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High Lines

Notts County 1-5 Stoke City (Friendly)

For the first time in my life, I’ve had the hayfever jab this year. £120 for a double dose back in late May and it seemed to be doing the trick, but it’s now starting to rub off… The nose is twitching the eyes are itching, didn’t help sat in the sun all day yesterday, watching the Blaze take on Northern Diamonds at Chesterfield’s stunning Queens Park in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy (if you ever get chance to watch cricket up there, do it).


I’m up early on Saturday morning, me and the wife are walking a dog for a friend on holiday, so Bruce has some company as we head up to Rushcliffe Country Park before rumbles of thunder cut our journey short.


Back home by 10am for a bacon and tomato baguette, I’m writing the squads down for today’s friendly between Notts and Stoke, two of the oldest professional football clubs around.


The Potters finished sixteenth in the Championship last season and have strengthened this summer with a couple of new signings, Enda Stevens heads in from Sheffield United on a free whilst Paul Gallagher joins from Preston, he had a couple of seasons on loan at the Britannia/Bet365 stadium previously and is one of those Championship stalwarts, now aged 38, who’s remarkably been kicking around for years.


Another familiar name to the cruiserweight tiers of English football is David McGoldrick. He’s re-joined his boyhood club just 35 years young after a decent season at Derby last year. The Magpies back in the football league after four years away, their race with Wrexham for the National League title last season one of the biggest stories in British football, Notts eventually holding their nerve to go through in the playoffs after the Welsh celeb backed billionaires pipped them to the title.


It’s little over 3 miles from my house to Meadow Lane. I’m down the Melton Road over Trent Bridge and pulling up on Victoria Embankment in under ten minutes. A quick walk across the London Road and I’m through the turnstiles as Notts new tannoy system announces the ground is open at 1:30pm.

The Venue


Entering through the corner of the Derek Pavis Stand entrance I walk to the elevated A block exit where a steward is standing pitch side, setting my phone to landscape to take a picture of the beautiful playing surface he says “the pitch is recently laid, it looks magnificent doesn't it, I just hope they try and play football on it and don’t kick it long”.


He tells me about Haydn Green who died in 2007, the man who the family stand is named after and about his allegiance to Notts, his story is of bailing the side out during uncertain times, his estate is the leaseholder for Meadow Lane which he purchased in 2003 to ensure that the ground will always be the Magpies home, that lease initially having 140 years to run and plenty still to go.


As well as an immaculately laid pitch, the four stands all built during the early nineties, are in superb condition, it’s a ground well looked after, smart, simple looking, even height roofs above 20,000 black seats, two electronic scoreboards at each end and this new sound system which is belting out some classics from the likes of Kasabian and local hero/Notts fan and sponsor, Jake Bugg.


The Game


I’m up to my seat early, two thirds up near centre, I’ve purchased a cup of tea, PG tips and a kit-kat for just over £3. Fans are starting to arrive, a couple of kids with dads have plastic bags with the new 2023/24 shirt inside, one has even whipped his top off to put on his new acquisition, a blue with white v neck away number that looks very much like a retro Glasgow Rangers top, it seems to be quite popular as although launched yesterday, there’s plenty on show in the crowd.


As an old boy tells me he’s moved down a few seats from last season because of a grumpy fella who sat behind him I tell him “good news is that he’s moved down a few too” he laughs “I bloody hope not”. I spot Turbo and Harvey ahead of kick off as they look for somewhere to sit, good friends of mine they know I’m working today, Turbs is an ex-Birmingham City and Swindon Town midfielder whilst Harv played locally for Bassingfield and Blacks Head, both have lads in the Academy at Notts.


Small talk over and on with the game, I sit down to note that Notts start well and look confident, strutting their passing stuff all over the field and looking to play on the front foot, Matty Palmer and new signing Danny Crowley getting on the ball in midfield, homecoming hero McGoldrick looking a menace in attack, the only issue is, the back four is leaving huge holes behind them, their high line a risky tactic from Head Coach Luke Williams, especially as Stoke have pace in attack.


That pace plays havoc to Notts sluggish backline as the away side time and time again get through, it takes sixteen minutes for them to break the deadlock when more City players line up in the Notts box than home team defenders, the ball eventually passed to Sparrow who has an easy finish.


Moments later it’s two, a mistake by Mahovo at left back allows Emre Tezgel to capitalise, he nicks the ball and squares to Tyrese Campbell inside the area to slot his first of the game, his dad Kevin would have been proud of that one.


