Can Neal Ardley stabilize Notts County?by Gabriel Sutton / 27 November 2018, 11:23Tweet
It has been a nightmarish opening three months of the season for Notts County.
Kevin Nolan had got them into the play-offs last season and could have led them to Wembley had three major refereeing decisions in the semi-final been more favourable.
After a summer of big investment, many expected the Magpies to mount another promotion challenge but instead, a run of one point from the first five saw the manager pay with his job.
Nolan’s critics will say that the decline had set in after Christmas – and after midfielder Ryan Yates had left – but his record on paper compares favourably with other Notts County managers since the club have been in League Two.
Alan Hardy then moved to another ex-Premier League star in Harry Kewell, who had led Crawley to midtable in the previous campaign.
Kewell’s time in Sussex showed that he wants to introduce an expansive, possession-based style of play, but it also showed that it takes time for his methods to take effect.
After he had had a full pre-season, a transfer window and three months of the league season to impart his ideas, we saw a four-month run of promotion form during the winter period.
Hardy made a mistake, therefore, in appointing a man with very different tactical ideas to his predecessor, then only giving him 14-games to oversee that transition.
The fact Notts County lost 3-0 at home to strugglers Cheltenham, with some of the worst defending of the League Two season so far, shows that the players at Meadow Lane must take the bulk of the responsibility.
For a third permanent manager of the season before Christmas (excluding Steve Chettle’s two spells in caretaker charge), the club have appointed Neal Ardley, who will take charge of his first league game against Mansfield on the 8th December, after concluding his family holiday this week.
Considering the club’s position, their 130-year Football League stay looking in serious peril, the club have done well to attract Ardley.
Having enforced a direct style of football at AFC Wimbledon, he will have the pragmatism required for a relegation battle and re-organize a defence that has already leaked 40 goals; only eight fewer than the Trentsiders shipped in the whole of last season.
After the Wombles were promoted, Ardley’s troops kept 30 clean sheets in 109 League One encounters; a solid return with on paper a League Two squad.
He tends to favour three sitting midfielders rather than two, which could suit Notts County’s set of players; especially if workmanlike performers like Alex Hewitt and Rob Milsom are joined by a technician such as Noor Husin, who was frozen out under Kewell.
Wide men like Lewis Alessandra, Enzio Boldewijn and Nathan Thomas are effectively forwards, rather than the industrious wingers required to fit into a 4-4-2 and thus a change of system could benefit either of those players.
He should relish working with a powerful striker like Kane Hemmings, who performed very well at Mansfield last season in a direct system under Steve Evans and could be an asset when back fit.
Ardley’s sides tend to have a lot of experienced players who will offer commitment and leadership qualities; his priority, therefore, will be to ensure there are no more defensive capitulations, in which they allow their opponents to score their goals unchallenged.
While Ardley will have no doubts about the immediate target, the fact he has won promotion from this level with AFC Wimbledon in 2015-16 suggests that he could, given time, take the club forward. Having committed to their man, Notts County now need to stand by him.