Report | Chesterfield vs Notts County | National League Play Off Final
Vanarama National League | 13 May 2023
Despite trailing for the majority of the game, one which they never took the lead in, Notts County finally ended their 4 year stay in the National League, thanks to penalty heroics from substitute keeper Archie Mair. Just like in the semi final, Notts had to come from behind, digging deep and showing their winning character, yet this time it was on the grandest stage, as over 38,000 saw them lift the trophy at Wembley.
The game couldn’t have started any worse for the unchanged Magpies, as experienced keeper Sam Slocombe clearly showed his nerves, kicking the ball twice from his own goal kick. In what appeared to be a momentary lapse of concentration, Slocombe looked to dribble the ball out of the area, before realising it was in fact a goal kick. This meant Notts had to defend an indirect free kick inside their own box, a brilliant opportunity for the Spireites to take the lead. A lay off allowed Jeff King to strike at goal, but to his credit Slocombe made amends, smothering the effort well.
It was Slocombe who was at the heart of the action for all the wrong reasons once again, a ball in behind allowing Dallas to run into the channel. Slocombe, as he has done so often this season, raced off his line, but once again the nerves got the better of him, as he clattered the Scottish forward, giving the official no choice but to point to the spot. The man he fouled, Dallas, stepped up to take it, going down the middle to extend Slocombe’s saveless penalty run, giving the Spireites the lead in the process.
Following their nightmare start, Notts began to establish themselves in the game, taking control in a pattern that would become familiar across the game. Notts would dominate possession, due largely to the fact that Chesterfield seemed content with sitting off, looking to pick their moments. After a quarter of an hour though it was Notts who almost got back into it, with wing back Aaron Nemane showing his pace down the right. He galloped into space following some clever footwork, before arriving at the byline. He flashed the ball across goal, with Sam Austin getting on the end of it, but the midfielder was unable to get a meaningful contact.
Nemane and Austin combined once again after half time, in a move similar to the one that almost gave Notts an equaliser early in the first. Nemane knocked the ball past Clements, and proceeded to glide past him with ease, his pace leaving the young left back in his wake. He reached the area, this time playing a brilliant cut back to the edge of the box. Austin had time to control the ball, but he scooped his effort over the bar, a relief for the Spireites.
Notts continued to knock on Chesterfield’s door, this time a set piece from the left unlocking the defence. A wonderful, dipping delivery from John Bostock found Connell Rawlinson free in the centre of the box. The Welsh defender stooped well to get his head on the ball, but he glanced his effort wide, a good chance squandered.
Time was ticking away, and the feeling that it wasn’t going to be Notts’ day began to creep into the ground. With less than 5 minutes left in normal time, Notts once again had a set piece out on the left. Palmer and Bostock stood over the ball, with the free kick ever so slightly closer to the opposition box. Still, it looked too far for an attempt on goal, with a repeat of the earlier set piece, which saw Rawlinson head wide, surely on the cards. This was obviously a thought shared by Chesterfield keeper Fitzsimons, as he was unable to get down to his right, as Bostock wrapped the ball into the near post. A delivery with good shape and bend, in truth it shouldn’t have beaten the former County keeper, but few Magpies supporters would have cared as it crept under his flailing arms to restore parity. The Magpies had once again come from behind in a playoff game, another example of their never say die mentality.
It didn’t take the Spireites long to respond though, as they broke down the right hand side, before a dangerous cut back found substitute Quigley. He was unable to pull the trigger, with the ball working it’s way out to another substitute, Tim Akinola. He was promptly closed down by goalscorer Bostock, who appeared to put both hands on the Arsenal loanee, although no real appeals went up, perhaps summing up how legitimate of a penalty it would have been if given.
That sent the two sides into extra time, and given the pattern of the play, it was a period Notts fans would have been optimistic about, especially given the fact they had won in extra time less than a week previous. So too had Chesterfield though, and they made the brighter start in the additional 30. They dispossessed Palmer inside their own half, with Oldaker turning the ball quickly over to Akinola. He drove forward and two passes later Armando Dobra had the ball, driving at a retreating Connell Rawlinson. He used the big frame of the Welsh defender as a guide, curling the ball into the far corner, out of the reach of Sam Slocombe to put his side back in front. His celebration this time was far different too, with the midfielder gesturing to his teammates to calm down, before celebrating with Paul Cook, the man who has been instrumental in his young career.
Palmer would look to make amends for his earlier error, releasing Macaulay Langstaff for the first time in the match. A wonderful reverse pass split the Chesterfield defence, allowing the forward to ghost in between the two centre halves. He let the ball run across him, before letting fly with a left footed effort first time, just inside the box. Fitzsimons was at full stretch, but couldn’t reach it, instead watching it creep past the post and behind for a goal kick.
It was then the turn of Rodrigues to attempt a defence splitting pass, this time finding substitute Cedwyn Scott inside the area. He had less time and space than his strike partner had moments before, and despite twisting and turning he was unable to fashion a chance of real note. He instead opted to set up Rawlinson on the edge of the area, but the centre back was unable to make much of the chance, sending his effort agonisingly wide.
