So for whatever reason, the guys at The Two Unfortunates’ blog thought i’d be the right person to put together a season preview about Notts for their site.
But me being me, things got too in-depth, so changes had to be made. So, here’s the “Director’s Cut” of it anyway…
THE SUMMER’S BIGGEST STORY
Not an easy one since we’ve strengthened beyond many expectations with some quality signings who’re already impressing the fans. Choosing one definitive moment, i’d probably say the return of Craig Short.
Shorty’s appointment was a bolt out of the blue in some respects. Our Chairman was perfectly honest with us from the start about the people applying for the position. In fact he was full of praise for the first applicant to be interview Paul Ince. So full in fact, that many believed the race was already won.
But the announcement on our official site (by incidentally, possibly the hardest working media team in the Football League) caught the majority off-guard. We knew Craig was in the running, but so were the likes of Ince, George Burley and Paul Hart. Not the easiest of competition for the inexperienced ex-Notts legend who most recently had been with Hungarian top flight outfit Ferencvaros.
Apprehension reigned initially in some quarters. No one likes to see a former player return and soil their standing within the club, no more so than Craig Short who was a staple of the Neil Warnock era.
But with the players earmarked by Craig in the close-season, and promising results against Premiership Stoke City, and almost-but-not-quite Premiership Cardiff City have turned the tide though and everyone is firmly behind the gaffer in his first management role in English football.
INS & OUTS
Steve Cotterill is the best place to start. His six month contract expired shortly after the season’s end and he left shrouded in confusion. In some circles he’d be found citing the lack of decent budget (a touchy enough subject with Notts fans after last season!) whilst the Hampshire press reported Steve saying it was a decision based on family circumstances. The issue soiled SC’s reputation with the club’s to some extent with a section of the Notts support, many just found it impossible to say a bad thing about the man responsible for such an incredible ending to a season so ridiculous, Hollywood movie makers would find it impossible to pitch!
Cotterill accepted our manager’s job having been told that he would be taking over a club who would shortly be put into administration. Just hours later and Chairman Ray Trew had a change of heart, and Steve’s massive gamble had paid off. Unfortunately for SC though it’s been a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire with his new job at Portsmouth. Good luck Pompey for the coming season!
To add more confusion to the situation, he left shortly after releasing eight members of the squad, a sign many took to mean Cotterill would stick around longer than he eventually did.
Kevin Pilkington (who has since signed up for Luton Town), Russell Hoult (a free agent as of writing), Jamie Clapham (Lincoln City), Matt Hamshaw (Macclesfield Town), Delroy Facey (Lincoln City), Sean Canham (Hereford United), Ben Fairclough (free agent) and Ade Akinbiyi (free agent) all found themselves unemployed upon their contract expirations. Whilst Johnnie Jackson also departed sometime after Steve Cotterill when his contract was terminated, opening the door for his move to our new League One rivals at Charlton Athletic.
And that leaves one man. Kasper Schmeichel, who saw his contract immediately terminated at the season’s finish. It was no secret we couldn’t afford his £14k a week wages, but his departure was no less painful. But as they say, don’t be sad that it ended, smile because it happened. The 24 cleansheets in his sole season at Meadow Lane broke the club’s record for a single season and were just as vital to our season as Lee Hughes’ goals or Ben Davies’ assists.
Perhaps the grass might not be greener for Kasper on the other side though. His Leeds United debut on British soil saw Leeds lose 4-0, with Kasper conceding as many goals in that one game as he did in his last 17 games for Notts.
As far as incoming players goes, no complaints whatsoever!
To work alongside Lee Hughes we have brought in Ben Burgess from Premiership newboys Blackpool and his addition to the squad is already paying dividends with his aerial dominance and the good feet he’s shown on the ground thus far in pre-season.
The club’s search for a goalkeeper has led to three different players signing with the pre-season friendly lineups offering no indication as to who may end up as the club’s regular goalkeeper.
Rob Burch was the first to sign, from local rivals Lincoln City having turned down their offer of a new deal. On the night that Notts effectively sealed their promotion last season with a 3-1 win against Lincoln, the plaudits were out in force immediately for Burch and he was straight away touted as a Kasper replacement by Ray Trew, despite the different opinion of Steve Cotterill.
