Following on from trips to Dover, Maidenhead and Guiseley, my friend, Sam, and I headed to Nottingham for my traditional birthday away day. Although this year’s event was over a week after my 28th, we made it a special one by grabbing tickets to Wrexham’s Sunday clash with Notts County, as well as Nottingham Forest’s game against Birmingham City the day before.
With the two side’s grounds being the closest distance apart in England, sitting either side of the River Trent, we booked an Airbnb in-between both and tried to sample everything Nottingham could offer us in 24 hours.
Chips by the river
We arrived in the East Midlands two hours before the Forest game kicked off. We headed straight to our accommodation to drop off our stuff before our host led us over the bridge located behind his house to get to the City Ground.
When he departed, he recommended visiting a Forest fan pub called the Southbank but the place was rammed when we entered. Sam and I headed elsewhere and grabbed some food from the burger vans dotted outside the Trent End. I don’t think I’ve ever had a pre-match meal like it.
My cheesy chips were bang average… but we weren’t really paying for the grub, more for the opportunity to eat on the sun-drenched bank of the river. We watched scores of Forest fans coming over the bridge, spotted Notts County’s ground on the other side and grabbed an ice cream each to finish. Mine was a Cornetto (strawberry, of course).
A good day to see Forest
We found our seats with half an hour to spare and had a laugh about Forest’s Robin Hood mascot. His hollow eyes, cold expression and resemblance to Lord Farquaad didn’t seem that endearing to kids.
Our mocking didn’t endear ourselves to the lady next to us either. She thought we were rogue away fans and when I took my High Stress Therapy flag out, she pleaded for us to put it away. We explained that we were neutrals backing Forest for the day and she relaxed a bit after that, although she warned us not to expect much from the home team. I said: ‘Joe Lolley’s surely going to net a hat-trick’. She said he was out of form.
About 15 minutes in, Lolley opened the scoring from distance and five minutes later, he planted a ball onto the head of Lewis Grabban to double Forest’s lead. Our new friend conceded that we’d picked a good day to visit.
Lolley may have done the damage for the double European Cup winners but they were indebted to Alfa Semedo, Sammy Ameobi and Samba Sow, as the trio constantly won the ball back and stifled any Birmingham attacks. The Reds were in total control and tightened their grip on the three points in the second half when Michael Dawson scored his first goal for Forest in 15 years following his return to the club he began his career with.
We were in the best spot to see Dawson’s header and we should have seen more goals thereafter. Grabban, Ameobi and Albert Adomah missed such easy chances to make the scoreline significantly more handsome. But the home support left in high spirits regardless, including our flag friend, who wished us good luck for Wrexham’s game the next day.
Strike it unlucky
Our only negative talking points from the match were provided by two unfortunate strikers.
Lukas Jutkiewicz looked class for Birmingham. He held the ball up so well and dragged his team up the field countless times. But his outstanding centre-forward play wasn’t rewarded with a goal, or even an assist, as the rest of his team failed to match his performance level. With the Blues losing 22-goal top scorer Che Adams to Southampton this summer, Jutkiewicz seemed to be visibly crying out for a strike partner.
The biggest let-down of the match, however, came via Nottingham Forest substitute Rafa Mir. When he took to the field, the on-loan Wolves forward tried an outrageous scorpion-kick which would have been one of the best goals I’d ever seen. It narrowly flew over the crossbar and I hated Mir so much for teasing me and the 27,000 in attendance.
The City Ground is a class stadium in a really unique spot, straddling a river and near other top sporting facilities such as Trent Bridge. Our seats gave us a great view of both the game and the rest of the stadium, while I was also impressed with the home fans’ passion and dedication, in spite of the team’s lack of significant success in recent years.
With the club looking to revamp the ground very soon, it would be great to see Forest promoted back into the Premier League. However, they may want to start building a long-term strategy rather than hiring another 16 managers in eight years. I’ll definitely be backing current Forest boss Sabri Lamouchi to succeed this season.
Nottingham Forest 3
Birmingham City 0
Ground rating: 8/10
During the interlude between games, Sam and I headed out into Nottingham for the evening. We discovered… very little, to be honest. The city had no real appeal other than for drinking in. So, we had a drink. At the oldest Inn in England, apparently: Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem, which dates back to the 12th century.
