Are things finally looking up for Notts County? Following the impressive, and vitally important, win over the MK Dons on Saturday, the Magpies weighed in with another excellent display at Meadow Lane on Tuesday night, to send Bournemouth crashing out of the FA Cup.
After a disappointing start to the game when midfielder Ricky Ravenhill was stretchered off after five minutes, following a collision with teammate Neal Bishop, the mood improved immeasurably less than 15 minutes later when Krystian Pearce scored his first goal for the club in almost three years, with a header from eight yards out.
Lee Hughes doubled the lead on 35 minutes, shooting past Bournemouth goalkeeper John Stewart from close range, and an own goal from Cherries defender Warren Cummings, after brilliant work from Thomas Ince, in first half injury time made the tie safe, despite a Bournemouth goal in the closing stages of the game.
The reward for dispatching Bournemouth is a potentially very lucrative third round tie away at Premier League Sunderland. A good pay day from the match at the Stadium of Light will boost manager Paul Ince’s funds for new players in the January transfer window and enable him to strengthen his squad for the second half of the season.
For Ince, and assistant manager Alex Rae, the trip to Sunderland will also be a chance to renew old acquaintances with familiar people and places. Ince will face his former Manchester United teammate, Sunderland boss Steve Bruce, with whom he won the FA Cup twice at United, in 1990 and 1994.
Of the encounter Ince said: “It would be nice for me to see Brucey, and for Alex Rae too, who spent a lot of time at Sunderland as a player." Indeed, Rae spent five years with the Black Cats, making over 100 appearances for the team, and is eagerly looking forward to his return to the north east.
"I can't wait to go back there," he said. "It's a fine place to play football. It will be a great occasion for the club and the players.” He added: "I loved playing there. I had great times there. It was the most successful period of my career because we won the Championship and did well in the Premier League."
Before all that, Notts have a job to do ahead of their journey to the Stadium of Light on January 8th, in the form of five league games, but the opportunity to play at a huge Premier League club should prove to be an incentive for healthy competition between the players for a place in the starting line up on FA Cup third round weekend.
Rae certainly thinks that is the case, stating: "We have to focus on our league games now. I'm sure the players will be fighting for places to play against Sunderland."
However, if the Magpies can get a few decent results over the busy Christmas period, then they will be in good shape going into the FA Cup tie in the New Year. Also, let’s not forget that County beat Premier League opposition in the competition last season, Wigan Athletic, in a fourth round replay, as they memorably reached the fifth round. The team will surely delight in an even greater challenge against Sunderland.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.