Hi Paul, so summarise County’s season up for us in a couple of paragraphs?
Frustrating and, since the change of manager recently, quite baffling. Consensus of fans would be that it’s not as strong a team as last season but plenty in the tank to reach the play-offs under Neal Ardley. We were hard to beat and quite efficient although never able to go on a winning run like Torquay or Sutton.
Your recent form has been poor, how have the performances been?
Performances have been as poor as the results. We’ve lost four out of six in the league since Ian Burchnall arrived and were knocked out of the FA Trophy semi final by Hornchurch – a team who had been furloughed for four months! We look a shell of the side we were a few months ago. Any hope of a ‘new manager bounce’ has had the opposite effect.
What’s been the highlights of your season so far?
Now you’re asking. It would have to be the victory over Dagenham 3-1 when Michael Doyle went in goal after our keeper Sam Slocombe was sent off in the first 20 minutes. They missed the penalty and Doyle had a blinder. We played very well in front of the BT cameras in a 1-0 midweek victory over Stockport last year. And we put together a good run in January which earned Neal Ardley manager of the month. It’s been largely a case of 2 steps forward, 2 steps back.
Who are your key players and why?
Michael Doyle – One of the oldest outfield players in the NL at 39. Runs the midfield and a born winner. He has been out injured but was on the bench last week and is a strong candidate to return this weekend.
Connell Rawlinson – Powerful centre half at this level. Came out fighting with a very positive interview this week about making the play-offs after our recent slump.
Kyle Wootton – Leads the line well, a powerful centre forward but having a lean time of late in front of goal.
Cal Roberts – Don’t worry, you wont have to worry about him. He’s out most talented player but got COVID at the end of last year and still not fully recovered. Ruled out for the season.
PLAYER PROFILE – MICHAEL DOYLE
Date of Birth: 8th August 1981 – 39 years-old
Former Clubs: Celtic, Aarhus GF, Coventry City, Leeds United, Sheffield United, Portsmouth
National League Stats: Played – 27, Goals – 1, Bookings – 3
International: Republic of Ireland – 1 cap
Were you surprised to see Neal Ardley depart last month?
Very surprised to see him go when he did – as were 99 per cent of our fan base. Consensus was let him have this full season and see where we finished. If go up, great, if not, allowed to leave as his contract was up. So the timing of the decision was very bizarre as it immediately put the incoming head coach under huge pressure, which he has clearly struggled to handle. Neal did a decent job for the club but several people referred to him as ‘the nearly man’ – just not getting that last 10 per cent out of the players to achieve promotion.
What’s your thoughts on Ian Burchnall since he took charge?
Clearly any new manager needs time to implement their philosophies but because of the timing of his appointment he is under immediate pressure. Part of the reason for his appointment is his compliance as a head coach to work with the owners’ money-ball approach to signing new players – profiling, use of data and video analysis etc. It’s a model that has worked successfully for Brentford and Barnsley but not used in the National League before. Ultimately, it’s all about results, though. And he’s lost five of his first seven. His demeanour and approach to the media has also not gone down well.
Are you confident of still reaching the play-offs?
Good question and a hot topic with Notts fans right now. Bizarrely, since Ian’s appointment he and the rest of the club steadfastly refused to acknowledge or talk about the play-offs at all. It was almost like we had given up. On our Magpie Circle podcast, we ran a bit of a campaign and former Notts and Torquay player Don O’Riordan spoke very passionately in our Monday show this week. The following morning the club wheeled out Connell Rawlinson and went into play-off overdrive. As I say, all very strange. Short answer to your question is that if we do not make the play-offs, it is an absolute disgrace and current management must take responsibility for that.
Which opposition teams and players have impressed you most?
Hartlepool looked very strong and organised when they beat us 2-0 a couple of weeks ago. My own choice for top spot would be Torquay – I have thought for a few weeks that Sutton would not last the pace, and you clearly now have the momentum.
What tactics does Burchnall like to employ and what’s your likely line-up at Plainmoor?
Ian likes to go with a 5-3-2 and would suspect that won’t change on Saturday. We were extremely poor against Eastleigh last Saturday – losing 1-0 at home. I doubt there will be major changes but I’d expect Michael Doyle to come back in which is clearly a big boost. Teenage striker Jimmy Knowles has done well for us (on loan from Mansfield) so watch out for him. Our regular number one goalkeeper Sam Slocombe is injured, so expect Luke Pilling to play.
What’s your score prediction for Saturday afternoon?
The heart says we can sneak something (it’s one of those very few games we play, where as a result of recent results, our fans are not expecting us to win). But the head would say 2-0 to Torquay.