As promised, the second person to feature on Fan Focus for our FA Cup clash with Notts County is Alex West. Alex has been a season ticket holder for 15 years now, and holds treasured memories of the likes of Tommy Johnson & Mark Draper at Meadow Lane, as well as new heroes like Lee Hughes & Ben Davies. Here's what he had to say ahead of our FA Cup Third Round tie...
Hello there Notts County fans! How are the 'Proper Magpies' (as opposed to our neighbours to the north) doing this season?
Alex: Hi, we had a very shaky start to the season with two successive 3-0 league defeats to Huddersfield Town and Oldham Athletic. After the total domination in the league last season, it really was a reality check for what might be in store in the division above. In between however, was a refreshing 1-0 League Cup win away at Plymouth Argyle. Three games in, two defeats, 6 goals conceded and only one scored. Not a trend of results the pies fans were familiar with 12 months earlier. Former player Craig Short was the man given the responsibility by new owner Ray Trew to continue the dream of back-to-back promotions. When appointed, he raised a few eyebrows, and it wasn’t long before the 'Short Out Brigade' at Meadow Lane were calling for his head. After continuing poor results, it wasn’t too long before Shorts reign was ended, with his short tenure being over after throwing away a 1-0 lead at Colchester United to lose 2-1. This was the last straw for Short and Ray Trew gave him the boot. Arguably the best result so far was the dazzling 3-2 win away at 'local rivals' Peterborough United. They were flying high at the time and unbeaten at home with Ben Davies lighting up London Road with two sweet strikes. This was definitely Craig Shorts highlight of his career as gaffer but the match was over-shadowed by a cynically late challenge by Posh playmaker Grant McCann resulting in a red card and a 22 man brawl which erupted at the final whistle.
Paul Ince was welcomed to Meadow Lane and his first task was to try and guide the Pies to victory against the biggest club in League 1 - Southampton. We didn’t deliver, chance after chance in the first half came our way but as ever early on in the season, we didn’t take them and were rightly punished in the second half - going on to lose 3-1. However, he is beginning to steady the ship and on a decent unbeaten run. We are now unbeaten in five, winning four of those and into the third round of the cup. At the moment we can’t really complain. This is being written before a bank holiday home tie with Hartlepool though.
Overall, after a shaky start and yet another managerial merry go round, Incey seems to have us playing the kind of football which made us so successful last season. Paul Ince says the main objective this season is league safety. But I have a sneaky feeling that some supporters, deep down, are hoping for just a little bit more than that!
What was life like supporting County while all that craziness with Sven et al was going on?
Alex: I remember hearing the news about the takeover in the car on the way to work one morning. I thought to myself, No, No Way in hell is an international consortium interested in taking over our club. Then a week or so later, National News broke the story that the sale had been finalised. The oldest League club had been taken over by a multi millionaire organisation. Peter Trembling was announced as the Chief Executive of the club. We as fans were still unsure of how much money this club was willing to invest. We were not unsure for long. Huge football names came into the club. Of course Sven was named Director of Football, one of the biggest footballing stories in history. And then, Goal machine Lee Hughes was signed on a 2 year deal. Kasper Schmeichel signed for a fee to be in the region of £1.5m, a figure that was just not used in our level of football. He signed on a five year contract, as did England international Sol Campbell.
The season began with a thumping 5-0 win with 'Hughsey' bagging a hat-trick on his debut. On the footballing side we didn’t look back once, reaching the fifth round of the FA Cup and of course claiming the league title. However, behind the scenes, Notts fans began to worry, with national journalists questioning the validity of the takeover. Sol Campbell quit after one game for the club, he claimed he was lied to. Notts fans laughed it off. Oh how we were so silly. News began to break that Munto Finance were a farce, there was actually no money. We had high profile players at the club on stupid amounts of wages, we had Sven, and had promises to players that we couldn’t keep.
Shortly, Peter Trembling bought the club for £1. He announced there was no money, and was approaching some new investors. Notts fans were worried, and so we should be. After failing to attract new investors, Trembling also sold the club, this time to Ray Trew. After months investigating, Ray Trew announced that the club were in the region of £10m debt.
As a supporter, it was up, down, up, down, and up again. It was certainly a roller coaster. There was excitement, anger, joy, worry. Possibly every single emotion possible, we went through it all last season.
Do you have any memories of playing us?
Alex: Unfortunately I have no memories of playing against the Black Cats, I apologise. Hopefully though, Saturday will be one to remember.
Who is the most dangerous player Notts will have on offer and we should look out for?
Alex: Notts of course have Lee Hughes, a player that can score goals for fun at any level. Scoring 36 goals last year, he is also banging them in this year. He only needs one chance, let’s hope he gets a couple of them on Saturday. Also scoring on the goal front this year are midfielders Ben Davies and Craig Westcarr. Davies is our set piece hero and if he gets a dead ball in and around the box, he always delivers. Not a player to be given time and space. Craig Westcarr is more of an attacking minded midfielder and has actually been playing up front in recent week, and is a player that also knows where the net is. Krystian Pearce at the back is a star of the future, big strong and quick and also chips in with a few goals.
And by contrast, who's the weakest link in the team?
Alex: For me, we have a pretty strong spine to the team, bar the goalkeeper. Our number one at the moment is Rob Burch. Good shot stopper but his commanding of his box and distribution are often called into question by the fans. I guess Kasper Schmeichel spoilt us.
I'd imagine we're going to give a few of the star names a rest. Does that give you even more confidence heading into the game?
Alex: I think we will be confident of whichever side Sunderland field. We have a decent set up and aren't scared of anything put in front of them. We will have huge respect for whatever starting 11 as you are a Premiership outfit, but we aren’t a side going there to fill up the numbers, we will be after a result. We did it at Watford this season, last season we did it at Wigan, reaching the Fifth Round in the process. We will be confident and I’m sure our players and fans alike will love the occasion whatever the result.
Who from our lot do you think will give Notts cause for concern, and who are you looking forward to seeing?
Alex: Your front two of Bent and Gyan scare the hell out of me. An England international and a World Cup striker are a bit better than what we are used to. Kieran Richardson and Malbranque are full of quality and I hope our full backs on their game.
What is your prediction for the game?
Alex: I think if we can keep the scores level until half time, we could surprise you and sneak a draw. I think Sunderland are a totally different proposition to Wigan last year and will cause many more problems. I think with the quality we have going forward, we are more than capable of nicking a goal or two. We have sold 1300 tickets so far, I expect that to double during the week. I expect 3200 fans to travel in total so a good healthy following having a great day out.
My head - Sunderland 3-1 Notts County
Bent (11, 16) Richardson (54) - Hughes (87) Sending the travelling fans into raptures.
My heart - Sunderland 1-1 Notts County
Hughes (81) - Bent (88) Breaking our little magpie hearts.