Notts County Retained List: Stay or go

When we slumped to our record-breaking tenth consecutive defeat in the 4-1 hammering at Morecambe early this year, few would’ve seen seen a scenario where fans would’ve been in favour of keeping any of the players involved in that shambolic run of losses.

Top-scorer Jon Stead’s mooted move to the US came about when former manager John Sheridan made every single player available for transfer; a decision that few at the time disagreed with.

We’ve wrote at length elsewhere about how the Nolan/Hardy double-act have transformed this club for the better, but the retained list is harder to guess than usual this season because for the majority of the squad the contrast between the two halves of the season couldn’t be greater. The likes of Hollis, Hewitt and Duffy have looked completely different players since the arrival of Nolan.

Nolan is likely to be armed with a highly-competitive budget next season, with the expectation that the Magpies will be challenging at the right end of the table. This means that players will need to be cleared out somewhere to make for (hopefully) strong new arrivals. Below, Notts supporters give their opinions on what the Magpies manager should do.

Rob Davies @RobD97

The Decision

Alan Smith  – Keep solely as coach
Richard Duffy – Release
Haydn Hollis – Keep
Shola Ameobi – Keep
Mark Yeates – Release
Rob Milsom – Keep
Scott Loach – Release
Curtis Thompson – Keep
Elliott Hewitt – Keep
Jordan Richards – Keep
Wes Atkinson – Release
Montel Gibson – Release
Jack McMillan – Release
Adam Campbell – Release
Jon Stead – Keep
Thierry Audel – Release

The Reasons

Campbell, Duffy and Yeates were the hardest decisions of those in the ‘release’ list above. Campbell is only 22 and a likeable character who gives everything on the pitch, but I’d still struggle to determine his best position and he just doesn’t pose enough of a forward threat. I’d be tempted to keep him as a squad player but feel he’d be looking for more than that. Yeates has been a good short-term acquisition but is 32 and I’d like to see pace starting on at least one wing next season. I’d be happy with Duffy still being part of the squad but he will be on first-team wages and I’d prefer to keep Hollis (homegrown, low cost, still young) and don’t think there’s room for both. I changed my mind on Audel over the course of compiling this article; he is an excellent player when fit and a useful player to have in that he can play anywhere across the back four, but the persistent, niggly injuries have taken their toll and we need a consistent defence next season.

I think Thompson has had a harsh deal – always being the easy player to drop or move out of position by a revolving door of managers – and should be kept having never really been given a run in his preferred position in the past five seasons, though the writing looks to be on the wall for him after not featuring in the past two months. Hewitt is vastly improved, still only 22 and has proved in the past three months that he can do a good job in four different positions; he should definitely be retained. I’d also like to keep the lesser-spotted Jordan Richards, who is still only 19; he was over-used by Sheridan but it seems surprising that Nolan has written-off a talented homegrown player with such obvious potential so quickly.

The Others

I’ve no confidence with either Adam Collin or Carl Dickinson starting the season in a team looking to push for promotion and would hope another club can take them off our hands. I’m a fan of Jonathan Forte but think his lack of match action in recent weeks will mean he’ll be off in the summer. If these three were to go, that leaves us with two contracted players next season (Matt Tootle and the injured Michael O’Connor), so it’s fair to say there could be major upheaval this summer. It goes without saying that we should do all we can to keep Jorge Grant; this would be a real statement of intent, while it’d also be good to see a couple of long-term loans in the ilk of Marc Bola.

Jacob Daniel @jacobncm

The Decision

Alan Smith  – Keep (primarily as coach)
Richard Duffy – Keep
Haydn Hollis – Keep
Shola Ameobi – Keep
Mark Yeates – Release
Rob Milsom – Keep
Scott Loach – Release
Curtis Thompson – Release
Elliott Hewitt – Keep
Jordan Richards – Keep
Wes Atkinson – Release
Montel Gibson – Release
Jack McMillan – Release
Adam Campbell – Keep
Jon Stead – Release
Thierry Audel – Release

The Reasons

This was actually tougher than I was expecting. There was some easy decisions – I had to remind myself who West Atkinson is – but the run of form under Kevin Nolan has made this less of a bloodbath than it was looking like under John Sheridan. There are few that I didn’t have to think about on either side of the debate – I think that Shola Ameobi has clearly done enough to earn another year and Rob Milsom has been quietly good all season, but beyond that there’s a case to be made either way.

