Is the National League competitive?
When fans speak about the National League, words and phrases such as “tinpot” get used. Some fans seem to expect that because their club is “big” because of fans, revenue, stadium etc, that they are entitled to not be watching non league football. However as I alluded to in my last article, if you are playing in the National League, you are playing there for a reason. You were either too poor in League 2 the season before, not good enough to gain promotion into League 2, or you are the teams that were promoted into the league. Either way you look at it, due to the season you had prior you deserve to be in the league.
I refer back to my previous point of “tinpot”, i disagree with the term. I personally believe that this league is the hardest to stay in, and get out of. Every team is on a level playing field, the clubs are so tightly matched at times. Just take a look at the newest members of the league this season
Promoted; Stockport, Chorley, Torquay, Woking.
Relegated: Yeovil and ourselves.
All those teams I have mentioned, to their credit are maintaining a respectable league position so far. Even Chorley, being in the bottom 4 at the time of writing this, are only 3 points from safety. But look at the teams they are down there with at the moment. Wrexham, Fylde and Ebbsfleet, all teams who finished in the top 8 last season. One of which made it to the play off final. As I stated in my previous article, the league could be turned on its head by February. Put into perspective that at the moment Halifax FC are at the top of the table, however they are 5th favourite with the book makers to win the league.
Basically this league is more competitive than fans believe, or give it credit for. Any team can beat one another on any day. Some Notts County fans believed that this league would be a walk in the park due to our reputation, others were realists and understood we are going through a rebuilding stage in our existence. This period was never going to be easy in any league, let alone the toughest league to get out of, just ask a Wrexham or Solihull Moors fan.
If you take the Premier League, for example, if a team were to lose 6 or 7 games in a season, then you could most likely call it right that team would not win the league. However such is our league so competitive, teams in the leagues in recent years have lost 6, 7 even 10 games and still won the league, and teams losing 11 games are gaining promotion through the play off system. Hence the reason that fans are still very optimistic about their season once the season hits december and their club is maybe 13th in the league, because there is still hope due to how competitive the league is.
The key to any successful season however a club deems it, whether it be promotion or safety, is 100 percent good form. Maybe not continuous good form, but the ability at times in the season to go numerous games unbeaten, a 4 or 5 game winning streak or even just enduring through a sticky period with injuries and suspensions looming over you where you get the results to stay in the fight. Last season our mighty pies could not string wins together to literally save our lives. We had spells of decent results, i think back to Forest Green, Mansfield, Lincoln and Tranmere. But we could never say last season that we were on a good run of form. Form isn't determined by 1 win or a good draw, form is a run of results that make other clubs not want to play us, or change their system to stop us winning the game rather than them playing their usual way to win the game themselves. I am very proud to say that this season (so far and fingers crossed) we have found that formula that enables us to piece results together to remain competitive, and fighting for what all of us fans want more than anything.
"It’s important we continue to focus on one game at a time as players. The group is building a winning mentality & working hard for each other. The squad is gelling really well & understanding each other roles. Good things take time & we have a positive environment." - Richard Brindley
We endured a difficult start to the season, which led to the Ardley out crew to re surface. Our first 3 games were not good, we looked lackluster, could not see where goals were coming from, and if you were to look from an outside perspective on our form from those games, most neutral fans and even some of our own had probably written us off.
The management team continually asked for patience, we had no pre season, these players need time to gel. Fast forward to the away trip to Yeovil. We had gone 4 games unbeaten the players seemed to be finding their feet a very good away win to Harrogate 2 draws and a highly convincing win against Chorley. Still we were not quite right and the management did not hide that, they called for more from the players. What that run of results did though was so influential, those results made more fans believe that Ardley was getting it right slowly but surely. The Yeovil game was a game that on paper could have gone either way, and the game possibly reflected that, however we were not good enough in both boxes and on the day I do not think any fan will deny we lost the game to a very good yeovil side.
A few games later some good results, then a loss to Bromley. And since then the fans and the players have not taken their foot off the gas. 5 games 13 points, 4 wins and a draw, 10 goals scored and only 3 conceded, none of which have come at home might i add, form personified. Most of this good form was made whilst enduring injuries to key members of the squad and a suspension of our skipper. A run of very good form that has given the players a new lease of life on the pitch and it is very visible and it refreshing for us fans to see considering our torrid 18/19 season. A run of form that has put us in a position that our fans want to see us in, but you can sense the gratefulness from the fans that we are in that position, there is a long way to go in the season but we are giving ourselves a brilliant chance of achieving something great this season. We have a very tough next 5 fixtures, a televised fixture against our rivals, a tough trip away to Woking and a very tough home game with Barrow, 3 teams in and around us now and probably when the season ends. We as fans need to not expect too much, like previously stated this league is very tough and very competitive. I also agree that we can not expect to be in the position we are in right now come the end of the season, if we can not get the right results from teams above and close to us. But if the results are not what we want or expect, that is no reason to panic.
Our good run of form has not just happened overnight. I may be wrong but i think at the start of the season we had a lot of style but lacked in substance in one box or the other, which led to a poor start, accompanied with the dramas in the summer.
I mentioned finding a formula to get results, Macclesfield Town did it last season hence their survival. I believe our formula is a direct approach from Ardley and Coxy, however i also think that the players are taking responsibility on the pitch. They are taking more risks, any footballing man knows that if the football you have worked on and planned for to win a game does not work, then you have to take a risk to get the goal to win a game. The players for me, are taking it upon themselves on the pitch to take that risk, they know that if the risk does not pay off they could lose the ball and possibly concede, but you can see the desire to ensure that does not happen, they fight for the ball if they lose it. We have heard Ardley say numerous times now when we have conceded a sloppy goal, the players have come off the pitch at full time or half time and they are discussing the goal, and there is not a blame culture at the club, however players do blame themselves sometimes it is natural. Ultimately though the players understand that they are out on that pitch together and if one cuts they all bleed. So when i get asked how i think the players have progressed in terms of developing a way of breaking teams down, my answer is simply Ardley has given them the tools to go and win a game, however there is a strong togetherness we were missing from last season that means players are willing to take a risk to get the goal to win a game, knowing that if it goes wrong they will not get pointed at in the dressing room. They may get a stern word from the likes of Turner and Doyle, but that goes without saying. What this togetherness also brings is confidence, the players need the confidence to take the risk, and when one player sees another take a risk that pays off, then that grows within the team and more players are willing to do it to win a game of football. If we play with confidence, grit and determination then we will stand ourselves in very good stature at the end of the season.
My closing note this time would be to enjoy what is happening at the minute, our next fixtures are tough, do not expect the world. Support the boys feed that confidence to them when they need it. The position we are in right at this moment is brilliant, if it slips stay with it and we will judge at the end of the season.
ALL NOTTS AREN'T WE!!