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Walsall defeat brings County down to earth

Saturday 1st February 2014 13:15

Shaun Derry: Tough run of fixtures approaching

Shaun Derry: Tough run of fixtures approaching

Notts County FanZoner Andrew Crawley gives his take on the Magpies after their recent defeats to Walsall and Peterborough.

It's funny how quickly emotions in football can change.

Just a week ago, morale at Meadow Lane had been at its highest for months after their unbeaten start to 2014 was extended following a vital 1-0 win over Stevenage.

Suddenly, the County faithful were feeling more optimistic about their survival hopes and their future prospects in general under manager Shaun Derry.

However, two games and two defeats later and suddenly there is a more grounded outlook on the task the club is facing this season.

The midweek defeat to Peterborough United was difficult to take for Notts fans.

They led 2-0 with just ten minutes gone before eventually going down 4-3 to an 85th minute goal by Posh striker Nicky Ajose, although the red card brandished to County's Ronan Murray early in the first half was surely a defining moment.

But while The Magpies could count themselves unlucky to leave London Road empty-handed, Saturday's crushing defeat at home to Walsall was fully deserved.

County were torn apart by the Saddlers, who continue to flourish under the guidance of Dean Smith, meaning their impressive start to the New Year now seems a very distant memory.

There was also cruel sense of irony in the defeat as four of the goals were scored by ex-County players.

Walsall's hat-trick hero Febian Brandy spent a brief spell at Meadow Lane in 2011 while Craig Westcarr was a key part of the Notts side that stormed to the League Two title in that memorable 2009/10 campaign.

However, this is not time to be reminiscing the past for County, as the embarrassing defeat to Walsall emphasised the tough task still in hand this season.

While their recent good run has seen them climb out of the relegation zone, County are still just a point above Sheffield United in 21st position in a tight relegation battle that looks as though it will go right down to the wire.

The crushing defeat at the hands of Walsall also emphasised some of the problems within the squad that Shaun Derry must address.

County's defence has been a problem all season and remains a cause for concern after it was exploited so easily by Brandy and co on Saturday.

The dip in form of skipper Dean Leacock has been one of the most alarming developments of this campaign.

The former Derby County defender was on of County's most reliable and consistent performers last season, forming a solid partnership in the heart of the defence with Gary Liddle.

However, Leacock has often struggled this season, looking hesitant and unsure of himself at times.

Although Leacock is not the only player who has struggled to emulate their performances of last season, it does look as though he is struggling to recover his form.

And with Manny Smith looking winning the praise of many Notts fans since returning to the starting line-up, Leacock's place in the team should be far from guaranteed, particularly after the shambles of Saturday's 5-1 defeat.

Derry also faces a tough decision over which system to play; particularly now Callum McGregor's loan deal from Celtic has been extended until the end of the season.

County seemed to benefit from switching to playing two out and out strikers when McGregor's original loan expired, with Enoch Showunmi in particular seemingly benefiting and looking more comfortable with this system.

However, McGregor's return has seen Derry revert to the system of playing Showunmi as the lone striker, with the Scot playing just behind the front man in the attacking midfield role.

County are entering possibly the toughest period of Derry's reign so far with a tough run of fixtures approaching, including visits to Preston and Wolves.

It is vital that Derry and his players learn from Saturday's embarrassing defeat and develop a system that will reignite their survival campaign.

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