Notts County

Today it's the first play-offs side in our League Two predictions and the one you've all been waiting for. Maybe surprisingly low, but do read on for Notts County...

Last Season

Pretty much par for the course for Notts since their return to this division, pre-season optimism and some alright signings 'on paper' (if only that's how it worked) that all went sour after about three home defeats and our latest loanee striker. Ian McParland's side started well, zipping the ball about in a way not seen for many years, unfortunately for all their good intentions and attempted 'football' we had neither the central midfielders to retain the ball and unlock defences nor the strikers capable of finishing off the chances we did create. Wingers Matt Hamshaw and Myles Weston were the shining lights of a season, laying on the vast majority of goals and winning plaudits from most in the division, but Notts had serious problems in all other areas of the pitch which were neverly properly addressed by McParland.

A bizarre fornight in Novemember saw Notts go to Barnet and waltz to a 4-0 win before a return to the capital a week later saw a humiliating, unbelievable 6-1 defeat to Dagenham & Redbridge, which began the slide that culminated in our whole season collapsing around us. Kettering Town rubbed salt in the wounds with a well deserved scalp in the FA Cup and the run-in was hopelessly bad, with Notts unable to score, win, gain a point or even string a couple of passes together. But enough about the past, because there's been more interesting things happening down the Lane recently. Middle Eastern consortium Munto Finance Ltd. took control of the club and have already stamped their authority, coaxing former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson to the club as director of football. This new found wealth, Sven's influence and a clutch of genuinely impressive summer signings surely mean a better season for the Magpies this time around?

The Manager

Ian McParland, for all his pretty football and impressive rhetoric, hasn't exactly set the world alight as manager at Meadow Lane so far. That said, he is a Notts man and the vast majority are still willing to support him into the new era and see if he can turn the club's fortunes around. Having been thrust into the train crash that was Steve Thompson's legacy at the club, McParland managed to keep Notts in the division thanks to some shrewd (but well financed) loan signings and a rock solid defence. Last summer he seemed to purchase well, but perhaps too much money was sacrificed on name signings such as Russell Hoult and Michael Johnson and not enough on sorting out the two obvious issues that Notts had, central midfield and upfront. Thankfully he seems to have learned his lesson and has ruthlessly strengthened both areas this summer.

It's hard to know how McParland must be feeling after the wave of ridiculousness that has swept through Meadow Lane this summer. Something of a cross between a kid in a sweet shop and someone facing a firing squad we reckon, as surely he has to get it right this season if the new owners are to keep him in the hot seat. He could well have it in him, there have definitely been promising signs in the past year and a half. He's shown himself to be an excellent coach over the river and by transforming Myles Weston from a hopelessly inconsistent misfit into a useful winger and his insistence on pass and move football at this level is noble if sometimes misguided (he himself even admitted Notts "over-passed" at times on Friday night). Everyone at the club is willing him to succeed and his signings show he can attract a player to the club, lets just hope Sven has been having a few words about how to change a game and the fine art of tactics.

The Squad

We start as ever with the 'keepers, which is one of the Magpies' achilles heels if we're to go by pre-season form. Apparent first choice Russell Hoult has lost weight but still struggles to get down to shots as his hopeless attempt at stopping Liverpool's equaliser on Friday proves. Back up Kevin Pilkington meanwhile has spent most of pre-season aimlessly throwing the ball into his own goal and the smart money says his Meadow Lane days are numbered. Talk of a new number one is most certainly welcome. Across defence Forest loanee Brandan Moloney comes with a glowing report from the City Ground and has impressed so far in pre-season whilst centre half trio John Thompson, Mike Edwards and Graeme Lee are all solid, dependable and good in the air, but all lack pace which is something McParland could do with addressing. Jamie Clapham also needs to re-learn how to defend at left back having fallen to pieces since an impressive start to his Notts career, walking (or non-walking) injury Stephen Hunt is knocking about too.

Matt Hamshaw will hope to build on a brilliant debut season on the right wing and is covered by Craig Westcarr who has impressed in pre-season, much to some people's bemusement. In the middle Ricky Ravenhill appears able to tackle which is a step up from everyone there last season, whilst Neal Bishop looks calm in possession and steady. Ben Davies is one of the most talented players at this level and could be the key to unlocking opposition defences, whilst Notts still need to bring in a proper left winger having seemingly missed out on Matt Ritchie from Portsmouth. Upfront Notts somehow seem to have built themselves one of the best strike forces in the division, which just seems ridiculous after recent years. Lee Hughes comes with a chequered past but his touch and goalsciring ability is unrivalled at this level whilst Luke Rodgers has been a revelation this summer. The impending arrival of Karl Hawley also adds a third quality League Two forward to Notts' arsenal as well, but the less said about Delroy Facey, Sean Canham and Ben Fairclough the better. Probably.

Prediction

After the wave of euphoria that has gripped Meadow Lane this summer 7th would probably seem like an anti-climax and probably seems a bit low to you all. But Notts still have a few gaps to plug in their side and we can't look at being realistic challengers without a 'keeper who doesn't throw the ball on his own net and a specialist left winger, whilst more cover is also needed for a squad fairly low on numbers. If our side gels quickly and we get off to a good start then automatic and beyond is definitely not beyond us, but with Notts there's a sense that something will always go wrong and billionaire owners, a former England manager and automatic promotion in one year just seems all too much.

7th