Notts County manager Luke Williams bemoaned “pathetic” defensive issues following their 2-0 defeat to League One side Lincoln City in the first round of the Carabao Cup.
It has been a tough first week for life back in the EFL for the Magpies, who have been plagued with continual errors at the back, conceding seven goals and having two men sent off in their opening two fixtures.
The 42-year-old has also revealed he was “genuinely delighted” to lose 5-1 to Sutton United, feeling his side were lucky not to concede double figures at Gander Green Lane.
How can Notts County now resolve their defensive problems?
The most obvious answer, and the most popular amongst County fans, is that it is becoming a necessity that Notts delve into the transfer market for new centre-backs.
Williams’ side possessed the second-best defensive record in the National League in the 2022/23, conceding 42 goals in the regular season, only bettered by that of Boreham Wood (40).
But they have been largely exposed against higher quality this season, allowing both Stoke City in pre-season and Sutton on their EFL return to put five goals into the back of their net, while they were fortunate not to suffer another heavy defeat at the hands of Mark Kennedy’s Lincoln City on Tuesday.
The ‘Pies have only added 19-year-old Ollie Tipton to their defensive ranks, who has arrived on his first loan spell away from Wolverhampton Wanderers, having recently spent a short trial at Meadow Lane with a view to this temporary move.
With the suspension to Aden Baldwin and further troubles at the back, many would assume the former Swindon Town boss would be keen to strengthen in this area, however, concerningly, he simply replied “I don’t know” when asked by BBC Radio Nottingham if there would be additions before the weekend.
Aerially dominated by the U’s and highly susceptible from crosses into the box, County should be in the market for physically strong centre-backs, who can cope as teams inevitably go direct and launch a bombardment against a currently fledgling defensive structure.
Much of the frustration at the start of this season has come from the inability to defend set pieces.
“It feels terrible because we concede another corner, pathetic again from a corner,” Williams told the BBC.
“They [Lincoln] had the first two touches. Not one touch, not a great ball and someone just jumped perfectly and headed the ball powerfully into the goal, no, not that.
“Two touches, one flick with every single County player inside the box, and yet they get the second touch as well.”
The likelihood to concede from set-pieces is a by-product of that inability to physically compete in the air.
Is having so many of their own players in the box a contributor to their woes? The 42-year-old touched on the fact every man is back from corners, with it feeling almost as if no one wants to take responsibility for attacking the ball, as if they believe someone else will deal with it.
Rather than inviting pressure, could Notts County try leaving more players in forward areas, preventing an overload of opposition attackers, while taking a more positive approach to defending which may lead to a counter-attack at the other end. Currently, even if they are able to deal with that initial ball into the box, they’re just inviting wave after wave of attack with no escape route.
Style of play
It is commendable that the Nottinghamshire outfit have continued their possession and progressive style of football that served them so well in the National League, but perhaps now there needs to be a change of mindset throughout the squad.
They have averaged 68% possession in the two games so far, despite playing a combined total of well above 100 minutes with 10 men, however, they have only registered five shots on target, with the insistence of playing out from the back causing them more issues at the other end of the pitch.
Aidan Stone’s red card and Lasse Sorensen’s goal to put Lincoln 2-0 up on Tuesday were both a direct result of misplaced passes, with basic errors doing the League Two side no favours as confidence decreases.
A more pragmatic approach may be needed as they look to establish themselves at this level, because if nothing changes, much like their popular terrace chant about a wheelbarrow, the wheels could fall off this campaign.