Notts have a lot of the ball and plenty attacking opportunity but they don’t seem to learn? Picked off on the break a cross from the right is low to Campbell who slots home again from close range, the Stoke fans already singing “you must be shit, we’re winning away” before a couple of renditions of ‘Delilah’ and ‘Swing low’.


The Magpies do pull one back as an error in the Potters defence allows Langstaff to have his only sniff of the match, which he takes, Campbell however is not to be outdone by the National League’s highest goalscorer last season, he makes it four with a hat-trick goal, firing in low with far too much space to run inside the box unchallenged.


The Score


It’s all done and dusted by half time, I move seats up to the much quieter top of the stand as I’m surrounded by fans and I can’t stop sneezing with my hayfever, the rain has been pouring down on the pitch, clattering on the roof, before short breaks of clarity, ahead of it starting all over again, a real downpour at times, good for the new grass I guess, not great for my runny nose.


Stoke make eleven changes ahead of the second half but it doesn’t detract them for picking off Notts on the counter-attack again, the offside trap is certainly no George Graham’s Arsenal as the arms go up of Kyle Cameron for the umpteenth time, for the umpteenth time ignored by the linesman, this time D’Margio Wright-Phillips races through, another ‘dad’ & 'grandad' would be proud moment as the youngster slots home low into the left corner.


That goal leads to ten changes from Notts, a completely different outfield for the final thirty minutes, and one that fairs much better, although that ‘high line’ concerns me, it is a friendly, they do have plenty of time to get it right, but they played this way last season and in the semi-finals of the playoffs in particular, it should have cost them from getting to Wembley and going up.


The Stars


No prizes for guessing my man of the match in Tyrese Campbell who cut in from that left wing to unleash three good strikes, he plays just like his dad, similar size, similar stature, good speed and a good knack of scoring goals.


Defensively I really liked the look of Connor Taylor for Stoke and young seventeen-year-old Emre Tezgel who was busy in attack. Notts actually (in possession) played well and aside from their defence have plenty to be positive about, Matty Palmer was quality in midfield buzzing around and David McGoldrick looks like he can add a real battering ram with some added fire power up top, Macaulay Langstaff scores goals given a sniff and the likes of Aaron Nemane and Sam Austin can provide good creativity for their number nine from wide positions.


One lad I did look out for was Madou Cisse who I know from Notts County’s Academy, from first watching him play he’s now grown up but not in size, at eighteen years old he holds the nickname ‘Kante’ for his likeness to the French world cup winner, diminutive and energetic he’s a workhorse midfielder but came on and did a job at right back, it’ll be interesting to see how his game progresses in years to come.


The Verdict


Cobwebs not entirely dusted off for Notts, at fulltime I walked down the stairs towards the exit where I saw my mate Turbo leaving the ground, he said the “5 or 6% more you get at the levels above does tell” a Notts fan all his life he continued “it’ll probably do the lads good, because now they know they’re not as good as they think they are, and they’ll have to improve defensively if they’re to have a good season in League Two.”


For Stoke, it’s tough to say what that result means for them? Good signs from Alex Neill’s team that at least, they have some decent firepower on show, they will certainly take the positives from this performance, they look well organised, strong, quick, powerful, but then that’s nothing new for a Stoke team, who’ll be hoping that they’ll be challenging in the right half of the championship table next season, as opposed to the wrong half, which they ended up in last.


The Teams


Notts County: Aidan Stone, Lucien Mahovo (Brad McGregor 60), Kyle Cameron (Connell Rawlinson 60), Richard Brindley (Madou Cisse 60), Adam Chicksen (Jodi Jones 60), Aaron Nemane (Tobi Adebayo-Rowling 61), Matty Palmer (Will Randall 61), Geraldo Bajrami (John Bostock 61), David McGoldrick (Sam Austin 61), Danny Crowley (Jim O’Brien 60), Macaulay Langstaff (Luther Munakandafa 61).


Stoke City: Jack Bonham (Nna Noekeu 46), Lewis Macari (Tom Edwards 46), Connor Taylor (David Okagbue 46), Ben Wilmot (Luke Bradley-Morgan 46), Josh Tymon (Liam McCarron 46), Matthew Baker (Ben Kershaw 46), Josh Laurent (Jack Griffiths 46), Tom Sparrow (William Smith 46), Emre Tezgel (Dara McGuinness 46), Jacob Brown (Kahrel Reddin 46), Tyrese Campbell (D’Margio Wright-Philiips 46).


3:00pm Kick Off. Saturday 8th July 2023, Meadow Lane, Nottingham (att 4,267).

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