If you’re going to dig out words to describe Notts’ pre-season so far, it won’t be a joyous experience. Baron. Dismal. Tedious. Perhaps at times excruciating. But after yesterday’s defeat at Halifax Town, I don’t think you can argue that there aren’t glimpses of a very good team at times.
Yet for whatever reason, we have this strange desire to take our foot off the gas and really struggle to maintain any momentum. Have the players been pushed to hard during the close season – or is it a case of not wanting the players to burn out too early? It’s very much open to debate.
The first half yesterday was alright. That’s about as complimentary as I can get. The trialist up front Akwasi Asante had a better experience than he had last weekend against Derby County, showing why he comes so highly rated. Was it enough to earn a deal? I’m doubtful given that we’ve now brought in Jake Cassidy from Wolves – but where was Tyrell Waite yesterday? Cassidy’s Wolverhampton Wanderers team mate Zeli Ismael is continuing to improve with each game too, not that it could have gone the other way given his debut at Nuneaton Town. He should have been awarded a penalty having been spun to the ground on the edge of the area. We move on.
Asante was denied the opening goal of the afternoon in the first, stopped by a quite breathtaking save from the Halifax Town goalkeeper Matt Glennon.
Second half, Derry tried something different and went with the fabled two up front in Ronan Murray and Cassidy. Again, we got to see glimpses. Glimpses of a potentially solid partnership between the two. Yet for whatever reason, Notts conspired to create less in the attacking third in spite of the wing marauding efforts of Ismail and trialist Adam Dawson.
And what of Dawson right now? Impressive in each friendly he’s appeared in so far, it almost appears if Derry and Abbott have forced he and Elliot Whitehouse into a game of chicken, hoping one will blink first and blow the opportunity of a Notts deal. Well right now – that ain’t happening. Both players are yet to put a foot wrong. Are they already in possession of deals (given Derry said he’d tell players after Carlton if they’d be kept around) or is a decision still to be made as to who should stick around?
As you know already, Halifax Town won the game. And thanks to a player who is no stranger to one member of the County playing staff. Town trialist Jamie Jackson was last year playing alongside Grantham Town with Kyle Dixon during his loan spell. His run and 20 yard drive past goalkeeper Roy Carroll was beyond decent, certainly worthy of winning a game as largely drab as this.
And what of Carroll? Training with the club for the past week and said to be on the verge of a pay as you play deal, who could really complain at a man of his experience being drafted in? His performance was a solid one – no heart in mouth moments collecting crosses or shots. At 37 he remains the Northern Ireland number one and has even been playing Champions League football lately. I dare anyone to construct a valid argument as to why he wouldn’t be an asset to Notts County FC.
It becomes clearly with every largely irrelevant pre-season game that we’re a club heavily in transition. Opening day at Preston, not one person will start who started last season on opening day. That’s massive, bordering on shambolic in fact. This is to be without question a season of stabilising ourselves. We’ll need to show a lot of patience (particularly the first few months of the season) given that we’ve had to restructure nearly an entire squad and Derry – in spite of Abbott’s presence – is still very much a rookie manager.
Two pre-season games remain, two stern tests. Birmingham City and Osasuna are the visitors to Meadow Lane on Tuesday and Friday respectively. And surely it’s time to pick a first XI and roll with it into the new campaign? There are few greater tests to start a season than Preston North End away. I still harbour a belief that we’ll be alright on the night, that we’ll be a team which is difficult to break down. But I’m certainly hoping we’ll start putting that into practice starting Tuesday evening.
These games we’ve been playing mean very little. Let’s not forget how excited we were by a midfield helmed by Mark Fotheringham which more than matched Galatasaray last Summer for long periods, also holding Rayo Vallecano and Ipswich Town to draws – and last season was a catastrophe wasn’t it? It would most certainly be foolish however to distance ourselves from any of the problems we’re displaying right now in pre-season.