How on earth do you go about reacting to losing 6-2 at home to Yeovil?
Do you make wholesale changes? Do you stick with the same players hoping for a positive reaction? Do you punish the players in training? Do you go about your usual business? Do you spend hours analysing what went wrong? Do you forget that it even happened?
Whatever happens in this upcoming game against Notts County – or, has happened on the training pitch since Monday – it has to be the right reaction. Whether that’s tearing everything up and starting again, or treating the Yeovil game as a one-off, this is a big game that if we can win, it puts to bed any talk that the team is choking now the pressure is on.
There are some players in this squad who feel like they will react well to having a point to prove in this game, and others who may have to be taken out of the firing line. In the latter category, Dominic Hyam looks the likeliest candidate for the drop after a naive showing against Yeovil and now that Tom Davies is fully fit again. Other likely candidates to be left out look to be Ryan Haynes and Peter Vincenti, despite other players maybe having worse performances, there are alternatives available in their positions.
Whether Lee Burge is dropped is a more nuanced debate, it looked for all the world on Monday that his half-time substitution was for something other than injury. Provided that this injury isn’t serious enough to rule him out of this game, the hope is that Burge’s confidence hasn’t seriously been dented by Monday’s game – winning the division’s goalkeeper of the year award should be a confidence boost. Whatever you think of Burge, this is not the time of the season to be messing around with your goalkeeper if you can avoid it.
Elsewhere, Robins should be looking to avoid making too many unnecessary changes. We were seven games unbeaten before the Yeovil game and it looked like we had settled into a functioning team dynamic. Maxime Biamou scoring three goals in two games possibly changes the conversation up front, but any further squad rotation would be overkill.
Last Time We Met
Oh, happier times.
The last time we played Notts County was back on the opening day of the season. A new team in a new division, we had no idea how this year was going to play out. Jodi Jones though offered a tantalising vision of us steamrollering through this league – which, hasn’t materialised – Jones’ pace, skill and composure when through on goal was the difference between two fairly equal sides, notching a hat-trick on one of those glorious, summery opening days when anything looked possible.
How Are They Doing?
The Notts County that we played on the opening day weren’t the Notts County side that snarled, bullied and battered its way to a comfortable automatic promotion place during the first half of this season. Kevin Nolan’s side were almost a perfect incarnation of their manager’s recent playing days, technically limited perhaps but physical, determined and never letting games going against them peter out.
Since the turn of the year, it’s been a different story for Notts County. Losing the midfield presence of Ryan Yates robbed them of a key component in their settled 4-4-2 system based on holding the fort in midfield, energy on the wings and Shola Ameobi holding the ball up expertly up top. Kevin Nolan has shown his inexperience as a manger, signing too many replacement players for Yates, none of whom were like-for-like, which has forced a tactical re-think and led to disjointed performances and inconsistent results.
However, they remain relatively comfortably in a top seven position and if they can win this game it gives them a half-chance of getting back into the automatic promotion race or at least builds momentum heading into the play-offs. This is a big game for both sides.
For a side built on physicality, experience and work-rate, they also have one of the division’s best technical operators in Jorge Grant. Perhaps the dynamic of the rest of the side suits having someone like Grant in there who is free to let his superior technical skill flourish. He is on 18 goals this season, many of which have been important goals in the final 10-15 minutes of games.
The front pairing of Shola Ameobi and Jon Stead has generally been a reliable one for Notts County this season, although there have been consistent calls for the introduction of the pacey Jonathan Forte to add to the variety of threats Notts County pose other than the work of Jorge Grant out wide – and Lewis Alessandra to a lesser extent on the other wing – and the physical battering that Ameobi poses and Jon Stead’s goalscoring ability.
As mentioned, the failure to directly replace Ryan Yates has led to a weekly conundrum for Kevin Nolan in which, and how many, players to pick in midfield. The signing of Liam Noble, who had starred for Forest Green in the National League last season, should have improved Notts County’s midfield, instead, Noble’s positional indiscipline hasn’t fitted in with Kevin Nolan’s tactics. Neither has the passing ability of Noor Husin, despite scoring a belting goal against Crewe back in February. With Michael O’Connor – arguably a League One standard player before his injury – edging closer to fitness, Nolan certainly has options to play alongside holding midfielder Elliott Hewitt, but it’s about which are the right ones.
Notts County look exploitable at the back given those midfield troubles, along with the lack of mobility of regular defensive stalwarts Carl Dickinson and Richard Duffy. With Adam Collin failing to convince in goal either, we should be looking to disrupt Notts County high up the pitch and getting efforts in at goal.
This is possibly an ideal game for us to get back on the horse following the Yeovil game. Not only do we tend to play better against the better sides in this division, but Notts County aren’t exactly playing with confidence or continuity at the moment and you would hope that, motivated by the need to react to the Yeovil result, a strong start to the game from us could rattle them enough to put us in a good position to win the game. However, Notts County’s home form has held up relatively well over the past few months and us losing this game will multiply the negativity from Monday’s defeat.
Nonetheless, I’m reasonably confident that there is enough about this side to put in a positive reaction and make sure that we win this game. As for a scoreline, I can see us winning this 2-0.