Notts County goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski was defiant, but looked defeated
HIS words were defiant, but he looked defeated.
Stood in the dark at Meadow Lane in the wake of Notts County's 1-0 defeat against Preston, that leaves them nine points adrift of the play-offs in League One, Bartosz Bialkowski said the Magpies have "still got a chance" of finishing in the top six "so we won't give up".
But his bowed head, folded arms and heavy sighs spoke rather differently. Together, they screamed: "It's all over!" And it is, surely.
In 11th place, the Magpies have eight league games left this season, starting against Scunthorpe United at home tomorrow (3pm), and in those they still have to play four of the top six teams in the division, in leaders Doncaster Rovers, Brentford, Swindon Town and Yeovil Town. Three of them away.
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Not only have they got to win most of their remaining games to try and stage a late surge into the play-offs, they have got to beat the best, and they can't even beat Preston, who are below them, at home let alone claim back-to-backs wins.
The Magpies produced their worst performance under new boss Chris Kiwomya against North End and young defender Haydn Hollis capped a miserable night at Meadow Lane with an own goal in the first half.
Jeff Hughes hit the crossbar for Notts and subs Curtis Thompson and Yoann Arquin both forced Preston goalkeeper Declan Rudd into good saves, but the Magpies still badly lacked a cutting edge.
"I'm disappointed because it was a great chance for us to close the gap a little bit, but we didn't take it and it looks like we're far off it," said Bialkowski.
"But, still, there are a few games left and we just need to go out, play our best and hopefully win games.
"We had a couple of good chances, especially in the second half when I think it was Yoann, who was one-on-one with the keeper.
"If we could have scored it, it maybe would have been a different game. It could have got the crowd going, but it's gone, we lost the game."
They could have lost it by more too, if it wasn't for their no.1 goalkeeper, who made three good saves to deny the visitors, the best of them a one-on-one block to stop striker Stuart Beavon doubling Preston's lead in injury time at the end of the first half.
"I had a few saves to make and I'm happy with my performance," he said.
"I obviously let one in, but that's football, you're not going to keep a clean sheet in every game."
There was nothing Bialkowski could do to stop Hollis inadvertently turning former Nottingham Forest striker Joe Garner's left-wing cross into his own net from inside the six-yard box on 34 minutes – and he said there was nothing the unfortunate Hollis could have done either.
"It all happened in a split second and he couldn't adjust his body, it's unlucky I think, but he's a great lad," he said.
"He's got a presence, he's strong, good in the air and he's done really well for us since he came into the team.
"Unfortunately for him he scored the own goal, but, like I said, it was unlucky, and I'm sure he will be one for the future definitely."
The Magpies will now have to pick themselves up off the floor for the visit of Scunthorpe.
The two teams drew 2-2 at Glanford Park back in November, with Notts twice coming from behind to rescue a point with ex-striker Lee Hughes scoring both of their goals.
And it promises to be another hard battle for the Magpies because the Iron are fighting for their life towards the bottom of the table, being just one place and two points above the relegation zone.
"We need to start winning games, it's as simple as that," said Bialkowski.
"It wasn't good enough (against Preston), definitely, not good enough.
"From my point of view there wasn't a belief on the pitch.
"We just need to concentrate on every game, take it step by step and game by game, and make sure we give our best and start grinding out the results if we want to achieve something.
"I want to be successful, I want to achieve something.
"I came to the team in the summer because I believed we had got a good enough squad to compete and to go up, it's as simple as that.
"At the beginning of the season everyone was enjoying playing and was buzzing and everyone wanted to go up.
"I don't know if something changed, but it looks like something changed and we need to sort it out quickly."