To say 2020 was an unusual year for football is an understatement. Aside two world wars never has the football program undergone the type of upheaval experienced during the last year.
A curtailed season settled by points per game saw Notts secure a place in the National League play off’s and an opportunity to return to league football at the first attempt and then a stutterring new season without fans but littered with virus victims and dodgy online streams.
2020 will be a year for the history books but one many will want to put behind them.
The Magpies started the year with an uninspiring goalless draw at Maidenhead having beaten them 3-0 at Meadow Lane just 6 days earlier. Despite the shut out the draw meant Notts would continue their best unbeaten run of the season which would stretch to 9 games in all competitions.
That said with just the one win in the league during January the run came to an abrupt halt in the last game of the month with a 2-0 defeat at Dagenham, a game that saw Callum Roberts play his first 68 minutes in a Notts shirt and a game where Daggers exacted their revenge following Michael Doyle’s long range injury time winner in the FA Trophy earlier in the month.
Notts would finish January in 7th place with 47 points averaging 1.516 PPG.
A second postponement at Fylde and two more Trophy cup games meant just 3 league games were contested in February.
Notts started well with a 3-0 win at home to Chesterfield in front of the live TV camera’s and a crowd of 6,347 which would be The Magpies, and the National League's highest attended game of the season.
Wins against Yeovil and Aveley in the Trophy saw Notts secure a semi final spot and put a bit of a shine on an otherwise indifferent February that saw Neal Ardley’s men win, lose and draw their three National League games.
The Chesterfield win saw Notts up to 5th but would finish the month back in 7th place on 51 points and averaging 1.645 PPG.
The 5-0 demolition of Aveley on the last day of February was a precursor for what was to come in March as Notts hit a run of form that suggested they might just mount a challenge for the league title.
The month started well with an impressive away win, at the third attempt, against AFC Fylde. This was followed with victory at champions elect Barrow and then a comfortable home win against Aldershot Town.
However, amidst the backdrop of the Magpies improved form a spectre was lurking in the shadows as the UK succumbed to a global pandemic.
On Saturday 14th March Notts hosted Eastleigh in what would become one of the last unrestricted attended games in English elite football in a match that saw the Magpies run out 4-0 winners in front of a crowd of just under 5,000 fans.
It was one of the last National League games played that season as the campaign was curtailed and settled on an unweighted points per game basis which would see Notts finish in third place behind Harrogate Town and title winners Barrow securing a place in the play off semi finals in the process.
Notts would win 4 from 4 in March meaning they finished the season in 3rd place on 63 points and an unweighted PPG of 1.658.
Final table 2019/20:
A Covid fuelled footballing hiatus ensued and it would be 4 months before Notts saw competitive action again, Barnet at home and behind closed doors in a highly anticipated play off semi final.
Neal Ardley had managed to keep a play off squad and shocked many by preferring Jim O'Brien on the left side of midfield to Enzio Boldewijn and it worked with O'Brien playing probably his best game in a Notts shirt which included an asist for the opening goal in a convincing 2-0 win in a game that would also see Callum Roberts shine.
Notts had booked a place in the play off final at Wembley where they would meet Harrogate Town.
Notts faced Harrogate on the 2nd August in the National League play off final with promotion to the football league awaiting the victors.
Ardley stayed loyal to the starting 11 that did so well against Barnet in the semi’s but unfortunately his loyalty was not rewarded and despite a Callum Roberts free kick offering a glimmer of hope a below par display gifted Harrogate the spoils.
As the build up to a new season got into full swing Notts had the chance to secure another day at Wembley in the FA Trophy final as they faced Harrogate Town again, this time at Meadow Lane in the semi final.
However despite much huffing and puffing Harrogate did just enough to spoil the party once again winning 1-0 and setting up a final against Concord Rangers which is still yet to be played.
Notts had retained the services of a number key of players from the previous season but waved goodbye to the likes of Mitch Rose, Kristian Dennis, Tom Crawford and Sam Osborne which raised a few concerns from some within the Notts fan base, but the signings of experienced Jake Reeves along with continentals Ruben Rodrigues, Casper Sloth and Elisha Sam provided a level of intrigue and expectation.
Some two months later than normal the National League managed to get their new season underway and it was an away trip to Dover that served as the campaign opener for Notts. It wasn’t a season opener to look back on with any fondness though with the Magpies losing to an injury time goal and a streaming service that failed so miserably it left the Dover owner publishing an apology whilst pleading with fans not to claim a refund. Add to that Casper Sloth throwing his toys out the pram and leaving the club in a huff it really wasn’t the best start to the season.
Notts went on to win the next 3 games but a decision to play Maidenhead in the last game of the month without 4 key players sidelined with the virus was one that would come back to haunt them.
With 8 games scheduled for October only 5 were completed due to Covid with Notts having to forfeit the FA Cup game at Kings Lynn and the league games at Halifax and Aldershot postponed.
By the end of the month Notts were in 7th place on 9 points with a PPG average of 1.800.
Just 4 games would be played in November, starting with a defeat away at Aldershot and a draw at Halifax that felt like a defeat, but a last gasp win at Chesterfield and victory over Wealdstone at Meadow Lane appeared to get the Magpies back on track.
Two wins and a draw saw Notts up to 6th in the league with 16 points and an average PPG of 1.777.
As the stop/start season continued into December Notts were staring down the barrel of 8 games in 4 weeks, however, two more postponements would mean 6 games would be played culminating in a home defeat to Hartlepool in the last game of the year.
December added 7 points to Notts league tally seing them finish the year in 5th place on goal difference over Maidenhead with 23 points and a PPG average of 1.640.
Overall record for the year:
Neal Ardley has utilised a total of 36 players during 2020.
Sam Slocombe, Ross Fitzsimons, Jake Kean, Joe McDonnell, Luke Pilling
Ben Turner, Damien McCrory, Zoumana Bakayogo, Richard Brindley, Dion Kelley-Evans, Connell Rawlinson, Pierce Bird, Alex Lacey, Sam Graham, Adam Long, Joel Bagan, Adam Chicksen
Michael Doyle, Jim O'Brien, Mitch Rose, Enzio Boldewijn, Callum Roberts, Tom Crawford, Regan Booty, Sam Osborne, Sean Shields, Jake Reeves, Ruben Rodrigues, Tom Walker, Matty Wolfe
Kyle Wootton, Kristian Dennis, Wes Thomas, Scott Wilson, Jimmy Knowles, Elisha Sam
A total of 51 goals were scored in 2020 with 17 different players getting their names on the scoresheet and 24 different players contributing to a goal.
All in all you could argue it's been a year of stabalisation for Notts. It was a frustrating end to the 2019/20 season especially being just 90 minutes away from a return to the football league.
Looking forward promotion has to be the target this season and despite an indifferent start the Magpies are still well positioned to ensure the play off's are achieved again at the very least and whilst many will look at Torquay and the amazing start they have had to the season I would suggest they have to hit a bad patch at some point and that's when Notts need to be ready to pounce.
For me personally it has been a year of discovery with today marking the first anniversary for Notts County Stats. Despite the challenges everyone has had to face this year the support and interaction experienced from so many of you during this last 12 months has been phenomenal and I hope I can continue to bring you interesting and insightful statistics and data visualisations.
There is much more content I could have included in this article but you can discover this for yourselves by browsing the website. Equally if you do spot any errors please let me know.
Fingers crossed this time next year I'm reporting on a happier 12 months but until then we look forward to Eastleigh away on the 9th January and hopefully a win and 3 points.
As always, thanks for reading and COYP!