Report | Chesterfield (a)
Vanarama National League | 11 February 2023
In front of the BT Sport cameras Notts and Chesterfield delivered a spectacle, as the Magpies edged out an extremely close game. A second half Adam Chicksen goal saw Notts regain top spot, as they once again showed ridiculous amounts of fight and spirit.
The data tells the story of an extremely even game, one that Notts were perhaps slightly fortunate to walk away with 3 points from. A spirited Spireites actually created more meaningful chances, with their xG total of 1.48 slightly higher than Notts’ 1.20. It was the visitors who had the opening chance though, as Macaulay Langstaff fired an early warning shot, his strike eventually cleared away brilliantly by Grimes.
An end to end battle then ensued, something supported by the data. The Spireites would have their share of the early momentum, with 2 quick fire chances. First Ash Palmer should have scored, firing over from inside the area, following a save from Slocombe. It’s a chance he really should have taken; the former Stockport defender had the highest xG of any Chesterfield player as a result of the chance.
Next it was Quigley’s turn to fluff his lines, as the Spireites capitalised on a Baldwin mistake. Dobra found the big forward, but once again another high xG chance was spurned by the hosts. Aaron Nemane then kicked into life down the right hand side, providing a glimpse of what was to come in the second half. First he found Jones in space, his curling effort held comfortably, before Nemane found Chicksen in the box. It wouldn’t the first time the French full back found Chicksen in the box, but on this occasion the Zimbabwean could only head over.
The Magpies wouldn’t be ruing missed chances for long though, as Sam Slocombe launched the ball forwards. At first it looked like a speculative punt, but it quickly became apparent he had played a superb ball in behind Chesterfield’s Grimes. Still, Langstaff still had a lot of work to do, and much to the delight of the away end he produced a wonderful first touch to pluck the ball from the sky. He raced clear of Grimes, before showing wonderful composure, rolling the ball past a stranded Fitzsimons. A contender for goal of the season, Langstaff once again produced on the big stage.
Towards the latter stages of the first half it was Chesterfield who were on top, pressing for an equaliser. With this came added tension, which almost boiled over in an off the ball incident involving Armando Dobra, Cedwyn Scott and Connell Rawlinson. Dobra and Rawlinson went into the book, and deep into stoppage time Chesterfield had one last chance for an equaliser. The aforementioned Dobra was involved once again, tucking home following a scramble in the County box. His celebration will have riled away fans, but in truth it was a deserved equaliser, and an almost disastrous end to the first half.
The second half saw the emergence of Jodi Jones, with the loanee establishing himself as a firm fan favourite. He started the half in blistering fashion, first getting down the flank, showing impressive strength, before clipping in a dangerous ball. Much to the Spireites relief nobody in a lilac shirt was there to convert. Once again Jones showed immense quality, this time playing a clever ball through, and on this occasion it did find a County player. Goalscorer Langstaff was released on goal, but his shot was denied by Fitzsimons.
The game continued to ebb and flow, with both sides having spells of dominance. Luke Williams made his first switch, Bostock entering the fray, before arguably the biggest moment of the second period occurred. Chesterfield full back Jeff King, already on a booking, recklessly flew into a challenge. He could have no complaints, as his second yellow sent him on his way. This gave Notts an undeniable advantage, one they would press less than 10 minutes later.
The goal came from the Mahpies’ own penalty area, as they built from the back as they so often do. Bostock, who had been introduced just before the red, received it in the middle before working the ball wide. A few passes later Notts had switched it to the right, with Nemane driving at the defence. Buoyant against 10 men, Nemane glided past his man, before finding Chicksen in the box, as he had done in the first period. This time Chicksen made no mistake, dispatching of the effort from point blank range.
To Chesterfield’s credit, despite being down to 10 they had the better of the latter portion of the game. Chasing the game, Cook’s men threw caution to the wind in desperate search of an equaliser. Ryan Colclough came on alongside new Spireites Paul McCallum, and the former Altrincham winger had a big impact. He forged 2 chances late on, one a shot and the other a cross, but Notts held firm. 7 agonising minutes were added on, but true to form the Magpies showed resoluteness once more, taking 3 points back to Meadow Lane.
As alluded to in the match report this was a game that Notts, in other circumstances would have felt lucky to come away with all 3 points. Chesterfield matched Notts in every area, however, it was two moments of sheer quality that made the difference.
The match actions radar is a clear enough indicator of exactly how close this game was and based on the xG data Chesterfield had the edge. Fortunately for Notts big chances were wasted by the Spireites.
Chicksen's goal came in at a very high 0.47 xG, likewise Dobra's goal was similar at 0.43. The plaudits rightly go to Langstaff though who scored with his most difficult chance at 0.05 xG, so that goal would only be expected to be converted 5 times in 100 attempts.
Season stats updated below.
Player Stats - National League:
With 3023 minutes in the league so far this season Sam Slocombe has played more league minutes than any other player. Add to that he has the most clean sheets and is the only keeper in the league to record an assist it's becoming a very good season for the 34 year old.
25 Goals up for Macaulay Langstaff, a 9th goal for Adam Chicksen and an 8th assist of the season for Aaron Nemane are the other stand out player stats for the Chesterfield game.
A Look ahead to Barnet at home.
