Notts County face a potentially pivotal week in the National League title race, with difficult trips to both Chesterfield and Solihull on the horizon.
The Magpies will be looking to end a somewhat stuttering run of two draws in their last three league games that has seen Wrexham close the gap at the top of the table to just three points, with the Welsh side also having two games in hand.
Many of Luke Williams’ key men will be well-rested coming into these two games, with Sam Slocombe, Richard Brindley, Ruben Rodrigues and Cedwyn Scott all left out of the matchday squad for Sunday’s penalty shootout loss at home to Maidstone in the FA Trophy.
Top scorer Macaulay Langstaff was an unused substitute as Notts came from 2-0 down to force penalties, with u19s Madou Cisse and Charlie Gill both impressing from the bench.
The first part of this very challenging week comes on Saturday evening, when Notts face title-rivals Chesterfield in a local derby in front of the BT Sport cameras. The Magpies will be backed by a sold out away end of 1900 at a ground where they’ve won in just one of their last five league outings.
With Notts’ clash kicking off at the later time of 5.20pm, the game will likely have even more pressure on it, considering both sides will know the result of Wrexham’s trip to face a struggling Maidstone side before kick-off.
Should the Red Dragons leave Kent with three points as expected, a Notts loss would see them end the day top of the National League, still with their two games in hand on The Magpies.
And what adds a further dynamic to this is the fact that Chesterfield, already written off by many around the league, still have to travel to Wrexham at the end of February. Paul Cook’s men will know that if they can secure wins against Notts and Wrexham then they will blow the title race wide open again, especially considering their two games in hand on Wrexham and four on Notts.
However, on the other side of the coin, if Notts were to claim all three points at the Technique Stadium on Saturday night, it would create a gap of 16 points to their Derbyshire rivals and provide a major dent in the Spireites’ own title ambitions.
Regardless of the outcome of their meeting with the Spireites, Williams’ men must regroup quickly and ready themselves for their Tuesday night trip to the West Midlands to take on former gaffer Neal Ardley’s Solihull Moors side. Last year’s defeated Playoff Finalists have underachieved greatly this season, sat in just 12th place at the time of writing.
They are however, a very dangerous opponent, with the likes of Andy Dallas and Joe Sbarra a threat to any team in the division on their day. With a win, a loss and a draw from their three previous trips to the ARMCO Arena, it hasn’t been a particularly happy hunting ground for the Magpies.
And with Wrexham facing another relegation threatened outfit in the form of Gateshead, Notts will know that they will most likely need a win to match the pace set by Phil Parkinson and his team.
The relentlessness of this title race and the crazily low margin for error is continuing to put huge pressure on every game and all three challengers will know that they could go unbeaten between now and the end of the season and it still not be enough. That said, if The Magpies were to take all 6, or even 4, points from these two fixtures, they would come out of a difficult week practically unscathed and with some favourable games to come in February. However, anything less than 3 points out of 6 (at a minimum), would likely leave Notts relying on multiple favours from other sides to keep in touch with Wrexham.
*Article provided by Evan Shaw (Nottingham Panthers Correspondent).
*Main image @Official_NCFC Luke Williams will be hoping to keep Wrexham at arms length.