For Sven Goran Eriksson, the first Saturday in September will always be synonymous with the heady night his England team humiliated Germany 5-1 in Munich. Eight years on, in his implausible new role as director of football at Notts County, the Swede's mission is to transform England's oldest League club into a Premier League team. On the evidence of yesterday's derby draw with Burton Albion, even the first part of that journey, escaping League Two, is going to be far from easy.
With Eriksson and his faithful assistant Tord Grip, now employed as a general advisor at Meadow Lane, sitting in the directors' box and leaving the managerial side to Ian McParland, County followed up a last-gasp defeat at Barnet by conceding a late equaliser to Burton substitute Richard Walker. The free-spending promotion favourites had gone in front through Karl Hawley and later struck the bar, yet the result was a fair reflection of the contest, Jacques Maghoma's low shot smacking the post for the Blue Square champions with four minutes remaining.
County, funded by Middle Eastern owners Munto Finance, were linked with Luis Figo, Henrik Larsson, Pavel Nedved, Benjani and Dietmar Hamann before the transfer window closed. The one big name Eriksson has attracted so far, Sol Campbell, was present, but only as a spectator. The former England defender, who has signed a deal worth £10m over five years, claimed in the programme that he had come to the club for "the romance". Short of match-fitness, he received a warm ovation from the home support and a chorus of "You're only here for the money" from the Burton fans when he was introduced to the crowd.
Eriksson's other capture from the top flight, former Manchester City goalkeeper Kasper "son of Peter" Schmeichel, was a virtual spectator during the early sparring. Yet Burton's on-loan keeper from Birmingham, Artur Krysiak, was no busier, which was doubtless a relief to the League newcomers' manager, Paul Peschisolido, after a 5-1 midweek rout by Chesterfield in what Dennis Wise memorably rebranded "the St Johnstone's Paint Trophy".
Schmeichel became the busier custodian before half-time, keeping out shots by Greg Pearson and former County attacker Shaun Harrad in quick succession, although he would have been beaten had Johnnie Jackson not blocked Pearson's goalbound drive. County's principal striker, Lee Hughes, was scarcely involved, and when he strayed into his own half in search of the ball, he found only the crude foul for which Guy Branston was fortunate to escape with no more than a yellow card.
Greater width would surely have been high on McParland's half-time agenda, and Brendan Moloney duly charged up from right-back to deliver a 51st-minute cross that Hughes, sliding in, narrowly missed. Four minutes later, County's growing confidence conjured a breakthrough. Jamie Clapham's pass found Hawley in regal isolation between a Burton rearguard that had moved out too slowly to catch him offside and the advanced Krysiak. Glancing up, the striker executed a deft chip from 20 yards, the ball clipping the far post before trickling across the line.
McParland sent on another symbol of County's upward mobility, Matt Ritchie, a 19-year-old winger signed on loan from Portsmouth, and Jackson quivered Burton's bar with a 22-yard free-kick. However, while Burton's initial ascendancy had been suppressed by County's more assertive second-half display, it took a top-class one-handed save by Schmeichel to tip over Harrad's booming volley.
Burton's equaliser, from Walker's fiercely struck cross-shot, almost inspired them to victory, leaving McParland to point out afterwards that County were not going to win 4-0 or 5-0 every week. The owners may have expectations of doing precisely that.
When, the County manager was asked, was Campbell likely to make his first appearance in the fourth tier? "Don't know," he replied gruffly before turning on his heels, clearly not being blessed with Eriksson's capacity to charm.Reuse content