Bishop proves once again why he is worth a new Notts deal
HE'S not Optimus Prime. But he is in his optimum prime right now and his transformation is quite breathtaking.
Neal Bishop, the Notts County captain, has not quite changed from a red and blue lorry into a robot, but he has gone from being a tough-tackling midfielder to a black and white goal machine.
Bishop is one of just two of the club's League Two title-winning squad of 2010 still at Meadow Lane, with Lee Hughes.
Some, like Kasper Schmeichel and Johnnie Jackson, now play on a bigger stage, the Championship, but many, many more have been left behind during the club's rapid progress. But not Bishop. No. As the Magpies have improved, so too has he.
Cheap Motor Insurance for Convicted Drivers with Insure365 - Call...View details
Cheap Motor Insurance for Convicted Drivers with Insure365 - Call 01782 898188, Free Legal Expenses Cover Included valued at £25.00!
Terms: 1 Voucher Per Customer
Contact: 01782 898188
Valid until: Sunday, June 23 2013
There are those, still, who believe he should not be in the team at times, let alone wearing the armband, but they are wrong.
And performances like the one he produced against Crawley Town prove it quite emphatically.
Notts today boast the best squad since Bishop first walked into Meadow Lane just over three years ago and, appropriately, he is in his best-ever form for the club.
He scored his fifth goal of the season to put the Magpies 1-0 ahead against Crawley early in the first half on Saturday.
It was one that screamed of supreme confidence too, as he made an ambitious burst forward, timed to perfection to beat the visitors' offside trap, to seize onto Jamal Campbell-Ryce's pass, then control the ball and stroke it past Crawley goalkeeper Paul Jones, all in front of the Kop.
He did more than score though.
He won tackle after tackle, drove Notts forward and almost scored a second goal on 29 minutes, but just missed Alan Judge's left-wing cross into the penalty area at the end of another superb surging run.
He is now the Magpies' joint-leading scorer in League One with Yoann Arquin, though the French striker has also scored once in the FA Cup.
Still, it is remarkable because Bishop had only scored four league goals in his first three seasons with the club.
Out of contract with the Magpies next summer, he should be given a new contract now. In fact, when Keith Curle, the Notts manager, arrives at work today the first thing he should do is offer his captain another two years.
The second thing he should do is get on the phone to Southampton and thrash out a deal to bring Jonathan Forte back to Meadow Lane when his loan at Crawley ends.
Having enjoyed three hugely successful loan spells with the Magpies in his career, he returned to haunt them, scoring the decisive equaliser for Crawley on the stroke of half-time.
It was a tap-in past his former Saints team-mate Bartosz Bialkowski, now the No.1 at Notts.
The visitors' right winger Nicky Adams beat Francois Zoko far too easily on the right edge of the penalty area, drove a low cross into the six-yard box and an unmarked Forte side-footed the ball into the net.
Notts should have known better than to give him space in the box because it was only last season that he was playing in black and white.
He joined Notts at the end of January and went on to score five goals in ten league games, which included a hat-trick in a 4-2 win against the eventual League One champions Charlton Athletic at The Valley, to fire them up the table and into contention for the play-offs.
He suffered a bad injury towards the end of March, however, returned to Southampton and Notts just missed out on the top-six on goal-difference.
This was his first return to Meadow Lane since breaking three bones in his face against Sheffield United – and he broke the Magpies' hearts.
Still, all will be forgiven if Notts manage to re-sign him, which looks quite straightforward in every way except one.
His loan at Crawley ends on Saturday, he has no future at Southampton, he wants to rejoin the Magpies and Curle rates him very highly, but it will all come down to money.
Notts fans would certainly love to see him back and they even clapped him off when he was substituted in the second half. The same cannot be said of referee Andy Haines.
There was too much good to waste time criticising his poor performance, however, like the Magpies producing some of the best football of the season on home soil in the first half.
They could easily have been out of sight before Forte levelled.
Arquin wasted two great chances to score. Both were close-range headers; he put both over the crossbar.
Campbell-Ryce, who was once again Notts best player, also forced Jones into a good save with a powerful strike from inside the penalty area.
Jeff Hughes then prodded an effort just wide from a corner and Gary Liddle drove a low shot narrowly wide of Jones' right-hand post.
The Magpies' best chance to win it in the second half fell to Lee Hughes.
It came just four minutes after he was thrown on for Zoko, on 76 minutes as Jeff Hughes hit a cross into the box from the left-wing that was measured perfectly for the striker. He was unmarked too, but he directed a header wide of Jones' right-hand post from seven yards.
Twice he has been a super sub for Notts this season, scoring the winner against Shrewsbury Town and an equaliser against Sheffield United, but not this time.
Arquin was then denied by a great save from Jones two minutes later, pouncing on a rebound inside the box and rifling a shot at goal the Crawley goalkeeper parried away, leaving Notts frustrated.
They deserved three points, but had to settle for one, and their wait for another home league win goes on.
They have now not won at Meadow Lane since they thrashed Portsmouth 3-0 towards the end of September and their next chance will be against Swindon Town.
A point against Crawley is a step in the right direction though.