Sitting patiently and waiting in the wings for their playoff campaign to start. Fans of Notts County Football Club have seen the recent fabulous and enviable achievements of two of their biggest local rivals, across the river at Nottingham Forest, and up the A60 at Mansfield Town, and I bet your bottom dollar not one of them would have said against ‘I fancy a bit of that’ for themselves.
Notts County have endured three agonising and painful seasons in the National League. The football has often been good, goals have been a plenty, the Magpies have regularly performed well, but that last hurdle has become stumbling block in getting the club back where they belong, where they started out all those years ago in 1888 as one of the twelve members founders, and that is ‘in’ their rightful place in the football league.
Facing the Magpies is a first-round eliminator of sorts, against Grimsby Town, at Meadow Lane on Monday night, the winners will face an away leg semi-final at Wrexham before a National League Playoff Final at the London Stadium on Sunday 5th June.
Head-to-head between the Magpies and Mariners is even, Notts winning in dramatic fashion at Blundell Park earlier in the season, knocking Grimsby off the top of the table back in late October thanks to a Ruben Rodrigues 90th minute goal which sent the away support into frenzy.
Paul Hurst’s men however did get their own back at Meadow Lane in February, Luke Waterfall netting himself a stoppage time winner after goals from Cal Roberts and Ryan Taylor had the match all square going into the later stages.
By then, both Notts and Grimsby were well out of the title race and have both since rescued their seasons to at least gain a playoff spot, but it hasn’t been easy in a tough competitive league, for Grimsby it’s their first back after relegation from League Two in 2021, but they did previously spend six seasons in the division after similar relegation in 2010.
Hurst, along initially with Rob Scott his old co-manager, saw many of those seasons in the National League, and has achieved promotion via the playoff route previously. After leaving for Shrewsbury Town in 2016 before spells at Ipswich and Scunthorpe, his return to the club in 2020 led to relegation a year later, but this year he is confident that his side can get back to League Two and again in the football league.
Grimsby are bringing 2,000 fans to Nottingham and will line the length of the Jimmy Sirrel stand, tickets are selling well, hospitality is sold out, many fans will be packed into the Lane to see Ian Burchnall’s side hopefully pull off the first victory of a trilogy that will take them up.
Whilst Notts have nothing standout to be scared of in Grimsby, they’ll expect a hostile high blooded derby of a game and in their own playmakers Ruben Rodrigues and Cal Roberts, they’ll be looking to have the cutting edge against opposition who have conceded ten goals in their last five games.
Kyle Wootton will lead the line, every game he plays for Notts is a defeat away from his last as a County player, he’ll be hoping his goals, of which he has nineteen this season (the same as Ruben Rodrigues), can continue with a possible move to Portsmouth on the cards at the end of his contract expiring this summer.
In midfield the Magpies engine will rely heavily on the swashbuckling Matty Palmer, a player who has been brilliant in black and white since his move from Swindon Town. The former Burton Albion star will be a vital cog in the heart of the battle, it’ll be he and potentially Jim O’Brien in that engine room that will look to get a foothold, particularly early doors, to allow the more talented players to play, whilst they keep everything in-tact with their experience and know-how.
Defensively Notts need to be strong, they have certainly had their moments this season of shutting out opposition attacks and lead by the return from injury of Kyle Cameron they could be welcoming back an inspired footballer who provides even more stability to the back line that has also been well marshalled by the likes of Connell Rawlinson and Jeff Lacey.
Let us not beat around the bush, Notts need to be on their ‘A’ game, but if they are, there’s no better team in the Division, on their day. Here’s hoping a big Meadow Lane crowd can get behind the boys and see the Magpies one step nearer a London final, and the chance to join and perhaps emulate what their rivals at the City Ground and Field Mill have done this week.
Kick off Monday night is 7:45pm with the game on BT Sports but go get a ticket or two as they are still available from the clubs website here.
*Main image @Official_NCFC Connell Rawlinson has been a steady performer for Notts this season.