New league leaders Notts County make the trip down south tomorrow to take on Woking, a game they won rather easily last campaign, with Ruben Rodrigues and Eli Sam goals sending the visitors home with a 2-0 win.
However, Magpies fans would be mistaken if they feel Woking are going to be as easy to beat as last season, as this term Darren Sarll has turned them into a very different proposition.
Woking currently sit in the playoff places, testament of the hard work Sarll has done, and the biggest change he has made is making the Cards far harder to beat. Too often last season they almost rolled over for the bigger sides, but this season they come into every game looking to get something out of it. This was evident in a 3-2 loss to Wrexham, a game they pushed the Welsh side to the brink in despite being down to 10 men for the best part of 70 minutes.
Sarll has made his side harder to beat by improving and changing the personnel, but also by pushing right back Kyran Lofthouse into right midfield, instantly making the midfield sturdier. It’s something that is clearly working; Woking have the second lowest xG against of any side in the league, with just 9.58 goals expected to be conceded. Notts by contrast have expected to conceded 14.81, a lot higher than Woking, suggesting Notts may be more open than their hosts this weekend.
However, whilst Woking are more solid this season, and have managed to score 20 goals, giving them the 4th best goal difference, they do so without seeing much of the ball. Notts have actually conceded the same amount as Woking, 11, yet they couldn’t be further from Woking’s style; Notts love having the ball, so much so that they have the most possession in the league, and by some margin. Notts record an average possession of 64.1%, some 18.4% higher than Woking, who average 45.7%. This suggests that Notts will be able to go to the Kingfield Stadium and dominate the ball, and play their usual game.
Woking currently find themselves in the mix for the play-off spots and although it's still very early in the season they have shown enough to suggest that they will be knocking on the play-off door come the end of the season.
Three wins, two draws and one defeat means they have accrued 11 points from a possible 18 in the last 6 games which sees them sitting 4th in the current form table.
By contrast Notts now sit top of the current form table with 15 points from 18 following a dramatic win over Wrexham on Tuesday night.
Notts have scored 15 goals in the last 6 games averaging 2.50 goals per game and have conceded just 5, with 3 of those away at Dorking.
Woking have scored 11 meaning they are averaging just under a goal a game but more importantly have only conceded 3 goals in this six game period.
As mentioned earlier Notts clearly come out on top when it comes to construction stats but also rank very highly for wing play and territory.
Woking however are much more direct and rely heavily on their high ranking challenge intensity, suggesting that both teams could cancel each other out in the pressing stakes on Saturday.
Woking forwards James Daly and Reece Grego-Cox have 11 goals between them so far this season, and if Woking are to score against the Magpies it’s more likely to be one of these two who get the goal.
Daly plays out on the left hand side of a 4-4-2 system, while Grego-Cox plays as a more traditional forward, in the front 2. Daly is an extremely accurate shooter; he hits the target with 52.17% of his shots, the 11th highest in the league, so if he’s allowed space by Nemane to get his shot away he is sure to test Slocombe.
Grego-Cox is an accurate shooter too, albeit slightly less so than Daly, with the 25 year old finding the target 47.62% of the time. This is still the 16th most accurate in the league, showing that in this pair Woking have a very threatening pair of forwards who will test Notts’ backline. However, Notts themselves have the striker who hits the target the most from open play, Macaulay Langstaff; he has a shot accuracy of 59.18%.
A player who is still massively underrated, 6' 3" midfielder Rohan Ince is certainly one of the best in the league. Blessed with a fantastic range of passing, it will be crucial for Palmer & co to close down Ince whenever possible, so that he isn’t allowed to find his range and put Notts’ high line under pressure.
Ince is also a combative midfielder, one who has been involved in 93 defensive duels, a large number, 66.67% of which he has won. This is very successful for a central midfielder, showing he will be key to breaking up possession and starting Woking counter attacks. He also wins 63.38% of his aerial duels, a massive number for a midfielder, undoubtedly aided by his natural stature.
