The Non-League Football Paper
IT’S THE BATTLE OF THE GIANTS
TUESDAY night in the National League. Notts County have just swept aside Southend United with a seriously impressive performance. Top scorer Macaulay Langstaff found the back of the net twice with two finishes of real quality, Sam Austin grabbed his first two league goals – the second a fierce finish high into the net – as Notts made it seven wins on the bounce and 25 unbeaten in all competitions.
Luke Williams’ side moved onto 83 points. With 12 games left! For context, last season’s champions were Stockport County, who finished on 94 points and a full ten ahead of Sutton United’s 84-winning total the year prior. Pre-Covid, Leyton Orient topped the pile with 89.
The last team to break through the 100-point barrier were Cheltenham Town in 2015-16. Notts have already score more goals than the Robins that year – Luton the last side to break through that century barrier back in 2013-14.
Notts have found the net 88 times – Langstaff accounting for 32 of them – and, in case you’ve forgotten, still have 12 games to play.
Numbers and stats are big in football these days and Williams’ side are certainly putting them up.
The Magpies head coach felt Tuesday was one of their most complete performances of the season, against a Southend United side themselves on the back of four straight wins and who boast one of the best defensive records in the division, despite the club chaos off the pitch.
They have quality all over the pitch and, talking to regular watchers in the press box, Williams and his coaching staff have elevated many of the squad’s performances and consistency.
Williams’ team move the ball around the pitch with confidence and purpose, seemingly at least one player in a pocket of space at any moment.
Langstaff and Ruben Rodrigues tend to be the big headline grabbers, but Adam Chicksen has even hit double figures in all competitions from his attacking full-back role.
If there was a stat Matty Palmer hadn’t given the ball away all season you’d believe it. The central midfielder ticks everything over in the middle of the park with an air of class.
Of course, this title race has another runner – and we’re officially declaring it a two-horse race – as we enter the final furlongs.
A little over 90 miles away in midweek, Wrexham had banked their three points with a 2-0 win over Scunthorpe United.
In news that came as a shock to no one, their top scorer Paul Mullin scored twice.
Phil Parkinson’s Red Dragons stayed just five points behind Notts, crucially with two games in hand.
Even more crucially, the pair still have one face-off to come – at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground on Easter Monday.
Depending on what happens between now and then, there could be an argument for it being one of the biggest National League games we’ve seen. Tickets will be like gold dust.
After Tuesday, the Red Dragons, like Notts, had conceded just 30 goals, while they have found the opposition’s net 83 times. They are just ten points below their tally of 88 from last season – with 14 games left!
Look, clearly the two clubs are well resourced but they are so far ahead of everyone else at this point.
If anything, it would take something drastic for either to not break the 100-point barrier.
While the numbers are impressive, two doesn’t go into one. There will be one champion up automatically and the other will have to navigate the uncertain world of the play-offs.
Whoever that is will start as favourites and you’d back them to do it. But we all know the play-offs don’t care what you did in the regular season. Anything can happen.
At the start of the week, EFL chief Rick Parry confirmed three-up, three-down is firmly on the table. The feeling around the game is it will happen sooner rather than later.
Notts and Wrexham strengthen that argument but the case has been compelling for a long while, given how well the majority of promoted clubs perform.
From the National League point of view, they are sending on very healthy clubs, while accepting others often in a state, as is usually the case when a club is relegated out of the EFL.
The extra spot is vital. The bottle neck needs widening. Not that it helps Notts County and Wrexham this season. Instead it’s a huge battle to finish on top and leave the other facing the scenic route to League Two.