Notts County exited the FA Trophy on Saturday, defeated by Hornchurch on penalties after a thrilling 3 – 3 draw.
Ian Burchnall tasted defeat in his first game as Notts manager, a game which had everything and gave him plenty to think about.
The Magpies now pin their only hopes of Wembley on the playoff final they hope to reach, and win, this season after defeat at the national stadium last August.
Notts had the first chance as Jordan Barnett put a low cross into the area but Kyle Wootton couldn’t sort his feet out and the visitors cleared.
Hornchurch had a great chance themselves straight afterwards, Sam Higgins bursting past Mark Ellis before hitting an effort into Slocombe’s near side netting.
Notts’ new Head Coach Ian Burchnall outlined his attacking ambitions after he arrived on Wednesday, and his players immediately showed some of the qualities the 38-year-old will be looking for.
Notts took the lead on nine minutes through Kyle Wootton, who directed another Barnett cross back where it came, beating Joseph Wright in the Hornchurch goal.
They’ve really relied on Wootton this season after Kristian Dennis’ departure to St Mirren in summer, and Burchnall will have been pleased to see such a fast start from last season’s top scorer.
It was a full-blooded encounter on Saturday with Calvin Miller on the receiving end of a high tackle in the first half-hour, and plenty of hard challenges were exchanged between both sides in the first half.
The passing emphasis we became accustomed to in Neal Ardley’s tenure seems to be sticking around, but with more urgency, more aggression.
“I’m a coach that believes in positive football, attacking football, and I want players to be brave”, he said on Thursday.
“I want brave players that want to get on the ball and want to express themselves, even under pressure.
Notts didn’t have it all their own way, though.
Lewwis Spence’s shot on 38 minutes was trickling well wide before it deflected off Connell Rawlinson and went past Sam Slocombe to get the visitors level.
Notts had been well on top until then, having had the lion’s share of the ball and the chances, and Ian Burchnall’s side might have been forgiven for licking their wounds until half time.
They were pegged back for all of three minutes, though, as Notts scored another great team goal which will have fans very excited for what they might expect from Burchnall’s side.
Dion Kelly-Evans burst down the wing and crossed for Boldewijn. The Dutchman’s first touch was excellent, and he found Ruben Rodrigues who coolly sidefooted it past Joe Wright to make it 2 – 1 to Notts.
The Hornchurch players were appealing for a free-kick as Boldewijn took the ball down behind his man, but Rodrigues stayed razor-sharp to finish after Boldewijn teed him up on the edge of the six-yard box.
Hornchurch weren’t finished either after going behind again, and after a low cross in injury time, Clark did well to finish past Slocombe after a Notts player was caught in possession about 30 yards from goal.
Ian Burchnall would have learnt a lot about his side in his first 45 minutes in the dugout, and quickly rung the changes in the second period.
Jim O’Brien replaced goalscorer Rodrigues on 54 minutes, just before Jordan Barnett’s cross was deflected towards a grateful Wright who held onto it.
Sam Higgins and Sam Slocombe had a nasty collision as the striker jumped to get on the end of a low cross just before the hour mark.
Both stayed down for a while and things looked worrying, but both were able to continue once Slocombe had replaced his ripped gloves.
Higgins came off on 67 minutes and can be proud of his performance against Mark Ellis and Connell Rawlinson; the former Millwall and Southend youth striker really did everything but score.
Notts didn’t continue their good work from the first half as much as Burchnall would have wanted, and Hornchurch looked every bit the equal of their hosts at times in the second period.
Though Notts had plenty of good chances after the hour mark, it took until the 78th minute for them to retake the lead a third time.
Substitute Eli Sam tapped in from a couple of yards after fellow second-half introduction Jim O’Brien sliced his own effort into the Belgian’s path.
Matters got a bit niggly as the game went on, with more hard challenges going in and Notts players being booked for taking too long with throw-ins after Sam gave them the lead.
Notts never really looked home and dry even after scoring a third, and their profligacy was punished when Charlie Rough tapped in as the game ticked over into injury time, taking the game to penalties.
The hosts had to make sure they even got there after conceding, as Michael Doyle suffered a muscular issue in injury time, with Ian Burchnall having already made all his changes.
Suddenly the dynamic completely changed and Notts had to hold on with ten men for the last couple of minutes.
Notts goalkeeping coach Jake Kean started a scuffle on the touchline after trying to put Hornchurch’s first penalty taker off.
His gamesmanship was in vain though as the visitors netted all their penalties, Jake Reeves’ saved spot kick proving decisive in stemming Ian Burchnall’s Wembley hopes at source.
The former Östersund FK manager has plenty of work to do to pick his players up ahead of their trip to Aldershot on Tuesday night.
Chief among his concerns is likely the way they conceded their goals, with several Notts players being caught in possession throughout the 90 minutes.
Teething problems are to be expected when implementing different tactics, but Burchnall will hope there is smoother sailing ahead if Notts are to return to the EFL this season.
Featured image: Notts County Football Club