With the first Summer transfer window under the belt of Owner Alan Hardy and Manager Kevin Nolan at Notts County Football Club, we look back at the signings made and positions addressed in this off season.
Notts finished another disappointing season down in 16th position in League 2 at the end of the 2016/2017 season, after being saved from the serious threat of relegation by the takeover of the club by Hardy and the subsequent managerial appointment of Nolan in January 2017. The ex-Newcastle man turned the Magpies’ fortunes around and went on to win 10 of the remaining 21 games, drawing another 4, and securing Notts’ position in the football league for another year. However, it was clear to everyone associated with the club that signings were needed, and positions needed to be strengthened to ensure that Notts are heading in the right direction and can go along with Alan Hardy’s plan of being in the Championship within 5 years.
The first two signings addressed what was arguably the biggest issue for Notts last season, and the few seasons previous. Lewis Alessandra was brought in from Hartlepool United for an undisclosed fee, and Terry Hawkridge was signed on a free transfer from FA Cup quarter finalists and newly promoted Lincoln City. These two signings meant that Notts had signed two out-and-out wingers to create chances and register goals and assists, and contribute to a greater threat than has been present in the past.
Another massive issue with Notts County’s squad in 2016/2017 was the amount of goals conceded. Notts let in 76 goals last season, and had the second leakiest defence behind relegated Leyton Orient. Everybody was well aware that this was unacceptable, including Nolan, who moved to sign a new left back and centre back to try and solidify Notts’ weak back four. Dan Jones and then Shaun Brisley were signed on free transfers from Chesterfield and Carlisle United respectively to shore up the defence. Brisley is a combative centre back who is an imposing figure in both boxes, with Jones being extremely effective in dead-ball situations as well as completing marauding runs up and down the left flank.
It’s not often that a team in League 2 can announce the signing of a current international footballer, but Notts did just that with the signing of Liam Walker. Albeit being a member of the Gibraltarian National team, it was considered an astute signing by the Magpies, obtaining the creative central midfielder from Europa FC on a free transfer, who had just won the Gibraltarian First Division and reached the second qualifying round of the Europa League.
Notts have turned to the other side of the River Trent for some loan signings this Summer too. It must be said that Nottingham Forest have some great young talent in their ranks that need game time, and it’s about time that Notts tapped into that potential and took those players on loan, benefitting both Nottingham clubs. This season, those players came in the shape of Jorge Grant and Ryan Yates, both on season long loans. This saw the return of Jorge Grant, who was one of Nolan’s deadline day signings in the January transfer window. Grant proved a massive hit with the Notts County faithful and management alike, scoring 6 goals in 17 games in the second half of the 2016/2017 season. He has returned to Notts for the full season this time around, despite having offers from League One and the Scottish Premiership, and fans are hoping for him to make the same impact this season too. Yates came in as a relative unknown, but has shown his quality straight away and is proving a fan favourite already with his no nonsense tackling and ability to dictate the play in the centre of the park.
Moves were also made for players who would not yet be ready to play first team football, but would benefit from being at the club and could be brought into the team from next season. Names included Pierce Bird (Centre Back from Dunkirk FC), Elliot Hodge (Winger from Lincoln City), Callum Saunders (Striker from Crewe Alexandra), Ross Fitzsimons (Goalkeeper from Chelmsford City) and arguably most surprising and random of signings; Branislav Pindroch, a Slovakian Goalkeeper from MFK Karvina in the Czech Republic.
County finished their business by signing experienced right back Nicky Hunt, who played under Nolan at Leyton Orient, and will mainly be used as cover and protection for first choice right back Matt Tootle.
Nine players were released by Notts County at the end of last season, and with thirteen players brought in, it seems to be agreed by the whole fanbase that Notts have definitely strengthened over this off season. However some are not satisfied with the business and feel like another centre back and another striker should have been brought in, whether on a loan or a permanent signing. Nolan and Hardy have made it clear that only the right type of players will be brought in to the team, and they are only interested in signing players who will improve the team. Nolan also wanted a streamlined squad, and this could be beneficial with squad harmony and chemistry being built up over the season, or it could also be devastating if the squad is decimated by injuries.
Overall I believe Notts had a good transfer window, it definitely could have been better but the management and owner did a good job considering it was their first full transfer window together. But is it good enough for promotion?
Since Hardy bought the club and Nolan came in as manager, Notts County had been in the top 3 in-form teams in the League, and so off that basis alone Notts look strong enough to at least be in contention of being a promotion chasing team, and maybe looking a bit further up the table towards the automatic promotion spots if the season goes well for them. Whilst saying this, there is a lot of competition for the top 7 spots in League 2 this season, especially with teams like Luton Town and Mansfield Town spending big money to try and get out of the basement of the football league, as well as big teams being relegated from League One who will look to bounce back at the first attempt. Teams like Swindon Town and Coventry City immediately spring to mind.
Will Notts County finally improve their fortunes and finish in the play-offs this year? Only time will tell, but let me know in the comments section who you think will make it out of League Two come May 2018.