However, to scratch beneath the surface, the key phrases in the question are ‘play well’ and ‘play badly’. In the first scenario, once the initial disappointment of losing has passed, then a measure of comfort is taken from a decent performance, but after a ‘how on earth did we win that? We were rubbish’ success, there is always a doubt of the ‘if we keep playing like that, our luck will run out’ kind, lurking at the back of the mind.
In fact for both of the outcomes described in the question, it is largely down to luck, good or bad, over the duration of a match, which determines the result. And as we all know, luck has a habit of evening itself out over the course of a season. Add up the tally of missed penalties, goalkeeping errors, unjustified dismissals and other misfortunes in the ‘for’ and ‘against’ columns come next May, and very likely they will balance, no matter which team you support.
The Magpies, and especially Lee Hughes, had ‘one of those days’ against Charlton at the Valley on Saturday. After scoring 30 league goals last season, and then a stunner against Yeovil Town in the 4-0 victory at Meadow Lane after returning from injury, Hughes wasted two glorious chances, one from the penalty spot, against the Addicks. These misses proved costly when the home side scored five minutes from time and Notts were condemned to an undeserved defeat.
This was County’s best league performance so far this season, and against Championship hopefuls to boot. They played some great football, bettering Charlton for much of the game and merited a draw at the very least.
Not surprisingly, the players were downhearted immediately after the match. Captain John Thompson said: "It's hard to take a defeat like that. We're all really disappointed we lost the game, but I think we have to take a lot of heart from our performance.”
He was bitterly disappointed by the result and stated: “They were very lucky to beat us. I don't know how we managed to lose the game.”
Fellow defender Graeme Lee concurred and added: "The way we conceded the goal was disappointing. After digging in all game and being solid, and handling everything they threw at us, it was really too easy for them to score the goal."
Manager Craig Short admitted that he ‘was bordering on tears’ after the defeat. He felt that his side had deserved to win, but philosophically stated that ‘no doubt we will have a game this season when we get battered and nick a win at the end’.
However, now that the dust has settled, Short and his players will no doubt reflect and take heart from the team’s performance. If they continue to play in the same vein, and don’t allow this defeat to knock their confidence, which it shouldn’t, they will surely challenge in the top half of League One this season
Team and manager can also be cheered by the reaction of the fans to Saturday’s loss. We remain upbeat and optimistic that the team’s players have the ability to survive in League One, following this good performance against one of its supposedly ‘better’ sides. The feeling of not minding getting beaten when the team plays well is prevalent amongst supporters, who seem to feel that County have now ‘found their feet’.
The feeling of the fans can perhaps best be summed up by this statement from one of their number: “Things are looking good, and we have to remember that when we have a bad day.”
It was just not County’s day, but even the greats have bad days.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.