A 1-1 draw sets up this second-leg to be another tight and tense affair against a side we appear to be well-matched with. Notts County’s home advantage makes them the favourites to progress, but we have seen enough from ourselves this season that we are fully capable of coming out with a win that would take us to Wembley.
Whereas the fear before the first-leg that the pressure to win the home leg would be too much for our players to handle, to have at least given ourselves something to play for – especially after conceding the game’s first goal – is an decent position to be in. Albeit, it’s tempting to wonder how much better of a position we would have been in had it not been for the pre-match deluge that clearly hampered some bright attacking play in the first-half, while also contributing – along with some poor defending – to the goal we conceded.
The penalty decision was clearly incorrect, but a draw between the two sides seems like a just result based on the overall balance of play. Importantly, that piece of luck has put Notts County in a position where they have to win this game, rather than kill it in the manner that were so close to successfully pulling off in the first-leg. We have to take advantage now of that let-off for a lack of cutting edge on Saturday in keeping this tie in the balance.
I can’t foresee any major team selection changes for this game, although it is still a concern that it isn’t apparent what shape Mark Robins will line the side up in – either 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or a diamond formation. The big decision will centre on who comes into the side to replace the suspended Tom Davies. Jordan Willis seems the likeliest candidate given the threat that Jonathan Forte – despite claims from Kevin Nolan that he isn’t fully fit – poses running in behind. Although, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Dominic Hyam and Rod McDonald had formed a solid partnership in central defence as recently as March.
The other key decision looks likely to be whether to start Maxime Biamou or Jonson Clarke-Harris as Marc McNulty’s strike partner. Biamou’s aerial qualities – both in open-play and defending set-pieces – seems to suit the job here more than bringing in Clarke-Harris, who is much more of a wild-card.
Last Time We Met
As this was literally our most recent game, there’s no need to summarise the 1-1 draw that leaves this tie so finely poised.
Here are the highlights anyway.
How Are They Shaping Up?
It’s clear from the reactions of both the players and the manager of Notts County that there is a burning sense of injustice about last week’s penalty decision. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Tom Bayliss in particular was singled out for some rough treatment from both the Notts County fans and some of their players – although that may have been the case anyway because he is our best player.
With that in mind, just how we react to the atmosphere of a game against a club seething with injustice could be a key deciding factor in this game. There is the potential here for us to use Notts County’s anger against them, leading to them over-committing to situations in a reckless manner. However, that extra motivation could also serve to compel them to new heights, or drag us into petty scuffles and put the game down to the refereeing decisions yet again.
In terms of how Notts County will line-up, Jonathan Forte seems likely to start this game, with the injury he sustained in the first-leg reportedly down to cramp. Forte could well be the key player in this game for Notts County, as their most in-form attacking player and someone who offers the ability to run in behind our defence.
Jorge Grant out wide shouldn’t be underestimated, despite the goals and assists having dried up for him over the past few months, while Shola Ameobi is likely to have a role to play in this game, likely to be from the bench.
The key change that Kevin Nolan could be set to make to his Notts County side could be in introducing Lewis Alessandra on the opposite flank to Jorge Grant. Alessandra offers more of a skilfull and direct option out wide than the hard-running Matty Virtue, it was Alessandra who came on late into the first-leg, seemingly with the intention to make Chris Stokes sweat over the yellow card he had picked up earlier in the game.
The weakness in this Notts County side appears to be the space in between the full-backs and centre-backs. Neither of Notts County’s starting centre-backs – Richard Duffy and Shaun Brisley – are particularly mobile, while their two full-backs – Dan Jones and Matt Tootle – can be adventurous going forward. Provided that Notts County don’t score an early goal and can avoid asking their full-backs to venture forwards, that would be where we can find joy in this game – which provides a compelling reason to start, or even just to involve, Kyel Reid.
This tie is already set-up to be a tense and edgy encounter, with the incidents from the previous leg only likely to serve to heighten the atmosphere surrounding the game. The record of both teams this season indicates that the team that scores first is likely to come out with the win, making it likely to be a contest of whoever blinks first, loses.
Notts County’s home advantage makes them the favourites for this game, but with the tie level, it means that they will have to show the intent to their home fans of coming out and seeking to win this game – at least for a period of it. If we can repel Notts County’s attacking threat, there should be the ability to try and hurt them on the counter-attack. There is no reason why we shouldn’t believe that we can get the win here.
My prediction though is that we will lose narrowly, but I would be lying if I didn’t add that I think we have a very good chance of making it to Wembley. This is one of those games where it’s almost impossible to make a prediction when you have an emotional stake in it.