A lot can happen in three years. That pub you used to frequent is now shut down. That shopping centre you used to waltz around now only lets you in with a mask. Those holidays you used to go on are no longer allowed. That best friend you used to visit can only be accessible via zoom. Alan Hardy’s Notts County… Remember them? Well they were top of League Two.
Three years today, two days after a 3-1 win against Cheltenham at Meadow Lane thanks to a Jorge Grant double and goal for Shaun Brisley, Nott County were top of the tree. Flying high under super Kevin Nolan they were riding the crest of the wave, their Chairman with big promises, their loan star signing from across the river with big goals.
Notts were sitting pretty, eighteen played on 37 points with a goal difference of plus 14 ahead of second place Luton Town who are now of the Championship, Accrington Stanley who are now of league one back in third.
The likes of Lincoln City, Coventry City, even poor old Mansfield Town well below them…. What happened next? Who was it that said, ‘football is a funny old game’?
The season before Notts had ‘just’ stayed up thanks to the saving duo of new Chairman Alan Hardy (who replaced Ray Tew) and his astute employment of Kevin Nolan. With an uplift in form post January, things were looking promising at Meadow Lane, a good young upcoming Manager, a new Chairman, locally known, shouting from the rooftops all those things that fans just love to hear… The 2017/18 campaign started with a bang.
Not exactly to plan? A 3-0 defeat at Coventry wasn’t what was expected but Notts soon lift themselves up, playing high intensity football to beat rivals Chesterfield then Wycombe before a draw with Accrington.
Notts would win their next six matches, at Port Vale and at home to Morecambe before beating Swindon by a single Jon Stead penalty at Meadow Lane. Swindon was a test, a side going strong at the time and one expected to do big things in the division. Notts weren’t much better than their opponents that cold evening in Nottingham, but they were solid, organised, functional, they enjoyed doing the bits that are considered ugly in the game. Testament to Kevin Nolan, a well-drilled side indeed.
The win against Swindon was followed up by a victory at Crawley before a thumping 4-1 win at home to Lincoln City and a 3-0 triumph at Exeter. In that run of six wins, Notts went four games without conceding, scored twelve and conceded just two.
A lot of people said the tide turned against Mansfield. The local derby, an early kick off at Field Mill, the game meaning so much more with local pride at stake. Notts could go seven on the spin, but it wasn’t their day. Well beaten, County would win just one of their next four matches, against Barnet, who would later be relegated to the National League.
But despite a sticky October, Notts picked themselves up towards the month end with a 3-0 win over Newport County. Two more for the irrepressible Jorge Grant with Shola Ameobi netting. Quality footballers the difference where it mattered.
Nolan’s men would go ten games unbeaten between 21st October and Christmas, a 1-0 defeat at Swindon ending that run on 30th December 2017 but by then, Notts had drew seven of their last fourteen matches which included three defeats, they had slipped below Luton in the title race, 2018 would only be worse.
So much would happen thereafter, we would be writing a book if we were to even attempt to explain, but Ryan Yates, a midfielder that during the first half of the season for Notts whilst on loan from Forest, was exceptional, a player that was largely missed post being recalled back to his parent club and strangely sent out immediately on loan to Scunthorpe mid January.
That transfer got Notts Chairman Hardy’s back up… Relationships would sour, and he would suffer because of it (and more) ever since.
Who knows if Ryan Yates had stayed at Notts County, would Kevin Nolan still be in a job? Would Alan Hardy still be Chairman? Would Notts most certainly be in the football league? Would coronavirus have ever even happened?
When it comes to blaming someone you may take leaf out of some Forest fans book on this one, so why not blame Ryan Yates for the fall of Notts County too? If everyone else blames him, why can’t you?
*Main image @Official_NCFC Ryan Yates scoring for Notts County in League Two.