Notts County v Boreham Wood
Sunday 7th May 2022, 12:30pm
Meadow Lane, Vanarama National League Play-Off Semi-Final
The first of the two play-off semi-finals sees the Wood make the journey to Meadow Lane with a difficult test in Notts County standing between them and a first trip to Wembley Stadium since 2018, and they will take plenty of heart from two unbeaten encounters with the Magpies during the season as the Wood aim to reach the illustrious final.
IN FOCUS: NOTTS COUNTY
Notts County are the world’s oldest professional football club and predates the FA itself, spending almost their entire history in the Football League after being one of the 12 founding members in 1888. However, internal turbulence saw the club struggle during the 2010’s and they subsequently fell out of the Football League after more than a century, with their relegation to the National League being confirmed for the first time in their 157-year history in 2019. They kicked-off their stint in non-league in the 2019/20 season, and came within 90 minutes of regaining their Football League status immediately only to lose to Harrogate Town in the play-off final. This would be followed by another play-off attempt in which they lost to Torquay United at the semi-final stage, and three times proved not to be a charm when they fell to eventual winners Grimsby Town in the elimination round last season, thus keeping them in the fifth tier for a fourth successive season.
However, the arrival of Luke Williams as head coach has seemingly sparked a change in fortunes for the Magpies, with the club also benefitting from a number of high profile signings in the summer as well. Macauley Langstaff is the most notable of these with his move from fellow National League side Gateshead proving to be incredibly successful as the forward topped the division’s scoring charts with a record-breaking 42 goals. Additionally, the likes of Geraldo Bajrami and Aden Baldwin have added steal at the back to blend with plenty of quality in attack, with Langstaff being joined at Meadow Lane by Gateshead teammate Cedwyn Scott along with Sam Austin to contribute to County’s impressive form this season and replace the outgoing Kyle Wootton and Callum Roberts. This saw them propel up the division and spend large periods of the campaign at the summit of the table, before attempting to bolster their ranks as they entered the second half of the season with the reliable Junior Morias, Jodi Jones and John Bostock arriving at Meadow Lane, along with a couple of brief temporary signings for Connor Lemonheigh-Evans and Kairo Mitchell adding extra dependability until the end of their loan spells. As a result, the Magpies hit a century of points with victory over Wealdstone in April, a tally which would have been enough to win the division in all of the last six National League campaigns. However, despite exceeding it with a record-breaking 107 points, it would be title rivals Wrexham who came out victorious in the end with their own record of 111 points, and means Notts County are set to embark on the fourth play-off campaign in a row.
LAST TIME OUT
Notts County 1-1 York City
Saturday 29th April 2023
Vanarama National League
Macauley Langstaff’s 42nd goal of the season wasn’t enough to beat York City, although it did confirm his status as the National League’s 2022/23 top scorer in a 1-1 draw with the Minstermen.
In what transpired to be another first half of complete dominance, Langstaff commenced the pressure on the visitors’ goal by seeing a header diverted narrowly wide by a defender inside three minutes, as the Magpies controlled proceedings and saw Rúben Rodrigues send a 30-yard free-kick just wide before both Sam Austin and Aden Baldwin sent shots a couple of yards over the crossbar from outside the area. Langstaff was next to have a go as he brilliantly saw a left-footed snapshot saved, with Rodrigues looking to turn from provider to scorer as the Portuguese forward latched on to Aaron Nemane’s downward header before sending his shot into a well-positioned defender. Langstaff proved to be a constant menace and saw another effort saved on 31 minutes, shortly before John Bostock also drew a comfortable save from Ryan Whitely in an attempt to give County the lead. Despite an incredibly one-sided half, it took until stoppage time for the hosts to finally get a deserved opener, as Rodrigues and Langstaff linked up with the former’s superb, incisive pass unlocking the door for the latter to brilliantly steer the ball beyond the onrushing keeper, and send them into the interval with the advantage.