Burchy has been allocated the number 1 shirt in the squad, so maybe that’s all the indication we’d need. Certainly his performance against Sheffield United should cement his starting place.
The club moved quickly also to secure the services of Stuart Nelson who had found himself out of contract at Aberdeen in the Scottish Premier League. His first full 90 minutes for the club against Cardiff City seemed nervey, and he was at fault for the first goal conceded on the club’s trip to Austria, so he has some catching up to do in the coming weeks.
Adding further competition for the place between the sticks is 21-year-old Hungarian David Grof, who may found himself loaned out to get some first team experience.
Interestingly about Grof, is his personal life. The lad apparently has a conviction for drink driving, and was charged a second time, but he is yet to appear in court since he left the UK. Whether there’s any movement on this front remains to be seen.
Krystian Pearce has returned to the club following a previous loan spell and impressed enough on the club’s pre-season tour to Austria to earn himself a one year contract (he instantly earns a new deal as soon as he reached 15 appearances though) and is already a firm fan favourite. Given the choice, i’d have him in my starting XI on opening day but don’t think it’ll happen.
Another player to return to the club after a previous spell is 28-year-old Liam Chilvers who signed nearly eight years after coming on loan from Arsenal. He joined the club as a free agent following his release from Preston North End.
Experienced Jon Harley, an ex-Chelsea, Fulham and West Ham left-sider signed a contract with the club in mid-July and will certainly be a great addition to the tightest defence of League Two last season.
WORRIES FOR THE SEASON AHEAD
Very few concerns on the field as far as i’m concerned. What i saw in pre-season was enough to tell me we can hold our own again strong opposition. Some people question whether we need more pace though so maybe there’s some truth in this. This is supposedly the club’s next target in the transfer market though so expect movement shortly.
LIKELY STARTING XI
The team that started against Cardiff City last week is likely to be the lineup that most resembles what Notts start the season with. Whether Krystian Pearce or Neal Bishop manage to break through in time is probably the biggest headache for Craig Short right now.
So with that said, i’d have gone for: Burch, Thompson, Hunt, Edwards, Chilvers, Harley, Ravenhill, Davies, Spicer, Hughes, Burgess.
We’re an optimistic bunch right now. Eventually we showed we had a squad way, way too strong for League Two. The sort of players that could’ve made an impact in League One already, but with some quality strengthening the playoffs are certainly within our grasp.
Make no mistake though, this is one tough league with the likes of Charlton Athletic, Southampton, Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield Town amongst our closest rivals.
Following last season’s off-field sagas, Notts County are a football club with a muddied reputation in some circles. It’s just a relief to think that we can concentrate exclusively on what happens on the pitch rather than off it!
WHO’S UP FIRST?
We kick off next Saturday with the visit of Huddersfield Town to Meadow Lane, fresh from play-off semi-final heartbreak last season at the hands of Millwall.
This gives us a fantastic opportunity to see what direction the club could head in this season. The likes of Hughes and Davies looked to have picked up where they finished last season based on their pre-season performances, with Pearce, Burgess and Spicer already impressing against higher-level opposition, seeing them put it all together in a competitive fixture is the big test!
Huddersfield’s pre-season has been amongst the most hectic in of any of Leauge One’s teams, with seven fixtures in the space of the last month, with one more to follow on Wednesday.
Notable results include a 1-0 victory over a largely second of third string Blackburn Rovers side, an apparently youthful side losing to Hinkley Town 1-0, and a 1-1 draw with League Two’s Bury, themselves responsible for that 4-0 defeat of Leeds United. Most recently, yesterday in fact, Huddersfield found themselves on the wrong end of 2-0 defeat to Championship side Scunthorpe United.
Thus far in pre-season they’re played seven, won three, lost three, with a single draw against Bury of League Two. In those seven games they’ve hit 11 goals, whilst conceding goals seven goals. Rather average form in my opinion.
Of course pre-season is impossible to use to gauge a decent idea of how the opening fixtures will play out, but it’s certainly a winnable game at least!