Vanarama National League | 07 May 2023
The Magpies welcomed quarter final eliminator victors Boreham Wood to a sunny Meadow Lane for a play off semi final that was without a doubt one for the neutrals.
Much was said before this game about the importance of the first goal for Notts against a team with the meanest defence in the league and Luke Williams' team certainly started the game with that early goal in mind.
The hosts almost took the lead inside a minute, as Chicksen broke sown the left. He got to the edge of the box, before curling a wonderful ball to the back post for Rodrigues to attack. The Portuguese midfielder found himself free at the back post, but his effort flew over the bar, giving the visitors a reprieve.
Five minutes later he had another chance, from a move he started. Rodrigues had received the ball in between the lines, turning Chris Bush before laying the ball out wide to Nemane. The wing back drove at his opposite man, turning Ilesanmi inside out before cutting the ball back to Rodrigues, who was free just inside the area. He got underneath his effort though, sending another good chance into the Family Stand.
Notts continued to pile on the pressure, with Joe McDonnell making a smart stop at the near post to deny a Matty Palmer cross, after more good work by Nemane down the right. Boreham Wood then fired their first warning shot of the afternoon, after a long ball allowed them to break at pace. Notts did manage to get back into position, but clever play from Ndlovu and Marsh led the latter to having a tame effort saved by Slocombe.
Langstaff would get his first chance of the game moments later, as Rodrigues played a ball into his feet. With Fyfield closely marking him, Langstaff had to twist and turn to get a shot away, with his left footed effort lacking the necessary power to really test McDonnell.
We spoke about Boreham Wood’s long throw in our preview, and just after the half hour mark it looked like they would take the lead through one. Bush launched the ball into the box from the right, and with Notts failing to adequately clear their lines the ball fell to Payne. He caught the strike well first time, forcing Slocombe to tip the ball behind for a corner.
Shortly after Notts’ high line was cruelly exposed, as Will Evans hooked a high ball into the left channel. George Broadbent made a run from deep, before latching onto the ball inside the area. Palmer was unable to cut out his ball across goal, allowing wing back Ilesanmi to bundle the ball over the line, overpowering Aaron Nemane in the process, giving the Wood the lead.
The Magpies would respond though, with Aden Baldwin being given the time and space to get his first shot off of the game. The Wood seemed happy to let Baldwin have the ball, but he gave them cause for concern as his strike whistled past the post. Moments later he was able to line up another shot from a similar area, this time stinging the palms of McDonnell, a warning sign of things to come.
With half time looming Notts looked to launch one last attack, with Bostock picking the ball up in the middle. He looked to play a ball back to Baldwin, but didn’t put enough pace on the ball, allowing Ndlovu to latch onto it. To make matters worse Baldwin then slipped as Ndlovu raced clear. The striker, who bagged a brace in the Quarter Final, made no mistake, coolly placing the ball past Slocombe, before celebrating in front of a flat Kop.
Notts needed a quick response after half time, and that is exactly what they got. Almost a carbon copy of his chances in the first half, Aden Baldwin ventured forward once more. This time, from slightly further out, he got it just right, unleashing a wonderful strike which beat McDonnell at full stretch. It nestled into the bottom corner, giving Notts fresh hope.
Boreham Wood almost regained their 2 goal lead immediately, as goalscorer Baldwin switched off, allowing Ndlovu to steal the ball from under his nose. The forward rounded Slocombe, but Baldwin made amends for his error, making a heroic lunge, turning the ball onto the post and behind for a corner.
Notts remained firmly on top despite that scare, and just after the hour mark they looked to have found their way back into the game. Driving in from the right Rodrigues was clipped by Broadbent, leading the referee to point to the spot. The man fouled then stepped up to take the penalty, but his low effort was well saved by Joe McDonnell, with the emergency loan keeper making himself the hero.
With time running out Boreham Wood looked to grow in confidence, with their defence limiting Notts’ chances. Langstaff managed to forge himself a trio of half chances, but all of these failed to truly trouble McDonnell, as it began to look like it just wasn’t Notts’ afternoon. With 10 to play Luke Williams rolled the dice, bringing Jodi Jones on for Adam Chicksen, a move which ultimately proved decisive.
6 minutes into the minimum 7 added, substitute Jones announced himself as the hero. He drove in from the right, pinning Broadbent back. He fizzed a cross into the box, and Baldwin, who had ventured forward from the back, glanced a header past McDonnell into the net, sending the Kop into scenes of wild celebration. That was the final chance of normal time, with a Baldwin brace saving Notts’ season.
It was actually Boreham Wood who had the better of the additional 30 minutes, with the away side pinning Notts back with a series of throw ins, the most troubling of which forced Slocombe into a fine save. Their best chance of the period came with just 10 minutes left to play, as a ball over the top found them in behind the high line once more. Josh Rees was in space, and had Nemane not made an incredible recovery he would have had an open goal to tap into. Instead, the wing back got back in time to hook the cut back clear, a game saving challenge.
Time looked to be running out, with the game heading for penalties, but Notts had one final corner before the end of extra time. Palmer floated it into the box, but it was easily cleared by the Wood. That clearance only went as far as Jones though, with the wing back driving forward in the hopes of one final chance. He drilled yet another ball into the box, and this time it went straight in, via McDonnell’s hands, giving Notts the lead for the first time in 120 minutes. The Kop once again went into raptures, with the game won right at the death, prompting a post match pitch invasion. An incredible game, the likes of which we may not see at Meadow Lane for some time.
A game that statistically turned out pretty much as we suggested in our preview. The Magpies high line and some poor finishing were their undoing in the first half. After spurning a number of good early chances to take a commanding lead it was a ball over the top and a moment of hesitancy that saw the visitors go in 2 goals to the good at half time.
It's a risk that on the whole has paid dividends for Luke Williams with his side conceding just 42 league goals all season, the second best defensive record behind Boreham Wood. And it finally paid dividends again as Notts grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck in the second, scoring twice at the beginning and very end of the second half, a half that saw Notts restrict The Wood to a 45 minute spell without a single shot on goal in a remarkable 53 minutes.
Ruben Rodrigues inflated his xG for the afternoon with a penalty and Aden Baldwin was clinical in his finishing. However, Jodi Jones' 120th minute winner was without doubt the goal of the game recording just 0.02 xG suggesting that goal only goes in from 2 out of 100 attempts.
Based on the match xG Notts were pretty much good for the win with 1.99 xPTS compared to 0.80 for The Wood. However, as mentioned earlier the missed penalty has an xG value of 0.76 and this will have had a big impact on the final expected points and win percentage.
Goals & Assists:
So it's off to Wembley on Saturday where Notts face local rivals Chesterfield in a winner takes all promotion final.
Chesterfield have strengthened recently adding Andy Dallas and Ryan Colclough to their ranks which has certainly improved their fortunes over recent games.
Preview and opposition analysis to follow!
As always thanks for reading.
For Notts County Stats:
Richard - @notts_stats
Tom - @tomhwilliams23
Colin - @Colin_Sisson