans for being hopeful (or even expectant) that the Mansfield hoodoo would finally be lifted four days later? We were top, looked solid and had a player in the form of his life. Not even the fact that Darren Drysdale was ref could dampen spirits, as 1,644 fans made the trip to Field Mill. But not every Notts player turned up, or certainly the versions we'd become accustomed to since the start of the season. Richard Duffy in particular struggled to replicate the form that had made him one stumble away from being August's player of the month. A poorly-weighted header was intercepted and finished by Danny Rose, while Duffy scored Mansfield's third while turning in a cross from the same player. Not even Carl Dickinson's sweetly-struck free kick (the third Notts player to do so this month) was enough to raise a smile come the final whistle.
Until we realised we were still top. And Jorge Grant will be staying until January. And Kevin Nolan has signed a three-year deal.
Left Magpie of the Month: Jorge Grant - Notts County's goal-scoring, anxiety-causing, Nando's frequenter.
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