A heated National League feud that ignited following a playoff semi final, the fortunes of the two sides that are set to clash on Saturday couldn’t be more contrasting. Notts County are top of the league, have won 6 on the bounce and have the best goal difference in England. Their visitors, Torquay United, are rock bottom of the National League, are winless in 8 and the calls for their long serving manager to be sacked are increasing. The pressure is on Gary Johnson this weekend, and he couldn’t have a tougher fixture ahead of him.
Torquay did manage to score 4 at home against Altrincham, but in their last 4 away games they’ve managed to score just the 1 goal; that goal came away at Wealdstone, whom Notts put 6 past in their away trip on Tuesday. Torquay have let in 16 in 6 games, a period in which Notts have let in 5 and scored 18. In short, Notts are heavy favourites heading into this one, and for good reason.
Former Gulls Kyle Cameron and Aaron Nemane have been in particularly good form this season, with the latter scoring once and assisting two more on Tuesday night. Both are almost guaranteed to start on Saturday, and will be keen to get one over their former side. The data suggests they have every reason to be confident in doing just that. Notts top the xG charts, with a whopping 32.22, whilst Torquay are way ahead at the top of the xG against charts, with them expected to concede 37.28 goals to this point. This is 9.28 more than they have actually conceded, suggesting they may have actually been lucky to this point and that they should expect to see more goals conceded soon. Notts, a side who scored 6 last time out, are sure to be more than obliging of that.
A draw and a replay win in the FA Cup against lower league opposition has probably improved the look of Torquay's recent form. However, they are without a win since early September in the league and since then have recorded just 3 draws and 5 losses in their last 8 National League outings. In fact, in that period they have scored 9 goals and conceded an horrific 21 goals.
Notts' league form continued in emphatic style putting 6 past a hapless Wealdstone on Tuesday meaning they have now won 6 league games on the trot, scoring an impressive 19 goals and conceding just 5.
Looking at how the two clubs compare in playing styles we continue to see an emphasis on Notts ranking highly in all the pressing and construction actions. Torquay on the other hand do press and do have a high challenge intensity but the ball has been somewhat of a hot potato for them!
Torquay’s key men have undoubtedly been their goalkeepers, as both Mark Halstead and Rhys Lovett have carried Torquay at times this season. Whilst most sides have a nailed on number 1 at this point, Torquay do not, with the 2 keepers starting in each of their last 2 games. It means Notts won’t be able to prepare 100% for which keeper they will face, although if pressed we would have to lean towards Mark Halstead getting the nod in goal.
Halstead has made 45 saves this season, and Lovett has made 33, which combined would be the highest in the league. They also rank 1st and 3rd for saves per 90, with Lovett making 5.11 saves per 90 and Halstead 4.37. Slocombe by contrast makes just 1.77 saves per 90.
Clearly the pair are called into action far more than any other keeper, a damning indictment of Torquay’s defensive qualities. This is probably best illustrated by the fact that Torquay have only conceded 28 despite having an xG against of 37.28, the highest in the league. They do say you have to be slightly crazy to play in goal, and that is probably even more pertinent in this case.
Despite being Torquay’s oldest player at 36, former Premier League defender Dean Moxey has played the 2nd most minutes for the Gulls this season. He’s an ever present, and is crucial not just for his availability, but also for the experience he brings too.
Torquay have one of the youngest squads in the league (an average age of 24.3 to Notts’ 27.4), so Moxey has had to draw on every bit of experience he has amassed when leading this young crop of players. Moxey has won a modest 57.83% of his defensive duels, a figure which isn’t amazing, but considering the performances of Torquay as a unit it isn’t bad either.
Moxey is a versatile operator too, with his ability to play both in central defence as well as at left wing back coming in useful for Gary Johnson’s side. Going forward he puts in 1.89 crosses per 90, a figure very similar to Chicksen from 21/22 (Chicksen played 1.79 crosses per 90 last season, he has played 3.73 per 90 this season).
Loanee striker Will Goodwin is the pick of the bunch up top for Torquay, although admittedly the pickings are fairly slim. 3 goals in 15 games isn’t a bad return for a 20 year old forward, especially one playing in a side that are rooted to the foot of the table.
Goodwin has been an ever present for Torquay this season too; he’s played the most minutes of any Gull, 1508, and the 6th most in the league as a whole, showing how important he is.
The reliance for goals will be even heavier as his strike partner Aaron Jarvis saw red last time out against Eastleigh, so Goodwin will have to provide the goods this weekend.
The Stoke City youngster shoots just 1.43 times per 90, so he’s not likely to keep Slocombe too busy, but whilst he’s very economical with his shots he’s also very accurate. Goodwin hits the target with 54.17% of his shots, which is just a fraction less than Langstaff who has a shot accuracy of 55.74%. Clearly there is some potential there, but Notts fans will be hoping he doesn’t discover this weekend at Meadow Lane.
Gary Johnson started this season looking quite set on a back 3 either in a 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 formation, however in recent games they have adopted a back 4, predominantly a very rigid 4-4-2.
As we've already discussed Torquay have been quite set in their approach, having to rely on pressing and a high challenge intensity. However, territorially they have been poor and the challenge intensity will no doubt be a byproduct of finding themselves very much on the defensive.
They are still an outfit that displays all the hallmarks of a Gary Johnson team but sadly lacking in quality. This means Notts, again, are likely to see a lot of the ball.
We can expect to see Torquay come out and try and press hard from the start and they will need to see some reward for this otherwise you could expect them to deflate a little and find themselves naturally holding a very deep defensive line.
We all now know what to expect from Luke Williams' men, and assuming they will see plenty of the ball we can expect to see a persistent onslaught on the Torquay goal.
Torquay have scored 13 goals in the league this season, the least of any team, averaging 0.87 goals per game with an xG of 1.05 suggesting they've haven't really been creating much in the way of high value chances.
At the other end of the pitch they are shipping 1.87 goals per game with an expected conceded goals average of 2.48 which is slightly worrying for them as it would suggest that despite the poor results they have actually been a little more resilient at the back than expected. If that defensive resilience was to drop to match their actual goals conceded the long term signs would not look great.
Torquay have actually fared better on the road this season winning 2 and drawing 1 of their 8 away games.
Torquay Away Form:
P 8 | W 2 | D 1 | L 5 | F 4 | A 12| GD -8 | PTS 7
Notts remain unbeaten in the league at Meadow Lane with 6 wins and a draw from 7 games, scoring 15 and conceding just 3 goals, with 2 of those conceded in the draw with Chesterfield and the other in the 3-1 over Altrincham meaning 5 clean sheets at home for the Magpies so far.
Macaulay Langstaff - 17 (xG 13.32)
Will Goodwin - 3 (xG 2.88)
If you're looking for value on this game forget it unless you fancy your chances of an away win.
Notts very big favourites with 17/100 the best you'll currently find for a home win.
Coral are overing 16/1 for a Torquay win and you'll get 27/4 for the draw.
Based on this Notts are seen to have an 87% chance of winning.
Expect Torquay to try and fight fire with fire from the off. The only chance they have of getting something from this game is by capatilising on a mistake or from a set piece. With Notts expected to see much more of the ball than the visitors any set pieces should really be kept to a minimum.
It's likely that despite an intense start the Gulls are likely to fade under relentless pressure form the Magpies. You really can't see any other outcome than a comfortable home win but as always it's important to guard against complacency.
Full stats report to follow after the game and keep your eyes peeled for our analytical look at Notts County's goal machine . . . Adam Chicksen!
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