This weekend, National League leaders Notts County welcome fellow fifth tier outfit Maidstone United in the fourth round of the FA Trophy.
Notts County over recent years have struggled in cup runs, as shown earlier this season when Notts were knocked out of the FA Cup qualifiers by Coalville Town, who currently play in the Southern League Premier Division. Notts hope they can make amends with this FA Trophy fixture, but I can imagine the main focus for the players, owners and fans, is the league as they currently sit top, just three points ahead of a chasing Wrexham.
Maidstone United were also knocked out of the FA Cup by lower league opposition with Needham Market being the team to shatter any hopes of a cash injecting run for ‘The Stones’. With the Kent based club sat 23rd in the National League, the focus will be survival over an FA Trophy run and I can imagine a weaker side being played this Sunday.
When the two teams met this season in a league fixture, Notts County came out on top with a comfortable 3-0 victory at Meadow Lane with a goal from the free scoring Macaulay Langstaff on the brink of half time before Ruben Rodrigues doubled their advantage seven minutes into the second half. Notts remained dominant and topped off the scoring with a goal from Cedwyn Scott, just half an hour before the end of play.
With the trophy being so unpredictable, looking at league standings and recent form provides little insight, but Maidstone haven’t won a league game since November last year and have lost the last six league games on the bounce. This recent form has led to the dismissal of former manager Hakan Hayrettin despite their triumphant previous season when they were promoted to the National League. Only this week the club have also announced a proposed takeover by local businessman Alan Manchett with current co-owners Terry Casey and Oliver Cash agreeing to selling their shares.
If there’s turmoil and instability at Maidstone, things however are quite the opposite in the Magpies camp as Head Coach Luke Williams and assistant Ryan Harley have extended their contract at Meadow Lane until the end of the 2027 season, which have left fans relieved over concerns of a move to Portsmouth being speculated. In terms of form, Notts have won three of the last five league matches and remain unbeaten in 18 which is nearing their record of 19, set way back in 1930. This unbeaten league streak will be put to a harsh test with a visit to the Technique Stadium looming as Notts play their closest thing to a local derby in Chesterfield on the 21st of this month.
To get to this point in the cup, Maidstone were victorious over National League South team Worthing FC. Maidstone won 2-0 with goals from Ryan Galvin and Jack Barham sealing their place in the fourth round. Notts County also won 2-1 over National League North side Chorley FC. ‘The Magpies’ were shocked into action after an 18-minute goal from Chorley’s Connor Hall, Sam Austin then got the equaliser 32 minutes into the game before the third and final goal of the game was a Chorley own goal with Scott Leather being noted as the scorer.
With the FA Trophy being a platform to play more fringe players of both squads, I can imagine Notts will utilise the likes of Frank Vincent, Geraldo Bajrami, Kairo Mitchell and most recent signing Archie Mair to all potentially start the game. This fixture also allows for players who have struggled with fitness to rest, as we have seen with Adebayo-Rowling and his absence in recent fixtures. Vincent will be looking to prove a point after just returning from his loan spell at Aldershot and failing to even make the bench in the games he has been back for. This could be a golden opportunity for Kairo Mitchell also, who has faced a lot of backlash since his arrival at Notts County from rivals Chesterfield. His poor goal return and work rate during matches have been a sore point for Notts fans but with calls for a new attacking option since Castro’s return to West Brom, he has the chance to prove himself once again. Goalkeeper Archie Mair has today arrived at Meadow Lane on loan from Championship club Norwich City and will likely be in contention to start the game this Sunday, giving Sam Slocombe a chance to recover ahead of next Saturday’s important test at Chesterfield.
Maidstone will also rotate their squad, but I would expect influential players such as former Notts man Regan Booty to remain in the contention for selection, especially with his undoubted dead ball abilities and vision to break the defensive lines for the attacking members of the team like Sam Corne and Jack Barham who sit on 10 goals between them for the season. This would also be a good opportunity for new signing Yoan Zouma to make a start in a less pressured game and try to solidify the Maidstone back line.
Notts will be hoping to get back to their winning ways after a disappointing draw at home to Boreham Wood in midweek whilst Maidstone need to turn their fortunes, or they will certainly be heading for the drop back down to the National League South with only one seasons absence. The cup gives a glimmer of side distraction for both sides on Sunday, kick off is 3pm at Meadow Lane with tickets still available.
*Article provided by Matthew Dudley (Notts County Correspondent).
*Main image @Official_NCFC Head Coach Luke Williams extends his contract at the club.