Platform Magazine

Title chasing to mid table mediocrity: How Notts County’s season faded

Notts County’s historic battle with Wrexham in the 22/23 season looked set to go full steam ahead yet again before the 23/24 campaign began.

The two powerhouses of the National League steamrolled the division, both achieving promotion, with County doing it the hard way via the Play-Offs.

Notable new signings such as David McGoldrick, who had just bagged 21 goals for Derby County in League One was seen as a coup, while playmaker Dan Crowley had a point to prove after struggling in the Championship with Birmingham City and Hull City and Jodi Jones signed on a permanent deal on a free transfer from Oxford United with fan favourite Portuguese forward Ruben Rodrigues departing in the opposite direction.

MacAuley Langstaff sticking around for the entirety of the season has almost been the best piece of transfer business this season after a host of Championship clubs were in the hunt for his stignature last summer and in January.

It ensured that Notts’ County’s fire power was bolstered further, and Rodrigues’ absence wasn’t felt, something unthinkable considering Langstaff’s record breaking 42 National League goal outlay and 34 goal contributions from the Portuguese last season.

However, the Magpies long awaited EFL return celebrations were put to rest as they succumbed to an opening day 5-1 drubbing away to Sutton United – a team now one game away from relegation to the National League.

Similarly, Wrexham were defeated 5-3 at the hands of MK Dons, one of their promotion rivals. Wrexham have gone on to earn promotion to League One and MK Dons sit in fourth place, a close rival for most of the season and the favourites for promotion via the Play-Off route.

Meanwhile, that defeat for County paints a fitting picture for how their season has panned out –something so promising unravelled in unbelievable fashion.

Platform had predicted County to charge onto win the League 1 title back in July but come January, our predictions changed, placing County in 6th as their fragility began to show.

Luke Williams led County to a strong start before being poached by Swansea City in early January with promotion still looking likely.

One thing that stood out was the sheer number of goals let in by the County defence. In the run up to William’s departure, the Magpies had beaten Forest Green Rovers 4-3, lost to Crawly Town 5-4, lost to Mansfield Town 4-1 and were on the end of 4-2 defeats to AFC Wimbledon, and Tranmere.

Whatever games County played, nearly every result was either won or lost in emphatic fashion.

Draws were hard to come by with 13 wins and 10 losses in Luke Williams’ 26 games but importantly the promotion push was on.

What followed was unprecedented and County capsized.

After a two-week search, Luke Maynard, a semi-professional manager of Wealdstone on the National League, was appointed described by County as being ‘one of the most exciting managers outside the EFL.’

Similarly to County in a way, Wealdstone were also inconsistent, winning nine and losing 10 of Maynard’s 25 league games.

Unfortunately, the appointment of a relative unknown saw County drop down the table rapidly.

Since Maynard’s appointment, the Magpies rank 21st in the League Two form table, below already relegated Forest Green Rovers and relegation threatened Colchester United and Sutton United.

With just five wins in that time, and with the talent at his disposal, Maynard hasn’t done enough and while County vouch to stick by him, the fans have had enough with Maynard seemingly out of his depth.

The style of play under Maynard hasn’t changed, with County still set up to play out from the back, something they have been punished for on several occasions.

Compilation videos of Notts County’s defensive mishaps this season have circulated online with new clips being added to the bank almost weekly.

They have conceded 34 goals since Maynard’s arrival – the most in the division – making that 85 for the campaign.

To be second top goal scorers in the entire division while having the worst defensive record is some going, but not something to be proud of as County have derailed from having the second-best defensive record in the National League last season.

One area of the squad left untouched in the summer window was the defensive, a set of players who were comfortable in a lower division and earned their go at a higher level, but ultimately, it’s been a gamble that hasn’t paid off and needs addressing.

If Stuart Maynard is to stick around and have the backing of the County board, more quality must be brought in else it won’t be a fight for promotion – instead, relegation.

The form table doesn’t lie – it’s where County are headed despite having League Two’s player of the season in their ranks.

Yes… it’s all genuinely baffling.

David McGoldrick has netted a respectable 12 goals, while new recruit Dan Crowley has more than proven his worth, netting 16 and providing 11 assists.

MacAuley Langstaff has proven any doubters wrong, bagging 28 league goals, four ahead of Wrexham’s Paul Mullin and Salford’s Matt Smith.

The League Two accolades are all heading down the Trent and awarded to Magpies’ stars as Jodi Jones has made a remarkable career turnaround, coming back from injury after injury and further setbacks, moving from Coventry City to Oxford United and finally settling with Notts County to winning the division’s Player of the Season.

Jones, while only scoring 5 goals, has laid on a record-breaking 23 assists – the most ever in a League Two season and went on to represent his national side, Malta in a European Qualifier against England at Wembley.

It has truly been a season to remember for Jones but a season to forget for County as they will surely look to rebuild in the summer.

Now isn’t the time to be sentimental to last season’s Play-Off heroes – times move on, and they certainly have done.

There’s a clear gulf in quality between the National League and League Two in respective of how Notts County aspire to play.

They must target proven players in the division, defenders that are comfortable with the ball and a new goalkeeper to boot – the whole back line needs retooling.

What started off as an ambition to achieve back-to-back promotions, proven possible by Wrexham this season, has ended in misery, with the team looking frail, the fans disillusioned with manager Stuart Maynard while still having club support behind him – it’s a far cry from the promise and togetherness shown back in August.

But… it’s not just down to Maynard – he needs to be clever and look at his tactics to find a suitable way of playing that doesn’t cost his team goals and mean his attackers must work twice as hard to dig the side out of a hole.

That being said, there is no guarantee that Notts County enter the 24/25 season with Jodi Jones, MacAuley Langstaff or Dan Crowley on the books – the EFL is a merry go round for transfers and players aren’t afraid to cut ties after just one season in search for greener pastures.

If their key players do depart in the summer, and with interest in Langstaff likely to reignite that is a possibility, the 23/24 reason will be looked back on with regret as the one that could have been as I fear Notts County may enter purgatory stuck in League Two for years to come.


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