Notts boss Keith Curle: "I felt lonely and vulnerable, but club is united now."
NOTTS County boss Keith Curle will be feeling the love when he stands on the touchline at Meadow Lane tonight.
But it was very different when the Magpies played Stevenage at home in the very first game of his reign just over seven months ago.
He says he felt lonely and vulnerable on that night in February, having replaced Martin Allen just 48 hours before the game.
A lot of fans were angry Allen was sacked because he saved Notts from relegation into League Two and then transformed them into promotion contenders in League One during his ten-month tenure.
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Their criticism of owner and chairman Ray Trew was so severe he almost quit the club.
There was a lot of tension at Meadow Lane and Curle walked into the middle of all of it.
"I still say it now, when I first walked into the club and stood in the technical area on that night against Stevenage it was a lonely place," he said.
"I felt vulnerable and there have not been many times in my life or career in football that I have felt like that.
"I walked into a very fragile club.
"It didn't have a lot of stability, not only on the pitch, but off it as well.
"It's very different now though.
"I get the feeling the club is united now and that's not just me, the players and the supporters, but everyone.
"I've had a fantastic response from the players ever since I came in.
"The supporters are also starting to believe that the decisions that were made were made for the right reasons."
Notts beat Stevenage 1-0 with Jeff Hughes netting a dramatic winner in injury time.
It is a victory that set the tone for Curle's reign because the Magpies have now won 15 of 25 league games under him, which is a great record.
They surged up the League One table by winning ten of their last 16 games last season and were only pipped into the play-offs by Stevenage on goal-difference.
After finishing in seventh place, they now look like automatic promotion contenders so far this campaign, having won five and lost only one of their first nine games to sit in second ahead of facing Stevenage again tonight.
Curle has also won over the fans.
"It's gone better than I could ever have expected, without a shadow of a doubt," he added.
"But I couldn't have got those results without the people behind me.
"Everyone is part of the process of trying to make us successful."
Stevenage make the trip to Meadow Lane in fifth place and unbeaten in their opening nine games – and they have won three times on the road, against Leyton Orient, Oldham Athletic and Coventry City.
Curle insists it will not be a grudge match because of the play-off battle between the two clubs last season.
"Last season has gone," he said.
"Their manager is trying to change how they play.
"They have got a reputation for being big, strong and direct, but I think they play more football now and they have had good results as well."
Having seen Stevenage's record, Curle knows his side face a tough battle.
"We're trying to be competitive in every game that we play," he added.
"We know a lot of teams now will come here and shut up shop.
"The one thing we can do to counter that is score because they have to come out then if they have got any desire to get anything out of the game.
"I think there will be less and less teams coming here and playing an open, expansive game.
"They will shut up shop and see if we can break them down and that is where have got to be artful in the final-third to create something to get that goal to make teams change their game plan."
The Magpies also face league leaders Tranmere Rovers on home soil on Saturday so it's a big five days for the club, but Curle insists the two games against their promotion rivals are not six-pointers.
"Everybody saw we had a decent start and then looked at our games against MK Dons, Portsmouth, Sheffield United, Stevenage and Tranmere as the benchmark as to where we're going to be," he said.
"I've always said that after 16 games we'll have a good idea of where we are and where we're going to be.
"The next two games are not extra important, we will be judged after 46 games.
"We will win some games we shouldn't and we will lose some games we shouldn't.
"It's all about the big picture, which is where we finish at the end of the season."