The Hottest Striker In England
Notts County 3-1 Altrincham (National League)
The wife’s arranged a dog walk with the neighbours at 9am on Saturday morning. I can’t sleep knowing I’ve got to be up early and ready for a marathon ramble which takes me down the Grantham Canal and into West Bridgford for an alfresco bite at Portobello Lounge where a sausage cob and coffee provide a much needed pick me up before the final lap up the green line.
I’m looking at my watch like I have to be somewhere but it’s not yet 11am. Sat with a Notts County fan on the Avenue discussing how his team are doing, I’m actually off to see the Magpies later today, It’s first glimpse of ‘the hottest striker in England’ and a man outscoring even that of the freak of nature that is Erling Haaland. The leading scorer of the top five divisions in the country, Macaulay Langstaff, is on fire after his summer move south from Gateshead.
Visiting Meadow Lane is little old Altrincham. I’ve driven through a couple of times on route to Old Trafford but know relatively little about them, a non-league staple since as long as I’ve been born, they’ve never played beyond the fifth tier of the English pyramid, and it’ll be the first time I’ve seen them play in the flesh.
I’ve already done my 10,000 steps for the day as I ask the wife to drop me at Wilford Lane lights as she heads to her mums for an afternoon cuppa in Radford. It’s little after 1pm and I’ve got plenty of time, walking over Trent Bridge in the sunshine, it’s a quaint walk which I’m used to doing when watching my beloved Nottingham Forest play.
As I turn right to head down Meadow Lane, the ground appears almost at the same time as the smell of burgers and onions hit my nose, on the left, backdrop to a statue which has former County boss Jimmy Sirrel sitting on a bench next to his old sidekick Jack Wheeler.
As I’m early, I take a look around in the club shop, it’s proper old school, none of that fancy bollocks, like an old independent sports shop that only sells necessities like studs and shinpads, in Nottingham we had Mapperley Sports and Redmayne & Todd back in the day, it felt like the 80’s and being back in there getting measured out for my school PE kit.
A couple of replica shirts on hangers, some out-dated programmes for sale, a towel, a beach bag, black and white tie, a couple of old sporting books and some pin badges behind the counter. Proper stuff, a proper shop. It even smelt like 1989.
On walking out, I head for the turnstile and took out my mobile phone to get zapped on the way in. Technology even at National League level means you don’t need paper tickets these days. Appropriate and simple yes, but gone are the days of collecting and saving matchday tickets. I went to the Euros final and got nothing but a screenshot as memory… It’s a shame you can’t get a stub no more, the simplest things we take for granted, now taken away.
Meadow Lane is an impressive arena, certainly for the level, and for a few above too. Just over 20,000 is capacity, it’ll be well short of that today and as I walk in to grab a coffee I’m the only person bar the catering staff underneath the Derek Pavis Stand.
A Douwe Egberts is served for a couple of quid and after a good stir and bit of sugar it’s perfectly drinkable. I take my seat which is near the dugout and the green grass is immaculate beneath the blue skies, the black seating of the stands offering me a panoramic view, Kop on the left, Jimmy Sirrel Stand opposite, Haydn Green Stand to the right, the Alty players on the pitch having a walk around and a giggle.
I take my pew on row two and decide because of the top of the dugouts I can’t see half of the pitch. I ask a steward if it’s possible to move higher, he points me to a wing where he says they’ll be plenty of room.
The ground slowly fills as kick off nears, old boys, like me, on their own with plenty of space around them, families sitting in packs, not talking, mates together, standing, laughing, fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, questions asked on this and that as fast food is fed by all.
The two sets of players appear and I get my own game day head on. Altrincham in a rather jazzy navy number with yellow diagonal stripe across their shirt. Notts more predominantly white than black.
The visitors with kick off boot it straight out of play. ‘Welcome to the National League’ I mumble to myself. But any thoughts on whether these two teams can play or not soon disappear, Notts patient, passing between their back four, Slocombe their goalkeeper probably has more touches with his feet than any other player? Altrincham look to break against the Magpies high line, their pace on the counter almost gets them through.
