And so the curtain closes on another League One season. For Notts County, the overriding feeling is one of disappointing apathy, where the damage was done a long time ago, a season of play-off hopes beginning brightly but falling apart at the seams and ebbing away to nothing.
In hindsight, a team that, between February and April, played fifteen games and won just three, and whose strikers went ten games without scoring a goal at one point – Francois Zoko’s goals against Bury on 22nd February were the last scored by an established forward until Yoann Arquin and Romello Nangle netted against Colchester on 13th April – frankly isn’t worthy of being anywhere near the promotion zone.
Despite a decent finish in April, the highlight of which was the 1-0 win against Doncaster at the Keepmoat which set up one of the most dramatic final day clashes in recent times, when Rovers played Brentford for the final automatic promotion slot, it ultimately counted towards nothing. The season was over and the pressure was off.
So, what has cost Notts this season?
I pinpoint it down to three things: the lack of a cup run, the loss of Lee Hughes and the failure to replace him.
Losing to Bradford in August in the Carling Cup first round didn’t raise a murmur back then, but despite how amazing their run to the final was to witness, I doubt I’m the only one who looked in with just a tinge of regret and longing, imagining us in their shoes, if only Arquin’s chance went in.
Meanwhile, the heavy defeat against Rotherham in the FA Cup second round was possibly our worst display all season, and in addition, missing out on the third round meant we lost out on some much needed funds which we could have invested the team, in the form of improved contracts and signings.
Losing Lee Hughes was a major own goal for the Magpies. The seeds of discontent were sowed early on, with him losing his place in the team and his number 9 shirt. After his failed attempt to force through a loan move to Port Vale in November, his subsequent sick note confirmed what all Notts fans feared: Hughes was as good as gone.
And if that wasn’t enough, the board, short on funds, was unable to replace him, and the existing strikeforce of Arquin, Enoch Showunmi and Francois Zoko failed to rise to the challenge of filling his boots – since Hughes left in January, the three of them have scored six goals between them.
It’s a shame really, since this year’s League One was one of the weakest in recent times, and our backline has been superb for most of the season – Bialkowski and Speiss have been revelations in goal, and a back four of Alan Sheehan, Dean Leacock, Gary Liddle and Julian Kelly is as strong as you’ll get in the division.
Since the season finished, the club confirmed that Alan Judge, our star man in midfield, is to leave the club, Bialkowski is also rumoured to be the subject of interest from teams higher up, and our skipper, Neal Bishop, has relinquished his captaincy – another worrying sign which some have taken to be a precursor to leaving the Lane.
However, the last couple of weeks have seen some great youth players come into the team and prove they’re more than capable of performing in the division. Curtis Thompson, Haydn Hollis, Tyrell Waite, Fabian Speiss, Romello Nangle and Greg Tempest have all enjoyed spells in the first team, and some, like Nangle and Waite, have already contributed goals, while Speiss was so good in goal when Bialkowski was injured that many thought he was going to displace him from the first team spot – not bad for an eighteen year old!
And as an extra bonus, the Notts youth team made it all the way to the final of the Midland Youth Cup Final against a talented Walsall side, and took the Saddlers all the way to extra time before being eventually broken down, suffering a 4-2 loss.
With such promising prospects in the Notts County academy and an increased emphasis by the board on bringing home-grown young talent into the first team, next season should see many of this year’s young stars break through and get plenty of appearances – and hopefully turn in some great performances and score some goals – which I am quite excited about. So let’s hope the future truly is black and white, and as always, Come On You Pies!
Written by Giuseppe Labellarte, We Are Going Up’s Notts County blogger
Giuseppe tweets at @JoeJonesHome