Feature: Notts County’s half-term report – ‘6/10; for where we want to be, we’re not on target’

Notts County manager Neal Ardley is interviewed in the pre-match press conference for Sutton United
Notts County manager Neal Ardley is interviewed in the pre-match press conference for Sutton United

“Six.” It takes Notts County manager Neal Ardley just three seconds to give his rating of the Magpies season so far out of ten.

On the eve of the new season, for a club that was a week away from potentially going into administration until the Reedtz brothers stepped in, fans were expecting this to be a season to rebuild and start from new beginnings.

After assembling a new squad, Notts slowly started to find their feet in non-league, gathering momentum from the start of the season through August and into September.

A string of strong results, dating back from mid-September to the end of October, gave fans hope of bouncing straight back up into the football league.

From September 24 to October 29 in the National League, Notts won five of their seven league games, propelling the Magpies into play-off contention.

But November proved a barren month for Notts, as they picked up two points out of a possible 12, conceding nine goals in those four games.

And that run has left manager Neal Ardley questioning how good their start to the season has been after their opening 23 league games of 46.

Notts currently sit 11th in the National League on 32 points, having won eight, drawn eight and lost seven with a goal difference of +8.

Notts County manager Neal Ardley

“That’s tough because at the start of the season with all the problems we’ve had, would I have taken this? If you said we’d be five points off the play-offs with a game in hand, I’d have probably said yes,” says Ardley.

“It’s a difficult one to evaluate because we had a spell where we got going and we were developing at the same time.

“And now, I’m disappointed we are where we are because we’ve dropped down a few places because of the run and other teams playing last weekend.

“If you go back a month, six weeks, as staff, players, fans, we all feel the same – we’ve got to get going again and build a bit of momentum.

“For where we want to be, we’re not on target at the moment – to get in the play-offs, you need to get 72 or more points.

“We’re short of that because, as it stands, we’re on target for 64.

“We need to ramp up our points per game – there are less games in the second half of the season.”

Video: Notts boss Neal Ardley shares his thoughts on the season so far

Which gets Ardley onto the scheduling of the National League.

At the start of the season, Notts County played 14 games in 51 days; at the time of writing, Notts are halfway through their season. Without yet playing a league game in December.

That’s 23 league games in four months – with the remaining 23 set to be played over the next six.

And there’s the small matter of the Christmas congestion of fixtures to contend with too.

“I think it’s crazy there are barely any midweek games in the second half of the season,” says Ardley.

“We had a third of the season in the first two months or so – by the time we get through into New Year, we’ll only have 16 games left.

“I look at that and go, blimey, we’ve literally got a third to go with three or four months still; I find that a crazy schedule.

“But we managed to get through that busy schedule early on to get ourselves in this position – we just need to finish strongly.”

It’s a platform Notts have built to kick on from, but Ardley is keen to see results and performances turn around quickly.

Following some losses earlier on in the campaign, the manager has been keen to look after his players and defend them, such as after the 1-0 loss at Chesterfield and the 3-0 home loss to Barrow.

Video: Neal Ardley’s post-match interview after the FA Cup defeat to Northampton Town

But in the post-match interviews of the 2-1 loss at Aldershot Town and 3-1 loss to Northampton Town in the FA Cup, Ardley has cut a more frustrated figure.

“Our form is a concern because we’re now not doing things where we’re winning games of football regularly.

“We’ve got a group of players, we’ve developed a style of play, we’re creating lots of chances and we’re scoring lots of goals.

“I think we’re good to watch at times but, of late, we’ve got the other end of the pitch wrong.

“We’ve gone from conceding four in six to 14 in 6 and we’ve got to tidy that up if we’re to win games.”

Video: Defender Connell Rawlinson on the season so far

At the heart of Ardley’s defence this season has been centre-back Connell Rawlinson.

The 28-year-old signed on a free transfer at the start of August having been released from his contract with Port Vale in the summer, despite having a year left to run on it.

And now he’s formed a centre-back pairing with experienced defender Ben Turner, who also signed on a free, declining offers to play in higher leagues.

And while Rawlinson thinks the season so far has been ‘good’ for Notts, he thinks the Magpies are being punished for every mistake, which is why their form has dipped.

He said: “I wouldn’t say we’re shaky – we all know what’s at stake every game as we want to keep a clean sheet.

“You sometimes make a couple of mistakes and you get let off with them, but it seems at the minute every mistake, or lack of concentration, is being punished.

“It happens at times – you think, come on, when are we getting the rub of the green back, when are we getting that little bit of luck back?

“But we have to go out there on Saturday and make our own luck.”

The Magpies host Sutton United at Meadow Lane on Saturday (December 7); earlier on in the season, Notts drew 1-1 away, after striker Kyle Wootton netted his first goal for the club, cancelling out a first-half lead for Sutton. He’s gone on to net nine in total since then.

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