Last month, Notts County were relegated to the fifth tier of English Football for the first time in their 157-year existence – and if history repeats itself – they will find it hard to bounce back straight back to League Two.
County dropped into the National League after they only picked up 41 points all season. It proved to be a very difficult campaign for the club on and off the pitch.
The Magpies weren’t helped by managerial issues last season. Kevin Nolan, who took the club into the play-offs, was dismissed in late August after a string of poor results. Former Crawley boss Harry Kewell replaced the Geordie, but he could only last just over two months at the helm. Kewell was sacked after the 2-2 draw at Oldham, leaving County in 22nd position. Neal Ardley was the next manager to join Notts after he left Wimbledon. The 46-year-old couldn’t keep the club up though, as with his best efforts, County were relegated on the final day, joining Yeovil in Non-League.
Ardley remains in charge at Meadow Lane, and he has a important summer to try and rebuild the squad ready for a promotion push in the National League. 12 first-team players have been released at the end of their current contracts, including veteran striker Jon Stead, who scored 48 goals for the club during four seasons. Stead will now face his old club in the fifth tier after he joined Harrogate Town.
Five players that were on-loan at Notts have returned to their parent clubs. County still have 17 senior professionals under contract, but Ardley will certainly need to add firepower and quality ahead of the new campaign. Notts have got plenty of time to sort their recruitment out before the beginning of the season – and if they can get that right then many wouldn’t be surprised if Ardley guided them back to the Football League.
But the Magpies’ mission to return to League Two straight away may prove to be a difficult task. The last six teams that have been relegated into the National League haven’t bounced back at the first time of asking. Cheltenham were the last team to do so when they stormed to the title with 101 points back in 2015/16.
The 2019/20 National League could be the most competitive ever, with lots of sides in contention for promotion. Notts have problems off the field with a proposed takeover and a HRMC hearing over settling their debts. Will all this uncertainty effect the Magpies’ preparation for the new season? Only time will tell, but the fans will have to stick with them during tough times after what was a shocking season. County are a massive, well-supported club – they need to come out firing or they’ll get punished in this division.
Who are also looking strong?
There’s still over seven weeks to go until the start of the National League, but it’s anticipated to be as tight as ever with multiple sides looking strong already. Here are three teams who could challenge well next term:
Solihull Moors, who were beaten in last season’s play-off semi-final, lost top scorer Adi Yussuf [to Blackpool] and prolific winger Jermaine Hylton [to Motherwell] last month. But Tim Flowers has sent out a statement of intent to prove that their impressive season wasn’t just a one off as they completed the signings of Paul McCallum and Mitch Hancox; both top-quality players. Moors will be a side to look out for next term.
Chesterfield could be another team to look out for – the Spireites ended the season well – only losing twice in their final nine fixtures, winning five of those. Under the stewardship of John Sheridan, they look like they are turning in the right direction.
Last season’s Promotion Final runners-up, AFC Fylde have already made some good additions their squad. Kyle Jansen, Matty Kosylo, Jordan Williams and Kurt Willoughby have all joined the Coasters this summer. After missing out at the final hurdle, will 19/20 be Fylde’s year to reach the Football League?
In addition, the four teams that have been promoted from the National League North/South [Torquay, Stockport, Chorley and Woking] are all going to be well-equipped and don’t write those off too.
The 2019/20 National League could be the most competitive ever – and it’s very hard to call who’ll be going up into the Football League.
Who are you tipping for promotion at this stage? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!