Recent results have certainly created a whole raft of opinions about whether the squad is good enough, whether the manager is good enough, is the system right and a lot more, but let’s have a look at where we are.
Two seasons ago, we came into the National League in complete disarray and most of us were simply hoping we’d avoid successive relegations.
We managed to get stronger as the season went on, making the playoff final (and I think we’d have had a chance of automatic promotion if the season hadn’t been curtailed).
With more expectations last season we faltered badly after Christmas but got to the playoff semi-finals again.
In both of those seasons, teams went up without having huge resources or expectations, in Barrow, Harrogate and Sutton.
Hartlepool maybe had more expectation but were still not huge spenders.
This season, Grimsby has made a great start after relegation and seem to be a contender at this early stage while we’ve all read and heard of the big spending Wrexham, Chesterfield and Stockport.
Notts’ owners and management have said that we won’t be competing with big wages – and an example of that is when Ian
Birchnall said Chesterfield blew us away with the deal they offered Calvin Miller.
Wrexham have signed players from League One when their current clubs didn’t want them to go. When that happens, it puts into perspective what is on offer elsewhere.
Notts have recruited technically good young players with a good academy background and the ability to play the type of football both owners and coach want to play.
The idea is that with good coaching, they improve and not only progress Notts but also their own careers as we aim to sell them and make the club financially strong.
All of that comes with a lot of advantages, but also some testing times.
Young players make mistakes. In fairness, all players make mistakes, but younger ones lack the experience to handle certain situations as effectively as they can, such as the recent capitulations against Woking and Halifax where it was real ‘rabbits in the headlights’ stuff.
When you play football from the back, it carries more risks. Even Barcelona and Manchester City have times where their goalkeeper passes it out to an opposing forward, so we should expect to see a non-League keeper (or, in the case of Patterson, a League One third choice keeper) doing the same.
If we seek to play entertaining football, such as we saw at Barnet and in brief spells against Aldershot and Woking, we need to accept the other side.
We saw with the return of Kyle Cameron at Yeovil how the defence seemed more composed, albeit still giving chances to a really poor side towards the end.
Going back to those games against Woking and Halifax, let’s not forget that for around 75% of those two games we were in control and should have coasted towards victories. On that basis, it maybe isn’t a million miles away from being a winning team.
The trick is to make those mistakes fewer and less costly.
But we’ve had a spell where our goalkeeper and 3 central defenders have been injured, and most teams would struggle to cope with that, even with the loan players.
One of the things Notts have struggled with recently is the results against teams in the bottom half.
Take last season as an example. Notts did the double over champions Sutton but then lost to bottom-placed Dover (okay, results expunged, but the point still stands).
And against teams who finished in the bottom half of the table, Notts had a record of 40 points from 21 games, with 5 defeats – a record of 1.9 points per game.
In my opinion, this is where league titles are often lost, by dropping points in the games you should make the most of.
So far this season – early as it is – Notts has 17 points from 7 games against teams in the bottom half with no defeats, a record of 2.4 points per game!
And this is with what is almost universally acknowledged as a team that hasn’t clicked yet, so there’s lots more to come.
So, what do Notts need?
I think this squad plays better and it a bigger threat when playing 3 at the back and 2 wide men, as long as the wide men do their defensive duties as well. Playing with four at the back makes it feel as if we’re being outnumbered somehow.
But a crucial part of that is working as a team and, just as importantly, keeping hold of the ball when we have it.
Sometimes, players seem to give it away very easily and that invites pressure all the time.
We have goals from all over the team, but I’d love to see someone playing with Kyle Wootton.
He seems so alone at times, with no-one within 20 yards of him. Which is fine if he’s able to control the ball and lay it off, but how often does a ball come at an awkward height, or the defender is all over him?
If we had someone alongside to pick up the pieces – as Rodrigues did towards the end of last season – it gives the opposing defence something extra to think about.