Crewe Alex: Goal-shy County left to rue decision to let poacher Hughes leave
THERE were a few jealous glances shot in the direction of Burslem this week as Notts County fired another League One blank.
The Magpies have fallen from a comfortable fifth in early November to 10th ... a decline sufficient to cost Keith Curle his job as manager.
Failings at both ends have led to the stumble, but it has been the inability to convert chances created by Jamal Cambell-Ryce and Jeff Hughes which has caused most frustration.
Francois Zoko has scored once in his last 14 appearances, regular strike partner Yoann Arquin has one goal in his past 16 games, while Enoch Showunmi has just one in 15.
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Why then, supporters have questioned, did County let veteran poacher Lee Hughes join Port Vale's League Two promotion chase last month?
Anxiety was heightened as their side lost 2-0 at Stevenage on Tuesday while Hughes was notching his fourth goal in four games as Vale beat AFC Wimbledon 3-0.
The shortage of goals has left caretaker boss Chris Kiwomya hoping to bring in a loan striker in time to start against Alex at Meadow Lane tomorrow (3pm).
He knows that could be the key to getting one of the pre-season League One promotion favourites back in to the play-off picture – and he is up for the fight in his first spell in the dug-out.
"I have played at the highest level, so I understand what pressure is, although management is a lot different," he said.
"It is something I am going to throw myself into and I will enjoy the challenge."
Kiwomya also has a selection headache to resolve as captain Neal Bishop is still banned for slapping Portsmouth's Johnny Ertl a couple of weeks ago, while goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski (cut head) remains a major injury doubt.
There's no doubt Kiwomya would relish the strike-force dilemma facing his Crewe counterpart Steve Davis. The Alex boss was without Mathias Pogba, who was on international duty, when his side beat Coventry 3-0 on Tuesday in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy. His "problem" is deciding whether he can find a place for his 11-goal top scorer in his team to face County.
Ajay Leitch-Smith would be unfortunate to be relegated to the bench after two goals in two outings, while Chuks Aneke shone in a deep-lying role at the Ricoh Arena.
Upstarts Max Clayton and Ryan Colclough are also itching for a chance while, at the other end, centre-half Harry Davis is battling to prove his fitness after a toe injury.
Davis must decide whether to stick with the fluid 4-4-2 formation that worked so well against Coventry or match County's usual 3-5-2 set-up.
At least Davis has a near-empty treatment room in the midst of a run of four games in 11 days. Midfielder Brad Inman, who scored two goals in the win at Coventry, said: "Our January was decimated by the weather, so it seems all the games have come this month.
"We're playing on Tuesdays and Saturdays, but hopefully we can just keep picking up results and pushing on."
Inman's brace at Coventry means he has scored six times in 12 appearances since arriving on loan from Newcastle United in November.
Now he hopes to help combine a Crewe push for the play-off places with a trip to Wembley in the JPT final.
He added: "I didn't know what to expect when I first came down to Crewe from Newcastle, but it's turned out great."