Sunday at Wembley just wasn’t meant to be. A game against good quality National League opposition in Harrogate Town perhaps sadly came too early for Notts County, under far from ideal circumstances the two warm up games against Dorking Wanderers and Boston United before facing tailored opposition in Barnet were in the end not enough in preparation for Notts to be at their ‘A’ game cometh the hour.
The Magpies were quoted by Manager Neal Ardley ‘at sixes and sevens’ as a terrible start against lively opposition was largely enough to impose damage done and a second season at step five football. But for Sunday, but for a period at the start of the long 2019/20 season when Notts were getting used to the new league they were in, the side have been largely magnificent, and have improved vastly as weeks have gone by.
Let’s not forget lots of positives and stand out performances prior to a disappointing eventual outcome in London. So picking themselves up from a long tough mental 11 month season, where do Notts go from here?
Scunthorpe United are rumoured to be chasing Notts County Assistant Manager Neil Cox and if the Lincolnshire born defender heads back home to his first love in a similar capacity then Neal Ardley will have to replace him with someone equally as intellectual and adhering. The partnership between Manager and Assistant has been one that has largely gone under the radar this season but both working in unison they sing from the same hymn sheet, have the same football philosophy and were working in the same direction without conflict of interest which is imperative with Manager and Assistant. Players respect Cox whilst understanding Ardley is Manager, they know where they stand and what they want, should Ardley have to replace Cox it will be a huge void to fill within the clubs coaching capacity.
The main star in recent months has no doubt been Cal Roberts, keeping the Geordie Messi for at least half of the new season would be imperative towards Notts being in the right section of the table. Should nobody higher yet take a punt on the wizardry winger than Notts will only benefit short term but it has not gone un-noticed from the hierarchy that perhaps this young former England U20 international is a little bit too good to be playing at the level he’s at.
If he starts the season with Notts they’ll have a better chance of winning games than they would without him, if he makes the side money along the way it will then be a decision to spend it wisely upon replacing him. In some ways you don’t want Roberts still at Notts this time next year, because if he isn’t at Meadow Lane in 12 months time it’ll prove that he’s done something right in his own personal battle in ‘loving back the game’ following his release by Newcastle.
Should Roberts go at any point that could leave a void in the creative midfield area and with many suggesting that they would prefer to see a little more dynamism in the middle of the park, it may call for the replacement of experienced club captain Michael Doyle and/or Mitch Rose with former Magpie Neal Bishop potentially on the radar.
With youngsters Tom Crawford, Regan Booty and Sam Osborne coming through they could easily help the legs of Jim O’Brien who often works tirelessly and of course with Enzio Boldewijn still as unpredictable as ever, moments of magic from him could be essential in providing goal threat. Enzio is certainly a player I would look to keep.
Up front Craig Mackail-Smith is rumoured back within a coaching capacity but I already see a nice problem to have with Kyle Wootton, Kristian Dennis and Wes Thomas all scoring double figures last season. No reason to suggest if Roberts is sold at any time that all three can’t play together, with wingers supplying them ammunition however they could be even more pivotal in the roles they play for the club as we all know that goals win games.
Defensively was perhaps Notts biggest issue at the weekend against a lively Harrogate attack which was arguably the best in the division bar Barrow and with both now out promoted it means County should be most feared of all remaining National League teams next season.
Alex Lacey and Connell Rawlinson formed a formidable partnership towards the end of the season with Ben Turner coming back in for Rawlinson over the playoff games, it might now be a time to look past the 32 year old and instead re-elect the Welshman back into starting proceedings at centre half. At full back there might be the need for a temporary loan fix whilst Damien McCrory recovers from injury with Richard Brindley, Dion Kelly-Evans and Zoumana Bakayogo all capable of doing a job at the level.
That leaves the goalkeeping position, Sam Slocombe currently has but has not always convinced, Joe McDonnell could push him close this season but it is a position that is still not 150% certain.
For Notts keeping the basis of the side is imperative to a title or promotion challenge next time around, I see star man Cal Roberts staying for the time being and should he lift off Notts to the start they want both he and club will no doubt be rewarded financially with the hope that it could bring new faces in with the funds delivered. Should that happen, I see no problem in Notts getting out of the division as long as they have the same performance levels as what we seen from January onwards and as long as Neal Ardley stays.
*Article provided by Daniel Peacock (Editor).
*Main image @Official_NCFC the players huddle after defeat at Wembley against Harrogate.