So here we are, what originally felt like an eternity has finally come to an end, the season is due to start just this week! Finally, we will be able to see our beloved Magpies competitively once again!
As has been mentioned before by myself and a lot of fellow Laners, last season followed the standard Notts template of recent years, that is hitting the ground running and being in the promotion places for the first couple of months, before running out of throttle towards the half-way point and finishing somewhere between upper-middle and mid-table.
Last season fell apart a lot quicker than usual however, and though we rallied towards the end, notching up a spectacular win against Doncaster away, it was too little too late.
Where did it all go wrong then? Three things, in my humble opinion: the humiliating and morale-sapping FA Cup defeat to Rotherham, which left us short of much-needed funds for the second half of the season, Lee Hughes’ acrimonious departure, and the failure to replace him adequately.
The results were clearly visible on the pitch – I lost count of the times I wrote about us having no penetration, no eye for goal and other similar phrases in the Pride of Nottingham match reports. It was so frustrating, and despite our good rearguard, we just couldn’t get those all-important goals in, which resulted in loss of points and, ultimately, the slide down the league table.
Once the season was officially over, more trouble seemed on the horizon: Alan Judge, who carried the star player mantle once Hughesy left, departed himself, on a free transfer to his first club Blackburn Rovers. Skipper Neal Bishop, so hard-working and inspirational for us, also left the club, and perhaps most embarrassingly of all, Jeff Hughes decided to leave the Magpies for… Fleetwood Town of League Two. The message was clear for all: “Players would rather drop down a league than stay with Notts”.
However, things have recently turned a corner. We have managed to secure some impressive signings: Mustapha Dumbuya has international football experience, Mark Fotheringham was immense against Galatasaray, Danny Haynes is young and has a good goalscoring record, David Bell was a regular for Coventry City, and Andy Howarth is also showing promise despite previously negative reviews.
In addition, Alan Sheehan deciding to stay on is very pleasing – aside from the fact he’s a top player, it shows that maybe Notts County isn’t that bad an option that players need to drop down a league to get more out of their careers!
All in all, it’s been a make-or-break pre-season for Notts, and the board and backroom staff seem to have handled it well. Good performances in pre-season – including a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder on the Meadow Lane pitch as Galatasaray visited – have reassured the fans further. I for one am certainly feeling a lot more positive than I was just two months ago, that’s for sure!
As for a prediction, I’m going to play it safe and say we’ll finish in the top half, but as we Meadow Lane faithful all know, even if we’re ten points clear by the end of December, it doesn’t matter, because if you’re not in that position by the end of April, then it counts for nothing.
So let’s hope this season is an exception – in a good way – and we can maintain good form all the way until the end of the season, and then who knows! Come On You Pies!
Written by Giuseppe Labellarte, We Are Going Up’s Notts County blogger
Giuseppe tweets at @JoeJonesHome