In what has been a muted season for many, Notts County were another that failed to live up to expectations.
Picking up from where they left off last season, County started their 2016 campaign as they finished their 2015 one; away to Manchester City. Withstanding a barrage from the eventual champions until deep into stoppage time, Steph Houghton’s last minute free kick enough to give the hosts all three points and ensure the Lady Pies started their season out with a defeat. The match ended up as a marker for another disappointing season.
The Pies did well to bounce back for a cup trip to Borehamwood, standing up well to the Gunners before been seen off in a shoot-out but up and down more than a nervous kangaroo, County then played out a disappointing draw at home to Reading before digging in to seal their first win of a season, an increasingly nervy 3-2 over Liverpool. Back-to-back defeats against Birmingham followed before Notts found a strong second-half performance to see off the Belles.
A slightly less than routine away to Yeovil granted them passage into the next round of the league cup, although they succumbed to a familiar foe to get knocked out of the competition late in the game. An insipid loss to Arsenal and an embarrassing defeat at the hands of City occupied the time between the two matches as well as two draws, one unlucky against the Royals one lucky against the Reds. Two further loses followed. Another meeting with Arsenal and a strong showing in Staines, again luck not on the side of the team from Nottingham.
Safe, but for how long?
Spiralling into the danger zone and operating with a skeleton crew after a rash of injuries the Lady Pies pulled themselves out of their tailspin to win back to back games against fellow relegation-rivals, Sunderland and the Belles the latter confirming safety for the rest of the league with Donny downed. The league wrapped up with a draw away to the Lady Black Cats and a loss against Chelsea.
In a year when so many WSL 1 teams underperformed, Notts seemed to be very much leading the way, the players on the pitch failing to find their best and not for the first time. Every week seemed to bring more bad news for Notts, whether key players picking up long-term injuries – Carly Telford, Sophie Bradley-Auckland, Amy Turner, Telford (again), ect – or another loss, either from a non-showing or a rash of bad luck in-game.
Their pursuit of cup glory halted by Arsenal, twice, the two games some of Notts’ better performances but unable to see either match out. Maja Krantz’ early exit didn’t help the team that were suddenly light on the ground, more midfielders occupying the defensive line than actual defenders, Aivi Luik unable to see the season out before leaving for the W-League. Sophie Walton’s baby and Krantz’ personal opportunity far happier reasons to sit out games than Ellen White’s broken collar but all with the same outcome.
After a particularly porous 2015 season with 20 goals scored and 20 conceded, Notts’ have only gone backwards this season, conceding 26 and only scoring 16 times, their one league clean sheet desperate cause for concern (even considering they only managed to keep two in the league last year). Even with the increased games, Notts have only drawn and lost one more this year, their four league wins a mirror of last season.
With more players having committed to full-time contracts the performances haven’t improved as they should have, yes the team hasn’t always been lucky with results but Rick Passmoor has a good crop of players and their failings on the pitch are damning with many fans calling for his time at Meadow Lane to be up. In a league with heavyweights like Man City and Chelsea and those who can pour significant money into their women’s teams like Arsenal, Notts County run the risk of slipping into real danger unless they can finally fully come together on the pitch.