The grand finale of this remarkable National League season is finally upon us and what match could be better for the neutral as two non-league giants go head-to-head in the National League final at the prestigious Wembley stadium this Saturday.
Notts County take on Chesterfield FC in front of a predicted turnout of around 40,000 fans to see one of their clubs crowned play-off champions and be promoted to the football league. Both clubs have been well established in the football league for large parts of their history but have fallen into the non-league in recent years.
There’s absolutely no doubting that this will be a game for the ages as the two have produced breath-taking football throughout the entire season, coming in 2nd and 3rd place respectively despite the substantial points gap between the two sides which stands at 23.
However, this is the play-offs and as Notts County Head Coach Luke Williams has said, the points can be wiped off the board, they don’t matter anymore. Which is a shame considering the exceptional season Notts have had and how far clear they are of the rest of the league in terms of points.
In the two games so far this season we have been treated to two very tight affairs with the first being played at Meadow Lane earlier in the season ending in a 2-2 draw. Chesterfield came out the blocks and took the lead through a superb finish from Liam Mandeville in the six-yard box and it was on 54 minutes when Akwasi Asante doubled the visitors lead to two and Notts seemed down and out.
But super subs Sam Austin and Cedwyn Scott changed the game and on 60 minutes Notts superstar Macaulay Langstaff hit a fantastic effort from 20 yards out past former magpie Ross Fitzsimons. The comeback was well and truly completed after Sam Austin floated in a perfect ball which Langstaff again got onto the end of and headed it neatly into the bottom corner. The game ended 2-2 but both sides had further chances to take the lead with Notts having the better of them to take all 3 points.
They did however snatch all three points when visiting the technique stadium in February with a 2-1 win over their midlands rivals, however this performance was not one Luke Williams was happy with despite the result. Notts took the lead on 25 minutes after Goalkeeper Sam Slocombe played a stunning ball over the Spireites defence which was brought down by Langstaff with technical perfection before slotting the ball past Ross Fitzsimons.
Chesterfield star Dobra managed to square the game up on 45 minutes after a corner fell nicely to the Albanian forward who lashed it home from close range. Halftime came and Dobra was still centre of attention from an Oscar-worthy fall after being slightly nudged in the back as the players were leaving the pitch. On 64 minutes, Chesterfields chances took a knock as fan-favourite Jeff King was sent off with a second yellow after misjudging a tackle on Cedwyn Scott. It was the free-scoring full back Adam Chicksen who stole the final goal of the game when Frenchman Aaron Nemane stood the ball up to be met by the Zimbabwe international, scoring in front of the jubilant Notts fans and the game finished 2-1 to the magpies.
Notts come into this game after securing one of the biggest comebacks in National League play-off history. 2-0 down at home to the team with the best defensive record in the league, conceding only 40 goals before this day and only once conceding three goals in a league fixture this season. But an Aiden Baldwin screamer from 30 yards out put Notts back into the game on 47 minutes yet it wasn’t until the 90+6th minute when we had the breakthrough and Notts equalised through who else but Aiden Baldwin again, who had scored his first two goals for the magpies in the same game for the comeback to be complete, sending the two teams to extra time.
The game looked destined for penalties but Nemane saved the day, sprinting back and preventing a certain goal for Boreham Wood in the dying embers before loanee Jodi Jones stole the show with a thunderbolt from the edge of the box, slipping through the hands of the emergency loan keeper Joe McDonnell, sending Notts to Wembley.
Chesterfield also overcame a tough defensive side in Bromley and came from behind to beat the 10-man outfit. The deadlock was first broken on 14 minutes when Cheek sent a ball fizzing across the box, missing Chesterfield goalkeeper Fitzsimons and defender Ash Palmer, leaving Marriott with a simple tap in. The spireites were able to level the game up just before the hour mark as Colclough’s cross rolled across the line off the unfortunate Elerewe after it rebounded off the post.
Elerewe, who was the hero with the quarter-final winner for Bromley against Woking, with 15 minutes left, flew into a challenge on Mandeville, receiving a straight red card but this wasn’t the only mishap for The Ravens as they conceded from a well hit free kick by Oldaker who scored his first goal since November. It looked game over but, like the Notts game, Bromley found a way back in the 9th minute of added time as the inevitable Cheek sent the game into extra time with his 17th of the season.
It was Liam Mandeville who was the final hero for Chesterfield as in the additional 30 minutes he lashed a brilliant drive across goal to secure Chesterfields first Wembley trip in nine years.
The form table has gone out of the window for this final game as this is quite literally a cup final. The two sides have been exceptional all season and it seems incredibly harsh that their entire season will come down to one game of football.
The two sides have extensive history, not only in the football league but also against each other. In recent years, Notts and Chesterfield has always been a tight game with no team ever really coming away with a comfortable victory. Of the last 5 matches between the two Notts have won two of those with three draws and one chesterfield win.
This season Notts have been an incredible goalscoring threat, scoring a record-breaking 117 goals in the league, the most in the league. However, Chesterfield aren’t too far behind as they put 81 past their opponents during the season, third to only Notts and Wrexham. However, in terms of goals conceded, Chesterfield have conceded considerably more with 52 which compared to Notts’ 42 goals conceded is quite a gap. The goal difference is where the gap opens up even wider with Notts county’s being a very healthy 75, the best in the league, and Chesterfield’s being considerably lower with 29.
Obviously, stats can only tell us so much and it will go down to who turns up on the day, who throws the best punches and who can get across that finish line. The key players from both teams will need to be on top form to steer their club to the Football League and I believe for Notts County, Bostock is going to be pivotal in that role. The experienced midfielder has found his role alongside Matty Palmer and can help control the game from the centre, we have seen him in recent games ensure his team keeps their head and doesn’t get too excited when something good happens, he is a driving force in the team and I believe he will play a huge role for the magpies.
Chesterfield are full of quality with the tricky forward of Dobra alongside the constant goal threat of Andrew Dallas will be matched by Notts County’s 42 goal man Macaulay Langstaff supported by Portuguese maestro Ruben Rodrigues. Chesterfields large and physical defenders of Palmer and Maguire can be matched with the presence of Team of the Season defender Kyle Cameron, who captains the side, and Welshman Connell Rawlinson.
No favourite can be picked for this game as both sides match each other for quality all across the pitch and it will be down to the day who goes up. An extraordinary season is coming to a close and we look back at how fantastic it has been for both these teams involved, amassing huge points totals which would impress in any league. The fact I am fortunate enough to go and witness this game live is an honour so again…ladies and gentleman, this game will decide who reaches the promise land of the football league, so drink it in, enjoy the experience and for the last time… COME ON YOU PIES!
*Article provided by Matthew Dudley (Notts County Correspondent).
*Main image @Official_NCFC Luke Williams will be hoping for one last push v Chesterfield.