A lot can change in twelve months in football, and Notts fans know this all too well. Since Steve Cotterill delivered the League 2 title in 2010; the Pies’ have not had a lot to shout about. This time last year the long suffering fans were anxious – with John Sheridan at the helm and a Chairman in Ray Trew who fans had become disillusioned with. Fast Forward one year, and it’s local Notts businessman Alan Hardy and a hungry Kevin Nolan running operations; with some fresh faces thrown in for good measure. But have the Pies’ recruited well enough to go all the way; or is mid table obscurity on the horizon again?
When Nolan arrived at the club on the 12th of January, instant progression was made as Notts’ held an in-form Mansfield to a goalless draw, which on paper doesn’t look like much of an achievement. Nolan had been thrown in to sort out a defence that was leaking goals and a side that had lost ten games in a row, however. He turned things around and boasts an impressive win ratio since joining Notts: 47.62 % with 10 wins from 21 games including big scalps away to Plymouth Argyle and a wonderful win away at Wycombe, before finally sealing survival with a home win against Blackpool.
A key player in the revival was Forest youngster Jorge Grant who added some much needed creativity and dynamism into the County midfield. Talk of a permanent transfer had dominated the summer, so hope of getting him again seemed bleak when Grant signed a contract extension at the City Ground. Things took another turn though, and Mark Warburton may find himself receiving a few Christmas cards from this side of the Trent if Grant performs as he did last year. His output will be a massive factor in the sides progression, if Grant can get the goals and assists tally rising, no doubt Notts will rise up the table with him.
Speculation around the incomings at Meadow Lane has been rife throughout the summer, with various names being touted for loan moves and Nolan scouring the football pyramid for reinforcements. There are two new goalkeepers to keep Adam Collin on his toes and hopefully the quality of Fitzsimmons and Bratislava Pindroch will help Collin rediscover his best form. The quality of Haydn Hollis is often questioned by fans, so more options at the back was a big concern for Nolan. He has scooped up ex-Magpie Dan Jones from Chesterfield, Shaun Brisley from Carlisle and youngster Pierce Bird, the latter looking a danger from set pieces as well as solid at the back in his showing against York in pre season. Bristly is the biggest addition and he will be a stonewall in the Notts team this season. Meanwhile, Nolan has said he wants competition for every place, and this was presumably the idea behind the signing of journeyman Nicky Hunt, who spent last year at Orient – he will be looking forward to a more positive season with old pal Kevin.
Moving onto the new midfield signings, last season’s problem of wide players seems to have been forgotten with Terry Hawkridge brought in from Lincoln and Lewis Allesandra in from Hartlepool. Gibraltar international Liam Walker has signed with the club from Gilbraltan outfit ‘Europa FC’. The centre midfielder has been extremely positive in pre-season and seems capable of being the signing of the season with his cultured left foot and goals from range. He will wear the number 20 jersey for Notts this season and looks like he has the potential to notch up over 10 goals, easily.
Other additions include Elliot Hodge and Callum Saunders, son of Welsh International Dean. Saunders will add more mobility to the Notts attack, but he was not the big name striker or ‘wow’ signing that Hardy had previously alluded to, leading to a few grumbles amongst the fans. Stead and Ameobi, who have a combined age of 69, are both long ball type strikers who like to hold it up. Both far past their best, but still capable of finding the net, as they have often proven. A marquee striker like a Danny Hylton or a Christian Doidge would get fans spirits lifted and optimism back on full charge. Similar to Lee Hughes in 2010, who’s goals delivered the trophy.
Despite the lack of a new striker, Notts have sold 1300 tickets for their away trip on the opening day to Coventry City, a solid side who reached the play-offs last season. The first home game will be next Saturday against local and promotional rivals Chesterfield, which promises to be a spiky affair. A good start is vital to any promotion push, and what better way to start than an away victory over a potential promotion rival. Expect the line-up to feature, Brisley, Hawkridge, Grant and Alessandra from the new signings and potentially an introduction of Liam Walker.
Notts have to approach this season with the mindset that the sky is the limit. The league is wide open and with a good start the Pies can firmly cement their place as contenders for the upcoming season. Hardy has said he would be very disappointed if Notts don’t finish top seven, so it seems that is the target being set behind the scenes! However, this is Notts County, remember… and ANYTHING can happen.