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Simon Clark
Simon Clark

Notts County's upcoming play-off run: a look back at the thrilling campaign

July 2022 and it was a chance to look at Notts’ array on new signings for the first time with a short journey to Basford.

Yes, it was against a side which had struggled 2 divisions below Notts the previous season, but there were some hugely positive outcomes from this first run out.

As supporters, we all want new faces to excite us, that marquee signing which sells a few extra season tickets for those sitting on the fence, but Notts have moved on from the fanfares and Hollywood glamour of a big name on the way down and our summer business at that time numbered 2 players each from Kidderminster and Gateshead and one from Ebbsfleet.

While most of us have grown to trust the radar, it would surely not be enough to convince the uncommitted as none of those players had a proven track record at National League level while the remaining players from the previous season had shown a soft underbelly and tendency to underperform on a regular basis.

On that sunny evening, however, clinical finishes from Langstaff and Scott showed that we had signed genuine goalscorers – but could they do it in tier 5? – and all 22 players involved that evening looked to have a spring in their step.

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We stepped it up against Leicester City to beat them with some style and the rest of the pre-season campaign gave me huge optimism for the season ahead. To many of us, it seemed as if we’d be playing for a home semi-final by finishing either second or third, as surely Wrexham would stroll to the title with a squad signed from League One and the upper reaches of League Two and a wage bill likely to be several times that of most National League sides.

Surely no-one would give them a serious long term challenge, would they?

With a new coach in Luke Williams, could Notts build on the 3 failed play off campaigns and dismiss a few of those ‘bogey’ clubs as well as show a harder edge? We all knew Notts could outflank football sides, but could they win the ugly games? Could they scrap to protect a one goal lead? Could their away form on some dubious surfaces match those on the carpet of a pitch we have at Meadow Lane?

A comfortable opening day win and 2 goals from new signing Langstaff gave us hope, but this is Notts and when we gave away the lead twice to draw at Borehamwood then rely on an own goal to get a point at newly promoted Gateshead, it seemed as if the old problems hadn’t gone away with 4 points dropped already and only one clean sheet.

A turning point – albeit early in the season – may well have been what came next.

With half an hour to go and 2-0 down at home to old foes Chesterfield, a double substitution changed the game and 2 more goals from Langstaff showed he was adjusting well to the higher level, and we earned a point from a seemingly lost position with 4 of the 5 new signings on the field at the end of the game.

A first reverse of the season may just have seen us wobble in previous seasons but this Magpies team responded with 7 straight wins although 3 draws in 4 November games showed this was still a work in progress, and we did have some issues trying to break down a team which had little to no positive intent.

The away form, meanwhile, had been a revelation and any concern about ‘bogey’ clubs was swept aside with wins at Eastleigh, Aldershot and Torquay as well as a thrilling win at Chesterfield to prove we can win on TV!

Another tv game – at home to Dagenham – may be the one which cost us the title. (Really? We matched the Hollywood Globetrotters this far?!) as a completely dominant performance saw 2 breakaway goals send us to a first home defeat of the season.

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game where one team hits the woodwork 3 times AND has 3 cleared off the line in the same game. Added to that, one absolutely nailed on penalty was ignored and another good shout was waved away. If that game were played 100 times, I feel Notts would win 98 with maybe one draw. Of all the seasons for the away win, it had to be this one…

The most hyped game in non-league history is likely to have sealed our play off fate with defeat at Wrexham but with 2 games left we have exceeded all pre-season predictions and can still win the league. Unlikely, given that Wrexham need to fail to win 2 of their last 3 games, but pretty much everyone expected the title race to be over by Easter – practically, if not mathematically.

And now we face the end of the season. Hopefully just 2 more games but realistically hopefully not 3 more games.

For all the previous play off campaigns, this is one we can justifiably feel confident. The soft underbelly has gone (although tier 5 defenders still make mistakes) and the gap between Notts and the rest is the same as it would be between second place and mid table in a normal season.

Of course, that doesn’t guarantee anything in a one off game but one thing we do know is that it’s been an incredible season and Luke Williams will not allow any complacency to get into this squad.

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This article provides an interesting insight into the 2022/2023 season for Notts. I found it informative. The author did well to highlight how the team has moved on from signing big-name players to signing unproven players, which some fans may not have been convinced by. However, the team's first run out showed some promising performances, and subsequent wins gave us hope for the season ahead.

I can relate to the team's previous issues, such as failing to win against "bogey" clubs and struggling to win on away games. However, this season seems to be different, with the team winning against those clubs and performing well on away days. Despite a few setbacks, the team's success has exceeded pre-season expectations and given us a chance to win the league.

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I know, we'll look back on the defeats and think those are the games which could've won the league - yet nobody could imagine how dominant ourselves or Wrexham would be. It appears that our prior setbacks gave Notts an extra push to succeed. We had a stretch where our play seemed overthought during away games, causing us to struggle.

This season has been incredible. If you're to gain promotion you want to be gaining records and causing pressure to your rivals. I think both clubs have benefitted from the close competition.

I felt a little unsure leading into the season, until I saw the Alfreton game. I then posted my thoughts about how I felt we would do, I wasn't far off, but I had predicted that we would fall back around Christmas. The Notts players did their utmost to keep it going for much longer than that and even now, they're doing the unthinkable.

I feel quite positive about the playoffs, although that's me in a nutshell. I always try to see the bright side!

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Since the Reedtz takeover, the improvements have been continuous. They've supported every manager, allowing them to do their job. It was unexpected that under Neal Ardley, Notts County would have the season they did. Most fans would have predicted a mid-table finish. However, under Ian Burchnall and now Luke Williams, the squad has been assessed and strengthened. This year's signings have brought the club to greater heights. It's not just luck, but also the hard work of the players and the club's synchronization with the ambition and preparation needed for success.

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Is it because we've done so well that the season feels so short? It doesn't seem that long ago since we played the friendlies. I think the fantastic start to the season gave the players a lot of confidence. The fight and passion came alive with every winning streak we started. I know there was that one brief spell where we lost after winning or drawing for what seemed like half of the season. We struggled for a few games, but those moments are what cast other teams from being a promotion contender.

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I couldn't agree any more with @TheSkipper and @Chris.

Throughout this season, both clubs have benefited from the close competition and the setbacks faced earlier on seemed to give Notts the extra push they needed to succeed. Although there were some initial doubts, the team's incredible performances, record-breaking achievements, and ability to apply pressure to their rivals have been truly inspiring. Simon has done a good job highlighting the team's shift in strategy, moving away from big-name signings and instead opting for unproven players. These tactics have proven to be successful, with promising performances and a renewed hope for playoffs success.

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Man, I thought this season would never end. Notts really brought their A-game against Wrexham. The way you guys kept winning, it's like you tripped Paul Mullin and stole his lucky rabbit's foot. This season has been wild. Who would've thought at the beginning? Certainly not me. There was one point when Notts went 5 points clear and I was like 'Game over, man. The title is theirs.' But nope, you guys just kept on truckin'.

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As I haven’t been in the best of health and have therefore been unable to give much thought to Notts, this is by far the most useful thing I have read. It’s pretty much a catch-up for exiles like me.

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