Notts County: It's now or never for Magpies promotion bid
IT'S now or never for Notts County.
The Magpies have talked up their promotion chances in League One since the very start of the season.
And the next 15 days will surely decide if they are going to stand any chance of finishing in the play-offs to have a crack at the Championship.
They are nine points outside the top-six, but four of their next five league games are at Meadow Lane – and all against teams below them in the table, starting against 16th-placed Carlisle United tomorrow (3pm).
Tenth-placed Notts then face Leyton Orient (12th), Preston North End (18th) and Scunthorpe United (19th) on home soil, before a much harder run of games against Swindon Town, Brentford, Yeovil Town and Bournemouth, who are currently fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh in the table.
Gary Liddle, who is the only player who has played in all 34 league games this season, knows the stakes are high – and he believes the Magpies can deliver in front of their own fans and put themselves right back in the race for the play-offs.
Notts certainly go into the make-or-break games at Meadow Lane in good form.
They swept to their biggest home win of the season against Bury seven days ago, thrashing them 4-1, and they have also beaten Oldham Athletic and drawn against Sheffield United and Crewe in their last four games on home turf.
"We're looking forward to playing at home right now," said Liddle.
"I know the results have not been too clever at home over the whole season, but we've enjoyed it out there in the last few games.
"It was certainly good being out there when we were beating Bury 4-1.
"That has done a lot for our confidence and hopefully we can put on another show for the fans against Carlisle.
"We haven't given up on the play-offs and chasing that top pack of teams, but we're under no illusions that it's going to be tough.
"Draws probably aren't going to be good enough and we definitely can't afford to lose too many, that's for sure.
"We need to win games – and that's exactly what we're going to try and do. Every game is huge now if we want to go for it.
"We're nine points off, which sounds a lot, but it's nothing.
"If you can get a bit of momentum going with a few wins you can quickly climb the table.
"Teams above us will drop points as well and when they do we have to make sure that we pick up on it and keep chasing them.
"I know the club had a massive upturn in results at the end of last season when I wasn't here and it's going to take something very similar, if not better, now. But we can still do it."
Liddle felt the Magpies were desperately unlucky not to claim a much-needed victory against Tranmere Rovers on Tuesday night.
They fell behind for the sixth game on the trot in the first half at Prenton Park, but captain Neal Bishop equalised with a second-half header and sub midfielder Jeff Hughes then crashed a powerful shot against a post in the closing minutes.
"We're pretty disappointed we didn't come away with all three points because we piled the pressure on them in the second half and Jeff had a great chance to win it with an unbelievable shot that hit the post," added Liddle.
"We had a lot of other chances in the second half as well, where people could have shot rather than pass.
"On another night I think we would have won.
"I don't think they troubled us in the second half and I can't remember them having one single shot, but that's how it is.
"But it's still a positive to come away with a point against a team that is in the top three and it sets us up nicely to face Carlisle.
"It's fine margins in this league and there is definitely not a good seven or eight places between us in the table, that's for sure.
"It's all about finding that consistency and Tranmere have had a habit of winning a group of games and then if they lose one or two they are straight back on it and win again.
"That's what we've found difficult.
"We had a period earlier on in the season when we went eight or nine games without getting a win, which if you're striving for promotion you can't really afford.
"We've done well since Chris (Kiwomya) has taken over and we're looking to push on now tomorrow.
"It's been said that we're giving ourselves 45 minutes to try to win games at the moment because we keep going behind, which is not right.
"We don't come out to concede and go behind to give us a spark to fight back, but that's how it's been going.
"Hopefully we can break that cycle tomorrow and get that first goal – and go on and win."