One Game From Glory: County Dramatically Through To Play-Off Final  

Notts County fans invade the pitch at full time
Rhys Thomas

A year and three days after their relegation from League Two was confirmed, Notts County once again had the chance to get to the play-off final for the opportunity to bounce back. Having reached their fourth consecutive National League playoffs, there was the sentiment that this year must be the one in which County regained their rightful place in the English Football League. Rhys Thomas watched on for Impact. 

This has been by some distance the Magpies’ strongest season after their relegation to the division in 2019. Even so, an equally impressive Wrexham side amassed a mammoth 111 points to confine County to the play-0ff route. With the Wrexham players partying in Vegas, County began the last stage of their promotion push with a home semi-final against Boreham Wood in front of over 15,000 fans.  

The drawbacks of the National League promotion system are laid bare today, with a one-off knock-out tie having the potential to send County out at the expense of a team who finished 35 points below them in the regular season. Regardless, there was nothing that would change that now, and the Notts fans seemed unfazed, the Kop end bouncing even before the players came out to warm up. 

This set a confident tone for the afternoon; the home side looked comfortable in their pre-match routines, the fans chanted relentlessly, and the stadium announcer even declared before the game that Wembley awaited! It would be the next 90 minutes, plus potentially extra time and penalties, which would decide whether that foreshadowing was true. 

The match got underway in a cauldron of noise, with Boreham Wood immediately losing possession as if affected by the County wall. The home side almost had the perfect start when a flowing team move from their own box to the Boreham Wood area just lacked the finish it deserved. A lovely ping from Palmer found Austin in the centre circle, who brought down the ball and spun away from his man all in the same motion before picking a glorious pass down the left. Chicksen’s ball was whipped in for Rodrigues at the back post but he couldn’t quite convert. 

Minutes later Nemane was at it again, but this time his pass went through keeper McDonnell’s legs and somehow stayed out

Despite a few shaky moments in possession County continued to dominate the chances. Nemane left the Boreham Wood left back almost tripping over himself as he raced into the area, but Palmer skied his cutback. Minutes later Nemane was at it again, but this time his pass went through keeper McDonnell’s legs and somehow stayed out. 

The match somewhat mellowed after that, at least in terms of action. Both sides seemed happy to slow the game down, County patiently probing the opposition who took their time over set pieces and continued to disrupt any flow of the game. 

County seemed to be able to switch it on at will, though, especially through Nemane who had left back Ilesanmi on strings the whole first half. Rodrigues and Langstaff continued to combine well, the latter having a shot on the spin saved before Rodrigues missed a 1-on-1 that seemed easier to score.  

County were made to rue their missed chances as they fell behind against the run of play with 37 minutes gone. The visitors beat the offside trap and a cutback found Ilesanmi who bundled the ball home from the six-yard line to silence the majority of Meadow Lane. 

County looked to respond quickly, and Nemane almost did so instantly as his goal-bound left-footed effort was blocked by a vital Boreham Wood boot. Baldwin twice saw efforts from the edge of the area go wide by inches, before Rodrigues was denied from a tough angle by McDonnell as half-time approached. 

Unbelievably, though, it was Boreham Wood who took the next chance and made it 2-0

Unbelievably, though, it was Boreham Wood who took the next chance and made it 2-0. Ndlovu robbed Baldwin of possession following a terrible pass from Bostock in the last line of defence and raced clear before calmly slotting it past Slocombe. County fans were incensed having seen their team dawdle in possession, a worrying theme of the first half. There is nothing wrong with playing it around the back – in fact, it’s worked to County’s credit so often this season – but doing it so lethargically so as to not offer any urgency going forward and be able to lose possession cheaply is extremely counterproductive. 

As the half-time whistle sounded, a few boos rang out around the ground. Whilst the home fans were rightly angry with aspects of their team’s performance, surely it was a time for support. Perhaps that notion had made its way around the ground as the County players were roared back on to the pitch with a massive job on their hands. 

That job got off to the perfect start as Baldwin made amends by firing a 25-yard rocket past McDonnell to send Meadow Lane crazy! Minutes later the goalscorer almost went from hero to villain as he switched off and allowed Ndlovu to run in on goal behind him. The striker went around Slocombe, but Baldwin made a heroic recovery to slide in and put the ball behind from the goal line.  

The Portuguese picked himself up to take it, only to see his effort saved by McDonnell low to the keeper’s right

County piled on the pressure and generated a few more dangerous attacks which were kept out by the visitors. The home side then won a penalty just after the hour mark after a foul on Rodrigues on the edge of the box. The Portuguese picked himself up to take it, only to see his effort saved by McDonnell low to the keeper’s right. 

For the next 25 minutes, it seemed as if the season was going to come to an abrupt end for County. But with seven minutes of second half stoppage time announced, there was renewed hope and noise around Meadow Lane. The minutes passed, but County couldn’t fashion a chance, struggling to advance the ball into the box. That was until Jodi Jones cut inside and his cross-shot was met by Alec Baldwin who bundled the ball home for his second of the game to send Meadow Lane into euphoria! County had rescued their season for the time being, and extra time awaited! 

The first half of the extra period went by without much action, both sides visibly knackered. Boreham Wood were playing so deep they were almost off the pitch, but County were only able to pass in front of them, not able to find the creative spark needed to generate a golden opportunity. It would perhaps be a bit cynical to say the away side were playing for penalties, but their only forward option was the counterattack, as had been the case all game.  

The pattern remained similar for the final 15 minutes, although Boreham Wood did create some decent openings. Nemane remained the main man for County, working tirelessly up and down his flank, causing havoc going forward and putting in a goal-saving block at the back post. 

But then… 

County are going to Wembley after the most dramatic of semi-finals

LIMBS! SCENES! EUHPORIA! The roof came off Meadow Lane as Jodi Jones unleashed a powerful strike which beat McDonnell and finally County were head in the tie, having left it until the final minute of extra time. All that was left to do was see out the final seconds, and they did so without a scare! County are going to Wembley after the most dramatic of semi-finals.  

There were some incredible full-time scenes as County fans swarmed the pitch to celebrate with the players and management. The Magpies made it difficult for themselves and did their best to throw it all away in the first half, but eventually they prevailed and will get the chance to restore their place in the Football League at Wembley next week! 

Rhys Thomas

Featured image courtesy of Rhys Thomas. Permission given to Impact to use. No changes were made to this image. 

In article image 1 courtesy of @nottscountyfc via Instagram. No changes were made to this image.

In article image 2 courtesy of @nottscountyfc via Instagram. No changes were made to this image.

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