05/06: Reports:

League Cup First Round, 23/08/05, 7.45pm
Notts County
By Mike Peter

Generally in life whenever two parties meet, in either a professional or social context, one has more enthusiasm about the meeting than the other. For example, any friends of my parents are likely to be far more enthusiastic about meeting me than I am them, for I am young, cool and disinterested whilst they are old and desperate to wallow in my youth. Or, at least, that's the way I see it.

However, my enthusiasm to meet up with my friends exceeds their willingness considerably,  which is why I'm on the PC when it's 24 degrees outside.

In football, one typically feels more excitement when you play a side deemed "bigger" than you.

Still, one wonder's how exciting a trip to Watford is for the fans of Notts County. Unlike its sister, the FA Cup, the League/Carling/Whatever Cup has consistently failed to generate any degree of excitement about the possible mass of "giant killings". Instead these mid-August ties tend to be ninety minutes of utter tedium, with the "bigger" side tending to nick a goal right at the death after struggling against a side that they patently should be playing off the park. Hardly the stuff of dreams for those from Meadow Lane. Besides, not wanting to do Watford a disservice but there aren't any Premiership sides in the competition yet, even if Notts County had got the biggest club in the draw I imagine exclamations of "Ooooh, Wolves!" would sound fairly hollow.

County started poorly last season. After being relegated in 2004 the Magpies won only one of their first nine games; after sacking manager Garry Mills they managed to drag themselves out of the relegation zone, finishing nineteenth. Ex-Stoke and Barnsley manager Gudjon Thordarson was brought in in May to stop the rot and has done well so far, installing discipline and organisation that was missing last term; County are unbeaten so far this season and currently lie fifth.

One significant signing was Kevin Pilkington; well regarded in Division Four for his performances for Mansfield, he has replaced Republic of Ireland U-21 keeper Saul Deeney in the side. Deeney turned down a new contract in the summer and is now on trial at Bristol City... in the likely event that Deeney will have left by Tuesday, trainee Karl Dryden will find himself on the bench.

County's star turn is defender Kevin Wilson. The twenty year old, who broke into the team last year, has already attracted interest from Chelsea and Man United, if you believe the press. Ex-Rotherham hard-man and captain Julian Baudet will partner him in the centre of defence with last year's player-manager Ian Richardson and youngster Shane McFaul providing cover.

At left-back Robert Ullathorne is somehow only thirty four. He faces competition from ex-Derby trainee Daniel Martin, who signed in the summer. Another recent acquisition, Brian O'Callaghan, seems relatively unchallenged at right back. Ex-Bolton veteran Mike Whitlow is rumbling around somewhere although is more of a coach these days.

On the right-wing former Coventry and Welsh U-21 Captain David Pipe is a fan's favourite and a certainty to start, as is Mike Edwards. Normally a defender, Edwards has been moved forward due to a lack of options in the centre and adds some bite to the midfield. The other central spot seems yet to be decided with strikers Steve Scoffham and Andy White both tried there. At Stockport Thordarson brought Lewis McMahon - released by Wednesday in the summer - in from the left with another pre-season signing, Stacy Long, taking the winger's position. Ex-Cambridge man Matthew Gill and the classy Jake Sheridan are also options whilst nippy Ruben Zadkovich is reportedly not match-fit.

Up-front the Magpies are also troubled. Thordarson seems fairly desperate to come up with a decent partnership, with six different strikers selected this season - all of which have been lambasted on various messageboards. Either White ("would struggle for Hucknall") or Gavin Gordon ("rubbish") look set up to partner Scoffham ("not good enough but hard-working") up front. Experimental striker Chris Palmer - normally a centre-half - will be on the bench with Glyn "liability" Hurst unlikely to get a game.

It is evident that County are a fairly limited side, despite their good start, and Watford should pull through. However, with Adrian Boothroyd looking to rest players and Thordason's organisation skills it could, and no doubt will be, a struggle. Past experience tells us that one.