In the previous 10 National League games only 2 sides have equalled or bettered Notts’ 26 point haul. One of these is obviously title rivals Wrexham, and the other is Barnet, who travel to Meadow Lane on Tuesday night. Unbeaten in 11, Barnet are undoubtedly one of the form sides in the division. The shouts for Dean Brennan to be in the manager of the season conversation grow ever louder as his Bees continue to rack up the points.
Barnet are a side who have transformed over the course of the season. After 14 games they had conceded a massive 35 goals, the worst in the division at the time. In the 15 games since they have only conceded 15 goals; only Yeovil have conceded fewer, with 13. In their last 11 games they’ve kept 6 clean sheets, and this iron clad defence will set out to frustrate Notts in their mid week clash.
Barnet aren’t only a side that have a tight defence. The Bees have only been outscored by 2 teams in that 15 game period; Notts and Wrexham. Dean Brennan’s men have netted 33 in that time, a potent attack indeed. Brennan has also shown tactical flexibility throughout the season, operating with a number of different systems in order to get the best out of his players.
Barnet had a poor defensive record at the start of the season, so to combat this Brennan shifted to a 5-2-2-1 system, reminiscent to the shape Notts employ. This shift was an obvious attempt to provide more bodies in the defensive area, one which clearly worked. Brennan has also tinkered with this system, withdrawing one of the attacking midfielders to create a midfield 3. This was especially effective in games where the opposition also operate with a midfield 3, such as in their 3-0 win over Chesterfield. It shows Brennan’s willingness to adapt his side to the given scenario.
As soon as his side started to gain confidence he transitioned towards a 4 at the back system with some regularity. Barnet are capable of lining up in a 4-1-4-1, with Kabamba the lone striker. The midfielders and wide players get forward to support the big forward, and it’s this system that provided recent wins over Scunthorpe and Boreham Wood. Brennan has also shown desire to push the midfielder from the base of midfield into a more attacking role, so his side takes up a 4-2-3-1 system. He is able to make these changes so fluidly due to the flexibility of his personnel.
Barnet are perhaps best described as a flexible outfit. They have several players capable of operating in several positions. Idris Kanu for example has been a key player, especially in the final 3rd, and he’s been equally as effective from LWB, attacking midfield and also on the wing. Another example of this is Ryan De Havilland. The young midfielder is not only 2 footed (taking corners with his left despite using his right in other scenarios) but is capable of playing in a more reserved midfield role, pushed into a more advanced one or even out wide. Barnet have fluidity, a rare asset at this level.
The latest tactical evolution under Brennan was shown in their 3-1 win away at Halifax, their last league game. Brennan lined up with a front 2 for the first time, with his side taking up a 4-2-2-2 system. Kanu and De Havilland played in behind the front 2, their flexibility allowing them to occupy central spaces, but equally drift out wide too. Perhaps most interestingly is that the strike duo, Nicke Kabamba and new signing Harry Smith, are both extremely large forwards, 6ft3 and 6ft5 respectively. A strike duo of that height would cause any side issues, but Barnet do so without compromising their style of play.
This tactical flexibility means that match preparation for Luke Williams and co will be an absolute nightmare. Barnet could line up in any number of systems, and will have been working on a system to suit playing at Meadow Lane, especially as they played in the FA Trophy at the weekend. Brennan could spring any number of systems on Tuesday night, and whilst 2 strikers certainly worked well in its maiden appearance, it would be brave to use the system again at Meadow Lane.
Notts task will have been aided by the fact Barnet picked up 2 injuries recently. Right back Ben Wynter and central defender Danny Collinge have both gone down with injury, and will be major doubts for the game on Tuesday. This will pose both managers with problems to solve before kick off; Luke Williams will be even more unsure of team selection, while Dean Brennan must decide who comes into the side in their place.
The obvious replacement for Collinge is 6ft5 defender Moussa Diarra, who Magpie fans may be familiar with from his time at Woking. The French defender is a colossus in the air, and scored last time out, but has been suffering with the effects of long covid this season. He’s also not the quickest defender, and he could be a man Notts look to get at. Langstaff would have more than enough pace to race clear, so the Magpies may look to repeat the opening goal from the weekend, targeting Diarra for the ball in behind. Barnet play a high line, and Diarra’s pace is certainly a weakness in this style. If they look to compress Notts as Chesterfield did he could be their undoing.
At the other end of the pitch Barnet have plenty of effective weapons. Harry Smith recently joined on loan from Leyton Orient, and he’s shown why his signature was so well sought after. He has 3 goals in his first 2 games in all competitions, an incredible start to life at the Hive. He’s an incredible threat in the air, and Brennan will face a dilemma whether to drop the in form forward, or stick with him at Meadow Lane.
The exploits of striker Nicke Kabamba have been well documented this season, and the 29 year old has 17 goals to his name already this term. Only Mullin and Langstaff have scored more goals than the Bees striker this term, showing how good he has been since joining in the summer. An athletic striker, Kabamba has excellent technique for such a big forward. His movement is clever too, and if Barnet are to score at Meadow Lane it’s likely Kabamba will be involved.
As always thanks for reading.
For Notts County Stats:
Richard - @notts_stats
Tom - @tomhwilliams23
Colin - @Colin_Sisson