The second half of extra time began, as Jones, who had replaced Chicksen after an hour, had taken up a position on the right. This meant Nemane had switched to the left, and he was released down the flank by Rodrigues. His cut back was cleared by Ash Palmer, but only as far as Cameron, who looked to overlap down the left. His clipped ball into the box was met by Fitzsimons, but it was another mistake by the former Magpies keeper, as he failed to get much on his clearance, only as far as Rodrigues on the edge of the area. He got lucky, his first time effort sent crashing into the turf, but the bounce was enough to loop over a stranded Fitzsimons, who had to watch in agony as it bounced into an empty net.
Chesterfield had been two minutes away from a return to the EFL, but with time running out penalties seemed the most likely outcome. Luke Williams, who had wanted to do the same at Meadow Lane, but ran out of subs, made one of the boldest moves of his young managerial career. He took off Sam Slocombe, replacing him with young loanee Archie Mair, giving the young man an opportunity to write himself into the club’s history.
And so penalties it was, with skipper Kyle Cameron winning the toss, pointing dramatically at the Notts end to signal the penalties would be taken in front of a sea of black and white. First up stepped Banks, who confidently sent Mair the wrong way, a strong start for the Spireites in the shootout. Top scorer Langstaff, who had been criticised by opposition fans for not taking the decisive penalty against Wrexham, left nothing to chance, smashing his effort down the middle to make it one a piece.
Then came the moment Luke Williams envisaged. Darren Oldaker, who had had an excellent game, stepped up, and looked to place his penalty into the bottom left corner. Mair sprawled to his right, and at full stretch got a good glove on the effort, tipping it wide to give Notts the advantage.
Up next for Notts was Ruben Rodrigues, who had missed a penalty in the semi final against Boreham Wood. He went the same way this time, but left Fitzsimons stranded as he gave Notts the lead with an emphatic finish.
Laurence Maguire was the next to take, and he brought the sides level with a cool left footed finish into the bottom corner, giving Mair no chance despite diving the right way. Notts would be straight back into the lead though, as Jones produced a carbon copy of Maguire’s penalty, with the loanee once again proving a hero in the playoffs.
From one loanee to another, Archie Mair then produced his finest moment in a Notts shirt to date. Jeff King, who made the Team of the Season, was the man to take, and he produced a well struck penalty. Mair once again sprang across to his right though, and in what is now an infamous moment, he produced a wonderful stop, hooking the ball clear with his trailing foot to put Notts just one kick away from a return to the Football League.
The man with that task was John Bostock, who had arguably been Notts’ best player on the day. He looked calm as he walked up, opting to dink the ball, attempting a ‘Panenka’. He left Fitzsimons stranded, but much to the horror of the fans behind the goal, Bostock had got too much on the effort, the ball cannoning back off the crossbar to provide Chesterfield with fresh hope.
Quigley was up next and made no mistake, smashing the ball down the middle, heaping the pressure back on Notts to secure their penalty shoot out victory. In what could only be dubbed a ‘Hollywood ending’, Cedwyn Scott, the man who had missed that decisive stoppage time penalty at the Racecourse a few months ago, was handed a chance at redemption. If there were any demons, they didn’t show, as he cooly strutted up to the ball, before sending Fitzsimons the wrong way, putting the previous miss behind him on the grandest stage of the all. He wheeled away, sparking wild scenes of celebrations, ones that continued long into the night and far beyond. Notts County. Once again the Football League’s Oldest Club.
Anyone thinking this was going to be anything other than a very close encounter were kidding themselves. It was always going to be a tight, nervy affair, albeit one that Notts still came out on top of in the areas we've come to expect, essentially those metrics relating to ball retention, territory and wing play.
The Magpies had double the number of goal attempts and there is a large section of the game, from the 10th to 65th minute where Chesterfield had no goal attempts at all. However, the Spireites looked to have the higher value chances and it was a crazy first 6 minutes that really boosts the xG stats for Chesterfield with the Jeff King free kick and Dallas penalty accounting for 1.32 of their 1.80 xG total.
Boosted by those two events the xG data suggests that Chesterfield should have edged it but without being unfair to them we have mentioned several times in games past about the impact penalties have on xG and how it often skews the data.
It was Sam Austin who had the best of Notts' chances early on but it's John Bostock's 0.07 free kick that really takes the plaudits, a goal that many will think the midfielder had no right scoring, but it was one straight off the training ground.
Armando Dobra's smart finish and Ruben Rodrigues' unorthodox finish both recorded an xG of 0.12 each.
Goals & Assists:
So that brings us to the end of another long campaign, one that has created so many special moments from a Notts perspective. A season that sees the Magpies climb back out of non league football in the most dramatic of circumstances, shaped not by one but two unbelievable play off games. We're not sure how we cope with it all!
Many, many thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read our previews, reports and articles throughout the season, it really is appreciated. We look forward to providing EFL content later in the year!