We then wandered the streets for a while. Our walk brought us to a lonely busker singing Grace Buckley’s Hallelujah, a Greggs that apparently closed at half three in the morning and 10p arcade machines in the middle of the street. Later on, we entered a late night gaming cafe and were given a tutorial on how to battle with Dragon Ball Super trading cards. Sam bought an expensive board game following our duel and we headed home to stash his purchase.
When we awoke the next day, we decided to have a lazy Sunday morning and discussed conspiracy theories with our host over breakfast. We then checked out and headed round the corner to Meadow Lane for the weekend’s main event.
Return of The 1,500
All of our excursions on the previous day left me feeling flat before the game. We’d walked past Meadow Lane so many times already, there was no real buzz when we arrived at the ground for the match. Notts County also failed to turn their music up when we entered and the lethargic manner in which Wrexham were warming up gave us lazy Sunday afternoon vibes.
Luckily, though, the Wrexham fans packed out the four sections they were given in the Jimmy Sirrel Stand and made a right noise before the game kicked off, which continued through the 90 minutes.
The match was the third occasion in the space of 12 months that Wrexham had taken over 1,500 fans to an away game. Although the feat is becoming more and more common, it’s still an incredible effort to marvel at and fucking amazing to be part of.
Redmond saves the day
The only problem with having such a big following is that Wrexham always seem to play badly in front of them. We lost at Solihull Moors and played terribly in the 1-1 draw at Chesterfield when The 1,500 were previously in the away ends and this was another poor display.
Barring a strong opening five minutes from us, Notts County dominated the match. They were in behind so many times and should have won the game comfortably. We had Christian Dibble in goal to thank for keeping us in the contest but when he made a mistake and left a far-post cross, Kristian Dennis sneaked in and headed home for the hosts.
County fans suddenly found their voice but we silenced them five minutes later when Devonte Redmond found the top corner with a superb strike. Impressive right-back Jazzi Barnum-Bobb did great work to find Redmond and he scored his first of the season with a rocket from the edge of the penalty area.
County should have re-taken the lead in the closing stages (several times) but Redmond’s goal was enough to steal a point and the eruption from The 1,500 was the most memorable part of the weekend.
Solving Wrexham’s problems
The result doubled our away points tally for the season. We now have two from a possible nine on the road. That needs improving fast. However, more worrying statistics relate to how many goals we’re conceding.
A backline that’s broken records for clean sheets over the last two seasons has already conceded six goals in five games and has only had one shutout thus far. Going further back, since Bryan Hughes took over as manager, we’ve only kept six clean sheets in 20 league games.
I believe this stems from a lack of defensive cover in midfield. Three of the six clean sheets Hughes has achieved as boss was when Brad Walker sat in front of our defence. Following his injury at Leyton Orient in March, our season capitulated and we haven’t looked as solid since.
Walker needs to be suitably replaced. Luke’s Young and Summerfield have been asked to play as holding midfielders in our first five games and we’ve conceded countless chances. Mitch Rose earned the man-of-the-match award for Notts County by constantly running at the heart of our defence and he’s not been the only one to do this. It’s happened too often.
I’d like to see summer signing Adam Barton given a chance to sit in deep. He looks to be in the same mould as Walker – a tall, defensive presence who’s also good on the ball. He could become the key to keeping clean sheets again and unlocking our attacking potential, especially when opponents like County’s Ben Turner win every single long-ball up to JJ Hooper. Barton could be that missing link so we can pass our way through instead.
Notts County’s relegation to non-league, undoubtedly, makes Meadow Lane one of the most impressive grounds to ever be used in the fifth tier. With a capacity nearing 20,000, the stadium wouldn’t look out of place in League One. And the price of tickets reflected that.
Due to County’s website being unable to take Visa Debit payments before the match, we had to buy tickets on the day for an extra £2 apiece. That made the £22 entry fee only £3 cheaper than the Championship clash we watched over the river and, considering a lot of other Wrexham fans experienced the same issue with online payments, it felt like a pretty big rip-off.
However, being at a nice, big ground with a crowd of over 6,000 in attendance is always great to be a part of, as we rarely get away days like that anymore. I feel like both sides have squads capable of getting out of the division this season so hopefully we can repeat this fixture in the Football League next year. Wrexham need to quickly learn how to win on the road first, though.
Notts County 1
Ground rating: 7/10