Thanks to my Football league World colleague and Notts County fan George Harbey for answering questions on the Magpies tough season so far.
1: What has gone wrong at County this season?
Where do I start? It all looked very promising in the summer when we made some fantastic, big-money signings in the likes of Kristian Dennis, Kane Hemmings and Enzio Boldewijn, and the signing of David Vaughan was also seen as a magnificent coup. But, despite making these additions, we let go of far too many leaders in the squad – Shola Ameobi and Alan Smith may not offer a lot of quality on the pitch anymore, but their presence and character in the dressing room is what made us as successful and united on and off the pitch last season. You will know all about Michael O’Connor too, we desperately miss a bit of bite, hunger and strength in the middle of the park.
Recruitment was a major, major issue, but sacking Kevin Nolan was also a massive turning point. We started off the season in catastrophic fashion, but after doing so well last year, surely he deserved more of a chance looking back? Sure, hindsight is a wonderful thing – however I think the appointment of Harry Kewell was ludicrous. He’s even more inexperienced than Nolan, so what on Earth did our board see in him?
There were a lot of rumours that one of the main reasons Nolan was dismissed was because of his off-the-field drinking habits, but how true that is, I really don’t know. What I will say, is our pre-season was absolutely dire, and that set us up for what has been a bitterly lacklustre campaign thus far.
2: Alan Hardy: Has he really been bad for the club, or is he a victim of bad managers?
Hardy does deserve a lot of credit for saving us from administration back in 2017, but he’s not everyone’s cup of tea to say the least. On Twitter, he’s embarrassed us, by getting into petty arguments with Forest and Mansfield fans, as well as trying to defend himself when he was banned from driving after doing 77mph in 40mph zone! Plus, you only have to see what’s happened over the weekend regarding an inappropriate tweet, to see exactly why football chairmen should not be on social media.
As I just alluded to, he does deserve a credit for injecting new life into the club, as well as appointing Nolan when he came in – which was a very bold move when you consider the fact that we looked like going down at the time. But things have turned sour for more than one reason, so I am very intrigued and somewhat worried to see what will now happen after he put the club up for sale.
3: There must be some positives, surely? Who has been impressing in black and white?
Even I, one of the most optimistic of fans, cannot think of any positives from this season. We have had so many injuries, it’s absolutely impossible to name a standout player, especially when we have been terrible all season long. Even Jon Stead, who has been our leader over the last couple of years, looks devoid of any fight and passion anymore.
I guess one positive I can take over the last few weeks is Pierce Bird, one of our young lads from the academy, has come into the team and hasn’t put a foot wrong. It’s rare to see “one of our own” come from our youth ranks and establish themselves as a first-team regular.
4: Will you stay up this season and why, or why not?
I’m not just saying this to be dramatic or pessimistic, but I really can’t to be honest. Our next three games are the Imps at home, then Forest Green away, and then Mansfield at home – three games I am well and truly dreading.
We are currently eight points adrift of safety, and with a tough February ahead, I just cannot see us catching Macclesfield, who to be honest, I can see getting out of the relegation zone. It baffles me how much we have regressed as a club, when last season we had aspirations of promotion. I am hopeful that new signings Craig Mackail-Smith and Mitch Rose can improve us, though.
5: If you could pick one Lincoln City player to have in your current County line up, who would it be?
Like I said before, I’d kill to have Michael O’Connor back, but I love John Akinde as a player and would love him at Notts.
We are missing a target man up front, and have done ever since Ameobi left at the end of last season. Akinde is just the perfect League Two forward and if I’m honest, I expected him to score more goals than he currently has for you guys this season, but he’s still easily one of the best forwards in the league.
6: What can the Imps expect from County this weekend in terms of set up and approach?
As alluded to before, we’ve recently signed Craig Mackail-Smith on loan from Wycombe as well as Mitch Rose on a free from Grimsby. I’ve always liked Mackail-Smith – he may getting on a bit now but he’s an old, experienced head who will bring a lot of character to the dressing room. He’s still got a bit of pace about him, he knows where the goal is, and will make the ball stick up top. Rose is another player who I’ve seen play against us, and I also like the look of him. He’s a combative, energetic midfielder who knows what it takes to stay up in this league, having done so with Grimsby last year. He will add grit and fight to our midfield, and I like what he has been saying after signing for us.
I’d fully expect them to start on Saturday, and I’d also expect us to go back to a standard 4-4-2, after deploying a 3-5-2 in recent weeks due to injuries. Ryan Schofield, a loanee from Huddersfield will start in goal. Matt Tootle, who scored against you and did the infamous “slug” celebration last year, is back from injury and should start. I reckon I could get a game at centre-half knowing how poor we have been of late, but Richard Duffy and Pierce Bird should start.
Cedric Evina will start at left-back. Our best player Enzio Boldewijn should start in right midfield after coming back from injury, and Jim O’Brien should start alongside Mitch Rose in midfield. Lewis Alessandra on the left flank, and up front, I reckon it’ll be Mackail-Smith and the returning Kane Hemmings. I could well be wrong though, as at the moment, if a player stubs his toe, he’s ruled out for a month or two.
7: How do you personally see the game panning out?
In all honesty, anything other than a loss is a bonus for me. You guys are absolutely flying right now and put in yet another gutsy, dignified performance at Bury on Saturday. I would absolutely love Notts to put up a fight for once, but when we try and keep a clean sheet, we can’t score, and when we try and score, we can’t stop conceding – there is no in between. I can see you winning 2-1, but my heart says we’ll score a last-minute winner through Boldewijn. That, however is very unlikely. I don’t really see a bitter rivalry between the two teams, but I do sincerely wish Lincoln all the best in the final stages of the campaign, and I am very sure that you will go up this season. It’s always a fantastic atmosphere at Sincil Bank, and I’m hoping for a good atmosphere at the Lane this weekend too.