Notts County have parted company with manager Neal Ardley and assistant manager Greg Abbott.
The club’s announcement on Wednesday afternoon comes after a 2 – 2 draw with Yeovil Town on Tuesday night, having beaten the Glovers 2 – 0 at Meadow Lane on Saturday.
The Magpies sit sixth in the National League as they look to hold onto a playoff berth in their second ever season out of the EFL.
The club’s official statement, courtesy of owners Chris and Alex Reedtz, read,
“We wish to place on record the huge respect we have for Neal both as a manager and a man.
“He stuck by this club through some of its darkest hours and has played a leading role in stabilising us following a devastating relegation, helping to maintain a close connection between the players, staff and supporters in the most trying of circumstances.
“We will never forget the job he did in guiding us to last season’s play-off final at Wembley and some of the excellent performances he has extracted from the team during our time at the helm.
“Neal has always said that when the time comes for him to depart Meadow Lane, he will leave having helped to create a far better footballing environment than he inherited. He has undoubtedly achieved that and we will forever be grateful to him for his efforts in rebuilding a platform for the club to go on and achieve success.”
Ardley was in the hotseat when Notts were relegated to the fifth tier for the first time, having taken over in November 2018. But that sentence could do him more of a disservice than he deserves.
Towards the end of his first transfer window, Ardley brought vastly-experienced midfielder (and goalkeeper supreme) Michael Doyle to Meadow Lane from Coventry City.
Doyle had played in front of a packed Meadow Lane in Coventry’s successful playoff semi-final the season before, but joined a Notts side in a rather different position.
Notts finished fifth on 77 points in 2017/18, and 23rd on 41 points just 12 months later.
Alan Hardy put the club up for sale on 27 January 2019, yet Ardley was able to bring in Doyle, Mitch Rose, Craig Mackail-Smith and Jim O’Brien in his only chance to bring in the personnel needed to keep the club in the EFL.
The causes were too numerous to count on both hands, but fans’ consensus seems to land at a mess at boardroom level which manifested in haphazard recruitment in the summer of 2018.
Hardy attempted to sell the club on several occasions, and one unfortunate Tweet later, one week before the start of the 2019/20 season, Danish businessmen Chris and Alex Reedtz secured the club’s future, giving Ardley a host of badly-needed signings to bolster a threadbare squad.
Damien McCrory, Connell Rawlinson, Kyle Wootton, Ben Turner, Sam Graham and Richard Brindley all came through the doors in a manic window ahead of Notts’ first foray into non-league football.
Ardley came to Meadow Lane after taking AFC Wimbledon from League Two up to League One during a six-year spell at Kingsmeadow, having made 245 appearances for the original Wimbledon over 11 years.
He replaced Harry Kewell at a club which had been expected to be firmly in the conversation for automatic promotion after coming so close the season before.
The squad he inherited at Notts was bereft of confidence, though, and though his work was admirable in helping the Magpies go into the final day still with a slim chance of survival, a 3 – 1 loss at Swindon Town sealed Notts’ fate.
The ‘World’s Oldest Football League Club’ banner was pulled off the Jimmy Sirrel stand, and a new era began. A plethora of new players ushered in a new era for a club which was a scalp throughout their first season in the National League.
Notts had a tricky start to the 19/20 season, taking just five points from their first five games in non-league football.
Nontheless, the shrewd acquisitions of quality players such as ‘Rolls Royce’ centre-back Alex Lacey and ‘Geordie Messi’ Cal Roberts powered Notts to a playoff final at an empty Wembley, after the season was suspended in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Notts played the highest-profile game in Europe on Saturday 14 February, as they dispatched with Eastleigh 4 – 0. That was their last action until a 2 – 0 win over Barnet in the playoff semi-final, after the ‘final’ league table was decided on points-per-game.
Simon Weaver’s Harrogate Town triumphed over Notts at Wembley in a 3 – 1 win to take them into the EFL for the first time, a Cal Roberts trademark free-kick proving the only consolation for Ardley’s side.
At full-time, Ardley was adamant he wanted to continue the project of getting the club “back where it belongs” into this season.
More promising signings including Ruben Rodrigues got fans excited in summer, but it seems Notts have missed the goals of Kristian Dennis, who departed to play in black and white north of the border with St Mirren. To date, Dennis has made just 15 appearances (five starts) in all competitions, scoring three goals.
There had been some discontent over Notts’ impotence in front of goal for much of this season – they went on a spell of six games without scoring two over the winter period – with their goals column again being heavily propped up by Kyle Wootton.
At time of writing, Notts have scored the joint-least goals – 36 – of any club in the top half of the table, and yet the league’s most resolute defence – allowing just 23 in 27 games – keeps them sixth and in the playoff conversation.
So what’s next?
Notts mentioned in their club statement that they will not be accepting managerial applications, which leads me to wonder whether they already have someone lined up for the Meadow Lane hotseat.
That the Reedtz brothers sat down with Ardley before reaching Wednesday’s decision suggests to me they likely do.
I imagine we may well see an appointment in the next few days with assistant manager Greg Abbott also departing. That leaves the first-team without a manager ahead of Saturday’s FA Trophy tie with AFC Hornchurch.
Ardley said throughout his tenure that Notts presented a great project with huge potential. They surely remain so, and with some of the players they now have, the board may have some reputable names on their shortlist.
Or they may go in a different direction and opt for youth and thoroughly new ideas. Only time will tell.
Featured image credit: Notts County Football Club