The styles contrast, but both try and play. Notts have a free kick from 30 yards out, cries of shoot from the fans after Castro scored a screamer against York last week. He tries his luck again and the ball comes crashing down off the bar.
It’s nip and tuck until five minutes before half time and Cedwyn Scott, socks rolled down his ankles looking like a modern day Steve Claridge, tests the goalkeeper with a low fluffed shot which is spilled and bounces off the on rushing Langstaff. Goal number 13 for the season, it’s only his second touch since bringing the ball down impressively on the seventh minute, I’ve hardly seen him at all.
Moments later the place erupts again. Adebayo-Rowling has one objective down the right wing, to get it and run at the full back, he beats his man and scuffs a shot against a post which rolls back to him to pull back to that man again. Langstaff goal and number 14 for the season, in what is only his eleventh game.
“I had a wheelbarrow” is now being sung by the Kop, it’s the first rendition of the day, County two up at half time and cruising. People leave their seats for a pint and a pee whilst I check the half times on my bat-phone.
Notts have a lethargic look about them which could perhaps allow opponents back in to games from seemingly dominant positions, no less than a couple of minutes into the second half do they give the ball away and allow Altrincham in down the wing. The impressive Chris Conn-Clarke on loan from Fleetwood, fleet footed, whisks a low ball into the box for Dinanga who scores to the joy of fifty or so travelling fans.
Notts high line offers a real opportunity to pace to get in behind, defensively they aren’t particularly good, but going forward, they are more than competent, and should certainly be up there for promotion this season because of that.
Adebayo-Rowling again causing trouble down the right, crosses into Langstaff after beating his man, the striker flicks towards goal as Chicksen dangles his leg out to deflect it home, it’s certainly not a hat-trick, although all the papers tomorrow will credit it to the in-form man of the moment for the Magpies.
The last twenty minutes is played as a procession, Slocombe has one soft shot to save before being taken out by a Jordan Hulme lunge as he tries for the umpteenth time to play out from the back. A yellow card for the substitute is about as exciting as it gets, Notts play keep ball before wrapping up a routine win for the home side, the visitors just happy to get back home with a relatively low scoring defeat.
Whilst Langstaff will rightly take the plaudits, plenty on show to be impressed with elsewhere. Cedwyn Scott looked busy and Adebayo-Rowling a constant threat down the right. County’s strings pulled however by the composed Matty Palmer, who is comfortable on the ball and links well with star playmaker Ruben Rodrigues who was quiet, but you can certainly see the quality he brings, strong and technical, he could certainly play higher.
For Altrincham, they look decent on the break with pace in Dinanga and Colclough, whilst Conn-Clarke looks like a player that can do credible work in the football league.
The National League has some decent football sides and surprising at the level is just how well the best sides keep the ball. Not the kick and rush we expect from lower league/non league football, but that’s what you get when the majority of the division is now full time.
As stadiums go, Meadow Lane is one to chalk off for any fans of National League clubs who might want a trip to Nottingham and in particularly a pre-match drink at Hooters. I doubt Notts will be too long further lasting at this level so get in while you can, even though it’s a tough league to get out of, they have too much quality to be in the doldrums for too long. It's certainly a team punching well below their weight.
Notts County: Sam Slocombe, Richard Brindley, Connell Rawlinson, Kyle Cameron, Tobi Adebayo-Rowling, Matt Palmer, Quevin Castro (Sam Austin 55), Adam Chicksen (Aaron Nemane 71), Ruben Rodrigues, Cedwyn Scott (Ed Francis 55), Macaulay Langstaff.
Altrincham: Oliver Byrne, Ross Barrows, Toby Mullarkey, Jake Southern-Cooper, Ed Jones (Liam Brockbank 51), Josh Lundstram, Chris Conn-Clarke, Bradley Jackson (Ben Pringle 66), Elliot Osborne, Ryan Colclough, Marcus Dinanga (Jordan Hulme 66).
3:00pm Kick Off. Saturday 1st October 2022, Meadow Lane, Nottingham (att 6,458).