League Two Club-by-Club Preview for 2018/2019: Notts County

2017/2018

Record Last Season + Quick Summary: 

League Two - 5th; W 21 / D 14 / L 11 / F 71 / A 48 / Pts 77
(Lost in the play-off semi-final)

A superb campaign that bordered on exceptional. The nadir of the previous campaign was washed away almost immediately by Kevin Nolan’s charges. The opening day defeat to Coventry City was quickly forgotten as it proved to be the catalyst for a 10-game unbeaten run containing nine victories and plenty of goals to boot. The momentum slowed but didn’t completely stop in the run-up to Christmas, although perhaps there were a few too many draws for the Magpies’ liking. There was no particular poor patch that derailed their automatic promotion hopes, although they struggled to replicate their deep run in the summer. That a meant a play-off semi-final against the Sky Blues. After the first leg, the tie was finely poised, with County just having the edge by virtue of being the away side in a score draw. However, they were blown away back at Meadow Lane, having no real answer to their opponents’ potency in front of goal. Nevertheless, huge strides forward were made and built upon as the curtain came down on 2017/2018.

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Player-manager Kevin Nolan deserves respect for chancing his arm in the lower reaches of the EFL, and has every reason to believe he can add more accolades to his name (and the club’s) than the monthly award he managed to gain in 2017/2018

Top Goalscorer: Jorge Grant (16 goals in 37 starts/3,574 minutes)

Top Creator:  Jon Stead (9 assists in 40 starts/3,485 minutes)

2018/2019

Manager/Head Coach: Kevin Nolan; the Liverpudlian was one of the finest in his midfield role during much of the first decade of the new millennium for Bolton Wanderers, excelling under the ever-watchful eyes of Sam Allardyce in a team that reached heights in the Premier League few would’ve expected. Although he was never capped at senior level for England, his peak coincided with those of Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes and Steven Gerrard to name but three, so there’s no shame in that. After more than a decade in Horwich, he journeyed north to Newcastle United, where his best season in front of goal came during their Championship winning campaign.

Allardyce, now at West Ham United, persuaded one of his most trusted troops to join him at Upton Park, where he spent four years that slowly became less productive. In August 2015, he left the Irons by mutual consent, but he chose to stay in London, surprisingly becoming player-manager of Leyton Orient. He lasted three months before being relieved of his coaching duties, despite having a respectable win percentage. The reins were handed to Andy Hessenthaler and Nolan made the decision in the close season to depart Brisbane Road. In January of last year, he assumed his current post at Notts County, replacing John Sheridan. New owner Alan Hardy rewarded his successful survival bid with a new deal in September, once it became clear that he had a real knack for the role beyond firefighting, and he has been backed well this summer to improve on their fifth-placed finish in 2018/2019.

Ins: Enzio Boldewijn (Crawley Town), Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain (Portsmouth), Ben Hall (Brighton & Hove Albion on loan), Andy Kellett (Wigan Athletic U23s), Will Patching (Manchester City U23s), David Vaughan (Nottingham Forest), Kane Hemmings (Oxford United), Tom Crawford (Chester), Nathan Thomas (Sheffield United on loan) & Kristian Dennis (Chesterfield).

Outs: Alan Smith (free agent), Elliott Hodge (free agent), Callum Saunders (free agent), Curtis Thompson (Wycombe Wanderers), Adam Collin (Carlisle United), Mike Edwards (free agent), Rob Milsom (free agent), Liam Noble (Hartlepool United), Shola Ameobi (free agent), Carl Dickinson (Yeovil Town), Nicky Hunt (free agent), Michael O’Connor (Lincoln City) & Jonathan Forte (Exeter City).

Predicted First XI & Shape: 

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Tactics: Ross Fitzsimmons is Nolan’s preferred choice in goal, and he engenders confidence in his defenders by knowing when to claim crosses. His distribution is likely to be key for the way the Magpies play, as the two midfielders will be deeper than most others they come up against, creating a gap when they’re in possession between the back six and front four. Probable captain has years of experience under his belt, and will sit tight to his own 18 yard-line but will wander forward for any dangerous looking set piece. Ben Hall has returned on loan from Brighton, so the majority of the backline will be the same and he will continue to grow in the unit.

Daniel Jones might not be instructed to rove down the left flank as much as he would like, but he does offer an excellent option to recycle the ball to in order to put in deep crosses. He could also be the designated free-kick taker, which will definitely be something to look out for in tight games. Matt Tootle can vie with almost anyone who has a clear height advantage over him in the air, and combines that facet of his game with a decent amount of strength and low centre of gravity, as well as being able to keep up a steady pace for the full 90.

The signature of David Vaughan is a massive coup for the fourth tier side, despite his age. His composure on the ball will rival any other player in the entire division, as will his range of passing, both short and long. He will be the heartbeat of the team without question. Elliott Hewitt is versatile, having graduated from being an out-and-out right-back to a more than competent presence in the centre of midfield, which is where he should mostly be found during the season. Speedy and possessing the work rate his role in a two-man midfield demands, he will be just as pivotal to their potential success as his more vaunted partner.

Nathan Thomas and Enzio Boldewijn have it within them to swap wings periodically without much of an impact on their efficacy. The former is a victim of his parent club not playing a system with advanced wingers, and is another County individual that will be quietly impressive. He has flair on the ball, a strong left foot and the willingness to take on and beat his man. He will supply plenty of ammunition for the frontmen and be a threat in his own right. Boldewijn should have plenty of time on the ball to improve on his breathtaking displays in a Crawley shirt, and his presence ensures that the burden of creativity and goalscoring is spread widely. He will run both outside and inside his marker, stretching the opposing defence beyond breaking point.

Kane Hemmings is an excellent natural finisher, who bagged 15 league goals last term for Mansfield under two managers with differing tactical approaches, which is testament to his quality. A little on the languid side, he will be at his most effective on the end of whipped balls into the area. He, like Kristian Dennis, is in his prime. Dennis was sought after by many suitors following Chesterfield’s relegation out of the EFL. Weighing in with 19 goals in a shambolic outfit, he can be effective in more than one phase of play, always showing for the ball in advanced areas and testing his luck from range, which is accurate for the most part. Blessed with a strong left foot, there will be a good balance and contrast of styles up top, should he be match fit enough to start from the outset. If not, Jon Stead will be the focal point, creating as many as he scores.

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Jon Stead might not have lived up to his early promise at Huddersfield Town and Blackburn Rovers, but he has been an important player for Notts County, weighing in with his share of goals for the past three seasons, and could still have a role to play from the bench this year

Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Gunning for automatic promotion; there is a oft-repeated narrative that beaten play-off sides come back stronger the following season. There is every reason to believe that’s the case with Notts County. One or two unwelcome departures aside, Nolan has replaced the litany of players who have left in the close season with better quality. Looking at the division as a whole, open as it is, the four relegated teams from League One (with the exception of MK Dons) don’t appear as strong as the ones that have headed in the other direction, for one reason or another. Their main competition will come from sides they’re already familiar with from 2017/2018. There is quality all over the pitch, and with Vaughan pulling the strings and a potent front four, a ‘clean’ return to the third tier is very much within their collective power to attain.

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