If Paul Ince wanted a challenge when he became manager of Notts County, he will now be certain that he has got one. County’s ninth league defeat of the season at Exeter City on Saturday has left the team languishing in the relegation zone.
Ince has also already had a taste of what left his predecessor, Craig Short, frustrated, namely his side dominating a game and then losing.
When Ince spoke after the 3-1 defeat to the Grecians, there were certainly echoes of Short in some of what he said: "I thought our first half performance was a different class, and we could have scored two or three goals. I thought we dominated most of the game.”
The Notts’ boss blamed defensive errors for his side’s inability capitalise on this dominance, claiming that poor positioning by Magpies goalkeeper Rob Burch contributed to the first goal conceded.
Midfielder Ricky Ravenhill also came in for some criticism from his manager, after an attempted square pass to Stephen Darby near the half way line went astray and into the path of Ryan Harley, who assuredly went forward, turned past Liam Chilvers, and scored inside Burch’s left-hand post.
Such mistakes must have been galling for Ince, who has spent a lot of time on the training ground drilling the defence and insisting they play higher up the pitch. He said: "At any level, if you make mistakes like we did it will cost you, and we lost the game. We have to eradicate those, that's the bottom line.”
Ince has now stated to players and fans alike that County are now embroiled in a relegation battle. Notts have only 16 points from 15 games, prompting him to state: "We have to think we are in a relegation fight. When you're fourth from bottom there is no other way of thinking.”
He added: "We've got to make sure come March we are not in the same position we are now, and it's going to take a lot of hard work.”
Notts defender Jon Harley concurred with his manager, saying of his team’s current league position: “It's not where we want to be at all. But the table doesn't lie and you deserve to be where you are." However, Harley went on to offer mitigating factors for his side’s poor defensive display, stating that the players are still getting used to new methods under Ince.
He added: “The manager is putting different things to us and we're steadily becoming accustomed to them. It's going to take time because it's a different kind of set-up, but hopefully not too long and we'll be able to start moving up the league table.”
Reassuringly, it’s not all doom and gloom for Ince, and he offered some words of encouragement, that will hopefully enable his team to keep their spirits up: “I have to praise my players because we played some good stuff at times and never gave up. There is a theme of capitulation when we have gone a goal or two goals down, but I thought they were excellent, and kept going right to the very end."
That’s what the Magpies need to do now; keep going, individually and collectively. Talk of relegation is most likely premature and exaggerated, and as the team gets used to new training ground routines and begins to implement what they learn in matches, no doubt they can string a run of wins together and push on up the table.
They certainly have enough talent in the squad to do that. Hopefully they can get something from the hugely significant game at home to 20th-placed Tranmere Rovers on Saturday.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.