Rodrigues was prevented from following in Langstaff’s footsteps within five minutes of the restart as the hosts looked to take the momentum and extend their lead, being fouled just outside the area and seeing his subsequent free-kick brilliantly saved by Whitley down to his left. Sam Slocombe would be called into action for the first time though as Nemane’s slip allowed a City forward into the area, only for his low effort to be pushed behind by the keeper at his near post. County continued to maintain control nonetheless, and Whitley needed to then be the star man at the other end when he produced a world-class, as he somehow diverted Austin’s powerful strike over the bar. He would soon be replaced by Cedwyn Scott moments later who instantly drew the keeper into another good save shortly afterwards as his deflected header was kept out, but County kept up their efforts to double the lead and came within inches of doing so with 13 minutes to go when Langstaff outpaced Mark Ellis to fire a shot across goal and against the base of the post. With time ticking away it looked like Luke Williams’ side were destined for a deserved victory, however the visitors had other ideas with less than two minutes to play. Indeed, despite their best efforts Watford loanee Shaqai Forde sprung the offside trap and produced a calm finish beyond Slocombe, shocking Meadow Lane on the final day. Although there was six additional minutes to find a winner, Whitley continued his inspired display to instinctively push Rodrigues’ header over the bar when it looked destined for the net, before hanging on to Chicksen’s header and acrobatically flicking Langstaff’s glancing effort over the bar, ensuring his side left with a point.
York City (H) D1-1
Maidstone United (A) W2-5
Woking (H) W3-0
Wrexham (A) L3-2
Wealdstone (H) W3-0
Altrincham (A) W0-2
Despite falling short in the National League title race, the Magpies come into the play-offs with plenty of confidence and momentum, having lost just three games all season. Some rare dropped points against Barnet in March would be followed by successive wins over Scunthorpe United and Altrincham as they ended the month strongly, before victory over Wealdstone on Easter Sunday saw them stretch their unbeaten run to seven games. However, a crucial fixture against Wrexham would prove to define their season as the title decider swung in the Red Dragons’ favour, with their unbeaten streak coming to an end in North Wales after second half goals from Paul Mullin, Jacob Mendy Mendy and Elliot Lee saw them come from behind to beat the Magpies, although Ben Foster proved to be the hero for Phil Parkinson’s men as Kyle Cameron’s late goal set up a nervy finale to the game, before Foster denied a Cedwyn Scott penalty at the death to seal the points for the hosts. As a result, Wrexham had the upper hand in the title race, and despite bouncing back with successive victories over Woking and Maidstone United, the Red Dragons would wrap up the title on the same day as the latter with a win over Boreham Wood, meaning they came into the final day preparing for another play-off campaign, and subsequently saw them end the season with a draw at home to York City.
IN THE DUGOUT: LUKE WILLIAMS
Following a short-lived playing career in the non-league, Luke Williams transitioned into coaching with stints in charge of the youth teams of Colebrook Royals, Leyton Orient and West Ham United, before taking over as a development coach at Brighton & Hove Albion. A four-year spell at Swindon Town followed after initially arriving as assistant to Mark Cooper, taking over as head coach after a caretaker role before moving on to Bristol City’s Under-23’s. He would then link up with former Norwich City defender Russell Martin at both MK Dons and Swansea City, but stepped down from his assistant manager role in February 2022 and later replacing Ian Burchnall at Notts County after his departure to League Two champions Forest Green Rovers, following the Magpies’ defeat in the 2022 play-offs. Williams has overseen a marked improvement from Burchnall’s efforts though with County racking up more than 100 points, beating beaten to the league title only by Wrexham.
ONE TO WATCH: MACAULEY LANGSTAFF
After impressing in the amateur game, Macauley Langstaff earned opportunities with Billingham Synthonia, Blyth Spartans, Gateshead, York City and Bradford (Park Avenue), before returning to the Gateshead International Stadium in 2020. It was his second spell on Tyneside that saw him enjoy a breakout season, firing the Heed to the National League North title with 32 goals and 14 assists which earned him the division’s Player of the Season award. As a result of his form he moved to Notts County in the summer, scoring on his competitive debut with a brace against Maidenhead United on the opening day of the season. This would be a sign of things to come as Langstaff has gone on to impress throughout his first season at Meadow Lane, with a stunning 42 goals from 44 appearances in all competitions setting a new Notts County club record as well as the National League division record for league goals in a season, and subsequently saw him named the Magpies’ Fans’ and Players’ Player of the Season.
LAST TIME WE MET
Notts County 1-1 Boreham Wood
Tuesday 10th January 2022
Vanarama National League
An excellent defensive performance from Boreham Wood ensured a well-deserved point at league leaders Notts County on a wet night at Meadow Lane.