A man who has converted from right back to right midfield this season is Kyran Lofthouse who has taken to his new role admirably. He may have got a straight red against Wrexham, but Lofthouse has really shown the quality we know he possesses, and the more advanced role suits his direct running style, and allows him to use his pace and power for attacking actions.
Lofthouse has 3 goals to his name already this season, 2 more than he managed in the entirety of last season. His pace will be crucial to countering Notts, and he and Daly like to interchange at times too, meaning we may also see him cut inside onto his right foot, driving towards the goal at pace.
Lofthouse loves running with the ball; he records 7.15 1v1 dribbles per 90, the 6th most in the league and more than any other Notts player (Rodrigues records the most, 6.96). Woking will look to get the ball to Lofthouse in order for him to run at Chicksen; he will be dangerous.
34 Year old striker Padraig Amond was signed in the summer with the view to score goals, something he has a track record of at this level; the last time he played in the National League he scored 30 goals in 40 games, so it’s understandable that’s what many expected. However, Amond is now 34 and so he’s had to adapt his game as he’s slowed down, something he done to great effect this season.
Amond has gone from a goalscorer to a provider, supplying 4 assists, the 4th most in the league. He’s also played 10 key passes, the 2nd most in the league, showing how crucial he is in creating chances. It’s therefore fair to assume that Amond is actually Woking’s most creative player, and a man that Notts will need to shut down early to prevent him getting their other attacking threats into play.
Keeper Craig Ross has played all 12 games so far this season, yet has only made 21 saves, 3 less than Sam Slocombe. He’s faced 32 shots, meaning he has a save percentage of just 65.6%, not a particularly high number.
If Notts are to put Ross under pressure, and get shots away they might have a decent chance of finding the back of the net. In fairness to Ross, Notts keeper Slocombe only has a marginally better save percentage with 68.6%, just 3% higher. However, there is a big difference in terms of the success of their distribution; Slocombe completes 81.41% of his passes, whilst Ross completes just 71.43%, almost 10% less. Once again, if Langstaff and Ruben are able to press Ross it may force him into mistakes.
As we've already mentioned the two playing styles couldn't be any more different.
Sarll will most likely set his Woking team up in an attack minded 4-2-3-1 with a view to trying to get an early goal and then drop into a very organised defensive 4-4-2 to try and maintain their lead.
Notts will need to be alert to Woking's long ball looking to get their front players in behind the Notts back line. we have seen both Altrincham and Wrexham have some level of success with this in the last couple of games so definitely something that needs tightening up.
Ultimately Notts have the quality and creativity to take control of the game by making sure, as usual, that they see as much of the ball as possible and work hard to unsettle Woking when out of possession. Make no mistake, they will need to be on the front foot from the get go.
Woking have scored 20 and conceded 11 goals so far this season. This means they are averaging 1.67 goals per game with an xG of 1.46 per game so they are making the most of their chances when they get them.
At the other end of the pitch they are only conceding 0.92 goals per game with an expected conceded goals average of just 0.80 meaning they are pretty resilient in defending their goal.
Woking's home record so far this season would see them 6th in the league on 2.40 PPG and 12 points from a possible 15.
Woking Home Form:
P 5 | W 4 | D 0 | L 1 | F 11 | A 3 | GD +8 | PTS 12
Dorking away has put a bit of a spanner in the works for Notts and their away form which has seen them pick up 11 points from 6 games resulting in 1.83 PPG on the road, scoring 16 and conceding 8.
Macaulay Langstaff - 15 (xG 10.13)
James Daly - 6 (xG 3.28)
At the time of writing Notts were favourites for the win with Unibet and BetUK offering the best odds at 19/20.
Woking were currently at 14/5 with STS for the home win and you can get 11/4 with Bet365 for the draw.
Based on these odds Woking have a 29% chance of winning and Notts 52%.
Despite finding themselves top of the table Notts will have to be at their very best if they are to get anything from this game. Woking are organised, physical and direct and will offer a real test of Notts' resolve following the energy sapping win over Wrexham in the week.
Luke Williams appears to be the kind of coach who is thorough in his preparation and this will be key if Notts are to avoid a case of 'after the Lord Mayors show' and further cement their title contender credentials.
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