Report | Woking (h)
Vanarama National League | 15 April 2023
A brilliant second half performance saw the Magpies run out comfortable 3-0 winners against a very tough Woking side, a result that saw the gap at the top of the table reduce to just 1 point. A Sam Austin brace gave Notts fresh hope in the title race, as his goals, either side of an Aaron Nemane finish, gave Notts all 3 points in what was a fantastic response from Monday’s disappointment.
It didn’t start so positively for the Magpies though, as clear evidence of a hangover from Monday were on show. Luke Williams had opted to make 3 changes, with Jodi Jones, Sam Austin and Aden Baldwin coming back into the side, but that did little to shake things up. Notts looked lethargic, and really struggled to get going. This was perhaps best characterised by an early Langstaff chance. Austin, who looked just as lively as he did in his substitute cameo on Monday, got down the left before clipping in a good cross towards the back post. This landed at the feet of Langstaff, but he couldn’t get his feet sorted properly, taking an extra touch which allowed Lopata to get in position to easily block the shot.
Taking an extra touch in the final third was a feature of Notts’ game for the entirety of the first half, as they failed to make any real chances of note inside the opening half an hour. This allowed Woking to take control of the game, and for a short period in the first half they were firmly on top. Kyran Lofthouse, used in a central midfield position, caused Notts plenty of issues, with his physical presence allowing him to drive forward to fashion opportunities. He had 2 shots in quick succession, with the first being turned away with a strong hand by Slocombe, and the 2nd going wildly over.
With just under 10 minutes remaining in the half, Notts began to click. Suddenly they were playing with more pace and precision, something which fashioned a great chance for Rodrigues. He was found in the box, and opted to cut back onto his left foot. His shot was well blocked, but bounced only as far as Jones who had entered the box on the left. On his stronger foot the ball sat up nicely, but he uncharacteristically sliced the ball, getting the shot all wrong, sending the ball behind for a goal kick.
Notts continued to pile on the pressure, and a few good chances fell to the home side in the dying moments of the first period. First Austin got forward once more, and saw his shot blocked, causing huge appeals for handball. On second viewing, a penalty would have been extremely harsh, as Cuthbert’s arms were very close to his sides.
John Bostock, who had a wonderful game controlling the action, then delivered a delightful ball from the left, with a well worked set piece finding Rodrigues in acres of space. However, when presented with a free header the Portuguese midfielder failed to get any meaningful contact on the ball, glancing it wide. Chicksen then rounded out the half, cutting in from the right, where he had been playing, before unleashing an effort on goal. However, he failed to test Jaaskelainen, the story of Notts’ first half.
There were no changes at the break, and it only took Notts a few minutes to establish dominance once more. They had more intensity to their game in the 2nd period, and just 10 minutes into the half they broke the deadlock. Bostock started the move from midfield, with his reverse pass finding Ruben Rodrigues in a more advanced position. He helped the ball out wide to Chicksen, who on the right drove forward. A strong overlap from Palmer allowed him to progress to the right of the area, and for the 2nd time in as many games he picked the right pass, this time finding Sam Austin in space. Unlike in the first half, Austin didn’t need to take an extra touch, finishing clinically first time to give Notts the lead. His strike hit the roof of the net, giving Jaaskelainen no chance.
Notts remained on top after the goal, but in truth the best chance fell to the visitors. Woking, one of the bigger sides to have come to Meadow Lane, really threatened from set pieces, and it was the Cards’ top scorer Padraig Amond who found himself with a good opportunity. He got up to meet Casey’s excellent delivery, but he was unable to get his header on target, a let off for the Magpies.
Luke Williams opted to make his first change of the afternoon, with Jones hooked in favour of Nemane, a change that saw Chicksen return to the left flank. It didn’t take Nemane long to make an impact, as he finished off another good Notts move. This time it started on the left, as Austin and Chicksen linked up once more, with Notts’ number 8 putting an in swinging cross towards the back post. Nemane got to it first, and was forced to improvise, twisting his body into an overhead kick type action. His contact on the ball wasn’t sweet, but it was strong enough, as it trickled over the line. Matty Palmer was on hand to ensure it did indeed hit the back of the net, although it appeared the ball had already crossed the line. This meant Nemane had his 3rd goal of the season, and it also meant Austin had a goal and an assist on Saturday afternoon.
It didn’t take Austin long to add to that tally, with the midfielder providing an emphatic finish to put the game beyond doubt. Moments before that goal Luke Williams’ had made 2 more changes, with Junior Morias on for his debut, in place of Langstaff, and Cedwyn Scott coming on for Rodrigues. Just like his first change, it didn’t take long for the substitutes to make an impact, as both were involved in the 3rd goal.
It was a goal that saw Notts move from back to front with frightening efficiency. Slocombe brought the ball forwards before going long towards Morias. He made enough of a nuisance of himself that the knockdown fell straight to Scott, who promptly drove towards goal. He wasted no time slipping in Austin, who’s wonderful first touch set him free for a 1v1 opportunity. A wonderful left footed finish into the bottom right corner underlined Notts’ ruthless afternoon, a 2 touch finish rubber stamping a fine display.
Matty Palmer looked to get in on the act, striking a curling effort from range, leaving the Woking keeper scrambling, but he put just too much on it, sending it just wide of the post. Debutant Morias then gave his own version, striking the ball from range. Notts fans getting their first glimpse of the forward will not have been disappointed, with the new signing catching his strike very well. The venomous effort stung the palms of Jaaskelainen, who was forced to push away, but Woking reacted quickest, clearing away. That was to be the final action of the game, as Notts closed the gap ever so slightly at the top. Whatever route they go down, Notts will have taken a lot of positives from that dominant performance.
Woking would have been the happier of the two teams going into the break having played out their game plan to disrupt Notts' build up play with an aggressive press both high up the pitch and in their own half.
However, The Magpies stuck to their guns and their possession based playing style which eventually won out as their visitors tired and struggled to keep up with the pace of movement both on and off the ball of Luke Williams' side.
Woking, despite being restricted to just 6 attempts at goal did have 2 or 3 high value opportunities with Lofthouse, Lopata and Amond missing out on the best of them.
Langstaff, Austin, Rodrigues and Jones all failed to convert high value opportunities in the first half. In fact Langstaff's blocked shot on 10 minutes was his only attempt of the game.
Nemane's overhead effort on the goal line came in at 0.59 xG. That would suggest despite being on the goal line 41 attempts in 100 would not be converted.
Man of the match Austin was the busier of the Notts players in front of goal with 4 shots, 2 goals, an assist and a total xG of 0.92.
Notts eventually ran out comfortable winners and this is confirmed when analysing the xG data with Notts recording xPTS of 2.17 and an expected win percentage of 65.94%.
Season stats updated below.
Notts have held top spot after 24 games this season and first place has changed hands between Notts and Wrexham on 14 occasions.
Sam Austin moves onto 9 goals and 15 assists in all competitions this season.
Another much publicised record broken with the win over Woking being the 31st of the season beating the 30 wins under Jimmy Sirrel when Notts won the old 4th Division in the 1970/71 season.
Player Stats - National League:
The trip to bottom of the table Maidstone on Saturday is the penultimate game of the regular season. Notts will look to win big whilst hoping Wrexham drop points again in home games against Yeovil and Boreham Wood. Might be a big ask but there is still every hope that Notts can take Wrexham and their title challenge to the final game of the season.
As always thanks for reading.
For Notts County Stats:
Richard - @notts_stats
Tom - @tomhwilliams23
Colin - @Colin_Sisson