So, here we are. Two months into the season. Fourteen games played (F-O-U-R-T-E-E-N). Five wins. Five defeats. Four draws. Twenty scored. Fifteen conceded. Eighth. The time of bemoaning the embargo, pre-season and that prick is now over – we are very much in the conference.
Following a run of injuries to key figures, Neal Ardley has continued to shuffle the pack in recent weeks. Yet, after a week that has seen two trips to London, surprising to many, he stuck with the team who managed a 2-1 win away at Boreham Wood on Tuesday night. Connell Rawlinson and Damien McCrory continued to forge their centre back partnership, Mitch Rose and Regan Booty likewise in midfield and match winner Sam Osborne was given another chance to impress out wide. The ever improving Kyle Wootton continued to lead the line as Notts looked to put back-to-back wins together for what seems like an eternity.
Notts started brightly and were the first side to worry either custodian as Sam Osborne unleashed an absolute thundercunt of a volley from the edge of the 18 yard box. It came right out of the blue but Dan Lavercombe was equal to it and tipped it over for a corner. After the corner was well defended, Wes Thomas created a smart chance for himself, turning cleverly inside the six yard box, only for Lavercombe to deny him. Five minutes later, Thomas was to draw first blood for Notts as he collected a sharp pass by Rawlinson about 25 yards out. Keeping his composure and bustling through a couple of challenges, he slapped a right foot effort high into Lavercombe’s net from a tight angle. 1-0. Relief. Joy. A foothold.
The next 10 minutes or so drifted by without much incident, apart from the referee having to be substituted after colliding with Kyle Jameson – probably not your finest moment in front of 9,000 fans…
For the reminder of the first half and the first 15 or so of the second half, Notts flagged badly. The exertions of two London trips seemed to have caught up with them. They lacked the zip of the first 25 minutes and allowed Fylde to come back into the game. In fairness, they created little in the way of clear cut chances and were restricted, in the main, to long shots that sailed over Sam Slocombe’s crossbar. The second half started much the same as Fylde gained territory rather than clear cut chances. Osborne was the first to find his way to the dugout after being out on his feet. It was nice to actually see Osborne play. It’s well known that football fans want to see “one of their own” given a chance and Osborne has been around the Notts first team for a while now but have only seen him sporadically. He can probably count himself unlucky not to have featured a little more last season, given the state of things, but as fans we see only a tiny percentage of the bigger picture. He looked assured with the ball and used it positively; he certainly knows how to hit one as well but after 50 minutes he was knackered. Ardley knows his attributes and his limitations. He’s certainly done enough recently to merit a continued inclusion, but he’ll have to be looked after, dipping in and out won’t hurt him.
Osborne off saw Sean Shields on and a change of shape to combat Fylde’s deeper lying midfielder and striker. Ardley shifted to a diamond four in midfield, Shields heading it up and Rose underpinning it. In theory, it was a smart move, in practice, Notts got slightly overrun. Legs were going and Booty and Enzio drifted slightly too far away from the centre of the park. Shields ran willfully but was taken out of the game by simple, straight balls too often. On 68 minutes, the warning bells sounded but Slocombe produced two fantastic saves to maintain the lead. One at close range, one from long range. Both strong, both massively necessary. Just over 10 minutes later, they were all the more precious.
After Notts regained some sort of equilibrium, the impressive McCrory made it 2-0. Booty floated in a front post corner, Rawlinson flicked on and McCrory, unmarked and six yards out, made no mistake. Bullet. 2-0. Pot, bang, lovely. With little else of note to rouse the faithful, Notts managed their way to their second three points of the week. Six from nine. Not bad at all.
After what has been a hectic start to the season, it is starting to feel like things are clicking. By no means were Notts at their best on Saturday but despite that, they kept Fylde at arms length for the majority of the afternoon. Prior to last Tuesday there was a sizeable wave of frustration being aimed at Ardley, but two wins and six points later, a lot of that seems to have drained away. There is certainly an argument to say Notts should have started slightly better, but to be eighth after fourteen games isn’t too bad a return for me. There are still some who are expecting Notts to stroll the league and steamroll teams; “Oh, it’s only Bromley…” Oh, do fuck off…
We should probably have a few more points on the board, but now the squad is assembled and they’ve had time together you can see it coming together. They’re trying to do the right things with the ball. It won’t always come off but they’re trying to do the right things. There is a pattern of play. We will have to continue to be patient, of course, but I think the signs are there that we could have a decent season. Slocombe is a steadying influence. McCrory is starting to look a class above. Richard Brindley doesn’t belong in the conference, clearly. Rose and Booty compliment each other nicely. Kyle Wootton has turned into a no-brainer up front and Enzio, given solidity around him, always gives you that feeling he can pull something out of the bag.
Three months ago, everyone said it might take time to get used to the conference. Two months in, do they look like they’re getting to grips with it? Absolutely. We don’t need to peak now. We need to keep accumulating points, ticking over, grinding it out when we need too and getting it to feet when we can. If we do that, we’ll win more than we lose. We do that, we’ll be alright.