Sheffield Wednesday were the only winners as Keith Curle's unbeaten run as Notts County manager came to an abrupt end
Magpies v Owls: to be fair, this should be a day-night match. But Notts County were unable to make home advantage or afternoon kick-off tell and Sheffield Wednesday ended Keith Curle's unbeaten run as manager – five wins and a draw – since his appointment last month. The 2-1 scoreline was a fair reflection of Wednesday's poise and control.
The Curle effect had taken Notts from 11th in League One to sixth and, with seven of the top nine clubs drawing, they retained their play-off place – the only losers just as Wednesday were the only winners. Victory took Wednesday level on points with Sheffield United, who lie second and visit Meadow Lane on Tuesday.
The previous Saturday Notts had gone to Charlton Athletic and taken the runaway leaders apart with four first-half goals. Curle felt the atmosphere there had spurred his players on and he urged fans to "get Meadow Lane absolutely bouncing" for the two Sheffield games. "We need them to enjoy watching the players showcasing their abilities."
Perhaps he got carried away. Wednesday subdued those abilities in the first half and exposed frailties in the second, when two goals in a quarter of an hour prior to the 66th minute decided the game. The Jimmy Sirrel Stand bounced with 4,500 away fans. Unusually the visitors get a whole side, not just a goal-back. The 12,410 crowd was double County's average.
Mikhail Antonio breached Notts' left side for the first goal, crossing to Ryan Lowe's run to the near post. Then Gary Madine, receiving from a throw-in, brushed past two defenders and, out of nothing, fired into the far corner to net his 14th league goal of the season. Notts' reply came too late for much tension. Alan Judge, frustrated at the foul that prevented his pin-point pass reaching Jeff Hughes and despairing of the previous set-piece deliveries of Alan Sheehan, swung in a free-kick from the left for Lloyd Sam to head home.
Sam was on debut, on loan from Leeds and on the field for half an hour. Curle, too, could have been at Elland Road, continuing the alliance he had with Neil Warnock at Queens Park Rangers. Having managed before but not since 2007, he preferred the bigger role at the smaller club, albeit the oldest professional one in the world. It is a good time to be at Meadow Lane. Notts are celebrating their 150th anniversary.
Curle is their 21st manager in 21 years since Warnock had them in the top flight. Four seasons ago they finished 21st in the fourth. Martin Allen, whom he replaced, did his bit last spring. Given seven games to stop them returning there, he lifted them from 21st to 19th. The feeling last month was that he had taken them as far as he was going to. Though he had won two of his last three games, that was also two of the last 11 in the league. Ray Trew, the executive chairman, could no longer square Allen's fine work in the community with poor results on the field.
Oddly Wednesday, the fifth oldest league club, followed Huddersfield's lead and sacked their manager, Gary Megson, when in the top four and straight after derby victory over United. Before that, though, they had two wins in eight league games, as Milan Mandaric noted. Dave Jones, his successor, now has his own unbeaten record – three wins and a draw.
The old would seemingly reclaim their pre-eminence but oldest has not always been wisest and fifth oldest, to judge by Wednesday's former chairman Sir Dave Richards, has been downright crass. In 2009 Notts fell into the Munto Finance fiasco with its grandiose appointment of Sven-Goran Eriksson as director of football. Trew, who picked up the pieces for a £1 fee, is restoring rightful pride for their sesquicentennial celebrations. Last autumn they were invited by Juventus, whom they had given their colours in 1903, to open the Italians' new stadium. Notts are playing in white shirts with black pin-stripes at present, more City than County. The original will be restored for next season, when a return with Juve is in the offing.
Periodically the scoreboard on Saturday flashed up "Come on you Pies". Apart from the diminutive Judge, tireless and perceptive, and the speedy Jonathan Forte, unsupported up front in a puzzling 4-4-1-1 home formation, County looked weighed down. Facing the top three in 11 days was always going to test their mettle and progress. Curle admitted they will need to be sharper for the Blades by night.