The world’s oldest professional football club will once again be forced to languish in the abyss of non-league football after suffering a devastating semi-final defeat to Torquay United.
It took extra time to settle the bout but, in the end, the challenge was seemingly too great for Ian Burchnall’s men. However, after what was a heavily turbulent season for the magpies, County fans will perhaps look ahead to the 2021/2022 campaign with a shred of optimism considering the improvements towards the end of the season.
Chief Executive Jason Turner described County’s exit from the play-offs as ‘cruel’, having wrestled themselves back into the game after conceding in only the 1st minute. Despite the elation of a 90th minute winner by Mark Ellis in the quarter-finals against Chesterfield, County were well aware of the task ahead. Their opponents, Torquay United, had been the National League’s top team for most of the season and showed their class in front of almost 2,000 at Plainmoor.
The board looked to address the gap in quality in performances and quality that had developed between County and those teams they were chasing
Considering, however, that at some points of the season the prospect of missing out on the play-offs was a real possibility, the defeat to Torquay is likely less bitter than the Wembley-day defeat to Harrogate the year prior.
After emerging victorious in the first three games of the season, County seemed set to dominate as they had done in the previous campaign. Yet, after only finding themselves sixth place with two games in hand, County’s board decided to sack manager Neal Ardley. Despite, to all appearances, remaining in the race for promotion on paper, the board looked to address the gap in quality in performances and quality that had developed between County and those teams they were chasing.
The new man in charge was Ian Burchnall. An unknown to many County fans, Burchnall’s only managerial experience had been in Scandinavia. Burchnall was to be thrown into the deepest of deep ends too, with his first game being the semi-final of the FA Trophy.
If County fans were confused by his appointment prior to the fixture, they were even more sceptical afterwards. A defeat on penalties to Isthmian League side Hornchurch F.C (who, with all credit, went on to win the competition), was not the start Burchnall had planned. Having been 3-2 at the end of the regulation 90 minutes, an additional-time equaliser would lead many County fans to question whether the grass was in fact to be greener on the other side.
April would continue to be difficult for Burchnall too, after failing to make instant improvements to results or performances. May, however, would prove far more successful for County, winning 5 from 7, with the only loss being a 1-0 defeat away to Bromley on the final day. Perhaps more encouraging however was the fine goal-scoring, something County had failed to consistently achieve since the start of the season. Consecutive games scoring 4 against Barnet and Maidenhead United respectively gave the sceptics an insight into how Burchnall wants to play, moving forward.
New signing Ruben Rodrigues found his feet towards the end of the season and finished with 11 goals. it can be expected he will play a pivotal role in County’s push for promotion next season
Any season where a team suffers two semi-final defeats is likely to be labelled a failure, but there were plenty of positive amid the disappointment. Kyle Wooton continues to improve his goal-scoring form, having netted 15 times this campaign. New signing Ruben Rodrigues found his feet towards the end of the season and finished with 11 goals. it can be expected he will play a pivotal role in County’s push for promotion next season.
Whilst disappointing, in a season full of instability, financial worries and postponements, Notts will just be relieved to see the light at the end of the dark COVID-19 tunnel. Unlike many of their peers, County’s significant following and infrastructure will possibly give them somewhat of an edge heading into the 2021/2022 campaign.
The more substantial return of fans to Meadow Lane will be an enormous boost to the side. The presence of the fans at County’s final two games this season was an apparent advantage. Ian Burchnall will be hoping that, in addition to some shrewd summer business, this will be the key to push Notts County back to the Football League.
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