It was the hosts the had the better of the opening period and they created the first chance after four minutes when any excellent pass by Cedwyn Scott picked out top scorer Macauley Langstaff who was denied by a brilliant save from Nathan Ashmore. County continues to dominate possession though with some great work from Femi Ilesamni being enough to deny Aaron Nemane a goalscoring opportunity soon after, with the Wood growing into it and preventing County creating much more during the first half despite their early pressure. The Wood would follow this up by producing a couple of good chances of their own, with Josh Rees being played through by Jack Payne before testing Sam Slocombe, before the Wood number seven took advantage of some panic in the County defence to play in George Broadbent who’s shot struck the post. In search of the opener, County continued to battle with captain Kyle Cameron heading straight at Ashmore following a Rúben Rodrigues corner, before Langstaff shot just wide for the hosts. Wood grew in confidence as the rain came lashing down, disrupting County’s flowing football and were very much in the ascendance leading up to half time. Ilesamni cut in from the left and shot just over with his right foot, but they eventually managed to break the deadlock on the stroke of half time as Tyrone Marsh played the ball into Lee Ndlovu who’s shot was saved by Slocombe, before Broadbent slotted the rebound home to send the Wood into the break ahead.
County started the second half in control much like they did during the opening stages of the first half, with Adam Chicksen forcing an excellent save from Ashmore early on, before Cameron then shot straight at the Wood keeper. The hosts would soon get a deserved equaliser though as John Bostock’s pinpoint cross was headed in superbly by Scott, and subsequently put the Magpies in the ascendancy. With Meadow Lane roaring their team on, County continued on the front foot and it looked like it was a matter of time before they took the lead. It was the Wood who went closest next though with Marsh forcing a good save from Slocombe in a rare chance for the Wood, as the hosts continued to control possession. They couldn’t penetrate the visiting defence though, and after some good work in front of his own goal Will Evans went close at the other end when he clipped the top of the crossbar with a header, shortly before Cameron shot wide for the hosts three minutes later. This preceded some late pressure from the Wood though, wtih Chris Bush’s throw-in, picking out Rees who forced some heroic defending from Aden Baldwin, before Broadbent played in substitute Dennon Lewis who fired wide. Baldwin would almost prove to be the hero once more though with a great chance at the death, but it couldn’t direct his header on target as it ended all square.
HAVEN’T WE MET BEFORE? JUNIOR MORIAS
Wood fans will have fond memories of Junior Morias, having watched him contribute to the club’s rise into the fifth tier where they have remained ever since. Hailing from Kingston, Jamaica, Morias came through the Fulham academy before starting a two-year scholarship with Wycombe Wanderers, where he made 19 League Two appearances in his debut season with the Chairboys, all as a substitute. In search of regular game time he moved to Hendon on loan for the second half of the 2012/13 season, before returning to Silver Jubilee Park for the first half of the 2013/14 campaign. He would end the season slightly south of Hendon though, with Boreham Wood announcing his temporary arrival at Meadow Park at the end of January 2013, and he went on to score eight goals in 15 Conference South appearances for the club. He would subsequently be released by Wycombe at the end of the season and returned to the Wood on a permanent basis, which would kick-off a successful two-year stint with the club. His 12 goals in 31 appearances across the 2014/15 season included the winning goal in Extra Time of the Conference South play-off final victory over Whitehawk, which saw the club promoted to the Conference Premier for the first time. Although he struggled to adapt to life in the fifth tier – with two goals from 29 appearances – he still went on to play 56 times in total for the Wood, and following a loan spell with the Hawks during the second half of the 2015/16 campaign, departed Meadow Park after rejecting new terms.
Morias subsequently went on to establish himself as a reliable goalscorer in the lower leagues, with a spell at St Albans City preceding moves to League One outfits Peterborough United and then Northampton Town before moving to Scottish Premiership side St Mirren. After struggling to retain a first team spot with the Buddies though, he returned to Boreham Wood on loan five years after departing, and played 13 times as the club finished 14th. He would later move to King’s Lynn Town and then Dagenham & Redbridge, and it was with the latter where he restored his reputation with 21 goals in 60 appearances for the club, and his form with the Daggers earned him a move to title contenders Notts County in March 2023.
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