Notts County lost 3-2 to Maidenhead United after making four COVID-enforced changes to slip to seventh in the Vanarama National League.

Michael Callander identifies five details from Saturday’s defeat.

1. Enforced changes causing problems?

Notts were forced into making four changes after COVID tests ruled four players out of the running for Saturday’s game.

It’s all guesswork at this point as the club understandably hasn’t revealed the medical details of individual players, but the absence of Cal Roberts, Wes Thomas, Dion Kelly-Evans and Richard Brindley speaks volumes.

Damien McCrory filled in at right-back against Maidenhead and although he put in a decent performance and didn’t do too much wrong (except a wayward effort in the dying minutes), he didn’t look too comfortable on the opposite side either.

The Northern Irishman did well to chase back and prevent a certain goal in the second half as a Maidenhead player was priming to shoot, but it wasn’t the best performance in a Notts shirt from a player who was ‘Mr Consistent’ for much of last season prior to his injury.

A word on Enzio Boldewijn: The Dutchman is capable of the spectacular, as we saw against Woking and Chesterfield last season, to name just two blockbuster strikes.

However, in Cal Roberts’ absence, and with forward Jimmy Knowles playing as a makeshift left-midfielder on Saturday, Notts lacked the width and directness, especially on the right, that Roberts provides.

Boldewijn often sits very narrow, almost inside his central midfielder at times.

While that’s often where his goals come from, after driving runs through the middle, he doesn’t provide the width or directness of a Cal Roberts who scares the life out of defenders when he’s on song.

That means Notts weren’t able to produce as many of the crosses Kyle Wootton thrives on today, and maybe partially explains why the striker had quite a quiet day by his standards.

It must be noted that his backheel inside for Rodrigues did produce Notts’ second goal of the game, but that pass was a rare bright spark in what was a fairly anonymous performance for the Dutchman.

2. Rodrigues and Reeves can be a cut above

There’s no denying Notts have had a successful summer transfer window. Despite the departure of Kristian Dennis up top, you’d suggest they’ve added quality all over the pitch, and nowhere was that more noticeable today than in midfield, and in two of their new acquisitions, Ruben Rodrigues and Jake Reeves.

Portuguese-Dutch Rodrigues scored Notts’ second today after a neat flick from compatriot Boldewijn, showing neat feet to beat two Maidenhead defenders and the keeper to slot into the left corner.

Besides his goal, he was impressive all-round and has that ‘je ne sais quoi’, that fleet-footedness perhaps, that sees a player glide across the pitch in possession.

If Rodrigues is more mobile on the ball, new signing from Bradford City Jake Reeves is the one finding space from which to spray passes.

I lost count of the amount of times I saw him in seemingly acres of space to turn and pick a pass, which he largely did well and positively.

Michael Doyle often plays shorter, safer passes back to his centre-backs or out wide, while Reeves provides a more ambitious outlet, perhaps more likely to cede possession, but also more progressive for the most part.

3. Knowles very exciting on the ball

Jimmy Knowles scored Notts’ first within four minutes, and looked what National League defenders will likely call ‘a nuisance’ for the duration of his season-long loan spell from League Two Mansfield Town.

Playing out wide on the left for most of the game, he provided plenty of width and looked after the ball well for a young player. His decision-making was largely impressive and he will surely get bums off seats when fans eventually return to Meadow Lane, as he looks to beat his marker more often than not.

4. Defending still leaves much to be desired

No disrespect intended to Maidenhead, but conceding three goals at home to a side who were 19th going into today’s game is probably not how Neal Ardley saw this one playing out.

The first two goals for the visitors came from long deliveries into the box, the second from a corner, and the third was a long, bobbling ball straight down the middle from goalkeeper Ashby-Hammond which caught the midfield and defence on their heels.

The first goal followed the ball being headed back into a dangerous area by a Notts defender, something Neal Ardley bemoaned post-match as “players not doing their jobs”, while conceding from corners is nothing new for the Magpies.

Harry Ransom’s late winner for Dover against Notts came directly from a corner, as did the second today.

JJ Hooper’s first in Notts’ 4-2 win over Barnet followed a long ball from the Bees’ goalkeeper, something that caught the Magpies’ defence on its heels again today.

5. Lack of a Plan B?

At times in the first half, Notts were playing some scintillating football, spraying one-touch passes for fun. They went into half-time 2-1 up, and after the break abandoned what had done them so well in the first period.

Instead of trying to score more and kill the game, Neal Ardley’s side seemed content to hold onto a one-goal lead against a side who had claimed their first win of the season away from home last time out.

In trying to keep the ball as they usually do, but with a more cautious focus, Notts rarely got out of their own half in the second 45, thus inviting pressure.

When their play is flowing, as it often was in the first half, Notts might be able to call themselves one of the best passing sides in the National League. They were exciting to watch, and you always felt they’d create something.

But in the second, by having the ball but looking to maintain their lead, Maidenhead were able to move players up the pitch and really put Notts under the cosh before and after their second goal.

Neal Ardley’s side didn’t really seem to adapt the way they played after Maidenhead equalised, or after they finally took the lead, until Ben Turner replaced Alex Lacey in the last few minutes and moved forward to try to equalise in “kitchen-sink-time”.


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