On the 22nd June 2023, the EFL fixtures for the 23/24 season were released, Notts’ first EFL season after four years in the fifth tier. One question that lots of the club’s fans would be asking, is: “When do we play Mansfield?”. Just 15 miles and four points separate the Magpies and the Stags, and this Saturday, the Nottinghamshire Derby is finally here. The last time the two sides played each other was February 2019, where a Mackail-Smith screamer was the only goal of the afternoon which gave Notts the bragging rights in our last League Two season.
Two of the best teams in the league go face-to-face this weekend, Notts County are top of the league with 24 points, while Mansfield Town are fifth and unbeaten, however, Mansfield have picked up a lot of draws as of late, and especially away from home. The Stags’ last five games have resulted in seven points being picked up, four draws and one win. Their last two games have been goalless draws at home to Wrexham and Wimbledon, as well 1-1 draws away at Gillingham and Colchester, and a 1-0 win at Barrow to complete the final five. It’s clear that they have struggled for goals recently, but their defence has still been outstanding with three clean sheets, and it is no surprise with these results why they have the best defence in the league. Furthermore, Mansfield only have the one win away from home, accompanied by five draws. Ten goals have been scored, however, in these away games – compared to the seven they have scored at Field Mill, but they have conceded more than triple the number of goals on the road as they have done at home. On the other hand, Notts have a perfect 100%-win record at Meadow Lane, with 15 goals being scored and eight conceded, on paper, Notts may just have the odds, but you can’t underestimate two of Mansfield’s key players who could easily turn this game around for them…
Aden Flint is a player that has contributed massively to their quite remarkable defensive record. The 34-year-old, Nottinghamshire born, defender has played all 12 games, including 11 starts, for the Stags this season since joining after the expiry of his contract at Stoke City, and has been a ‘brick wall’ at the back for them. Last season, he was on loan at Sheffield Wednesday for the last half of the League One campaign, where he won promotion to the Championship after two very dramatic play-off games. His crucialness for the Stags has been rewarded with his recent accomplishment of winning ‘Player of the Month’ for the club in September, and his experience has earned himself the armband for the last nine league games, following the unfortunate injury of the actual captain, Alfie Kilgour.
Another player who could be crucial for the away side is attacking midfielder Davis Keillor-Dunn. The Mackem midfielder joined the Stags from Burton Albion in the summer, and he already won over the fans in just the first two games of this season, where he registered three goals and one assist in just 150 minutes of football and has continued his form brilliantly ever since becoming one of the best players in the league. Eight goals and one assist in just twelve games are the numbers that he has put up this season, which is ridiculous for somebody who isn’t even meant to be their main threat going forward on paper. This is similar to how he was performing in his last League Two season, where he got 15 goals and two assists for Oldham Athletic in a relegation season; it is clear that Mackail-Smith is more of a ‘shadow striker’ somebody who starts off behind the strikers but prefers to get on the scoresheet instead of setting up goals, the opposite of a conventional number ten. Last season, he made a switch to League One Burton Albion, where he failed to impress, scoring only five times in 19 appearances for the Brewers, but this season, he is back to his best, and his quick feet, keen eye for goal, and flair will need to be nullified if Notts are to leave the game with three points.
In this game, with two big teams going head-to-head who both have the resources to dominate the game, a good midfield is essential. The consistent duo of Matty Palmer and John Bostock, as well as our longest serving player, Jim O’Brien, will be key to getting the three points and pride on Saturday. Every game, Matty Palmer could win man of the match for Notts, he’s the first name on the team sheet, and you can rely on him to give his all in matches and be quietly outstanding with his tempo dictation - the way he has controlled games for the Magpies in the past will need to be on show again this weekend to be able to beat the Stags. With both Bostock and O’Brien getting similar minutes in the last two games (Bostock 135 minutes - 67 against Barrow, 68 against Derby, O’Brien 113 minutes – 23 against Barrow, 90+ against Derby), it will be interesting to see who gets the nod next to Matty against Mansfield. Bostock has been another one of our most reliable players this season and has been a regular starter for us; O’Brien has been great off the bench every time he has come on, and has played less minutes than Bostock in the last two games. Both have a chance of a start on Saturday, and both 100% can be trusted to put in a great performance to claim the bragging rights.
The Nottinghamshire Derby – Notts County versus Mansfield Town. The game both sets of fans have been waiting for. Pride is at stake. Meadow Lane will be rocking. This has all the makings of one of the best games of the season. Can’t make it? Watch it live, on Sky Sports.