I did go into it thinking that the way to approach this summer is to evolve rather than rip everything up and start again, though. Notts have been guilty of this in the past and it’s very difficult to build an entire squad from scratch that is capable of challenging for promotion. It’s easy to forget this, but of that irrepressible back four that won the League Two title, three were also part of a much less impressive the season before. Replacing the hapless Adam Tann and brilliant but well past his best Michael Johnson with Graeme Lee was, in one move, enough to elevate Stephen Hunt, Mike Edwards and John Thompson to a new level.

It’s the belief that something similar can happen with the right signing in that position that motivates my desire to keep Duffy and would also mean that I persevere with Carl Dickinson and Matt Tootle. Two of those three have won promotion from this level in recent years, as has goalkeeper Adam Collin. The individuals are good enough but the mix has never been right this season, so I would see Haydn Hollis drop back as relatively cheap cover and make that signing our first and most important goal.

Of the other contentious choices, releasing Jon Stead is probably a bit harsh, but both parties should recognise that a potential move to the MLS suits everyone quite well. It’s a fine opportunity for a player who has served Notts well, whilst a strike force of two mid-thirties players is never going to last a season and Ameobi is always likely to be a bit more effective in Nolan’s direct system. Elliott Hewitt and Adam Campbell have shown real improvement lately, are versatile and are young enough to be viewed as projects for Nolan to work on. Curtis Thompson needs to move on for the sake of his own career and Thierry Audel is simply too injury prone. Mark Yeates has done a job but we need to look for someone a bit quicker.

The Others

There are none of the five under contract players that I’d be desperate to move on but, equally, I would consider any opportunity to do so if it didn’t involve paying their contract up. This summer needs to be about building on the core of the side that has been so impressive under Nolan (Collin, Tootle, Duffy, Milsom, Ameobi) and allowing ourselves to really throw our budget behind filling in the gaps with quality. If we do keep the likes of Hewitt, Campbell and Hollis then we have to devote far less time and money to bringing in squad players who are very unlikely to be any better.

Dane Vincent @upDV

The Decision

Alan Smith  – Keep
Richard Duffy – Release
Haydn Hollis – Keep
Shola Ameobi – Keep
Mark Yeates – Release
Rob Milsom – Keep
Scott Loach – Release
Curtis Thompson – Keep
Elliott Hewitt – Keep
Jordan Richards – Keep
Wes Atkinson – Release
Montel Gibson – Release
Jack McMillan – Release
Adam Campbell – Keep
Jon Stead – Release
Thierry Audel – Release

The Reasons

A few months ago, Elliott Hewitt would have been one of the first players I’d have released; now he’s near the top of my retained list. He’s got to be one of our most improved players under new boss Kevin Nolan and at just 22, he can be an asset in multiple roles – particularly handy in a smaller squad.

I’d be surprised if anyone opted to release Shola Ameobi and Rob Milsom, who are at the very top of my retained pile. Ameobi’s presence has been crucial and Milsom has, fingers crossed, shaken off his ‘sick note’ tag to become the man to build our midfield around next season.

Although I’d be perfectly happy to keep Jon Stead, I know if I was him, I’d have already processed my working visa for a move to the MLS. It’s a great opportunity for him and being able to use his wages to strengthen key area may not be the worst outcome for overall squad improvements. On the subject of high earners, Richard Duffy is more than likely up there and that’s why he features on my release list.

At the opposite end of the pay scale, if the likes of Haydn Hollis, Adam Campbell and Curtis Thompson are on reasonable wages, I’d keep them as key squad players. They have all proven themselves to be more than good enough on their day and despite concerns over consistency or injuries, we know that they’re capable of doing a job and are still developing as players. Although I don’t think Jordan Richards is ready yet, I’d keep him and loan him out to see how he progresses over the next two years.

The Others

High on the list of priorities has to be a goalkeeper. I judge keepers on how many points they save you during a season and I can’t recall too many occasions where Adam Collin has bailed us out this year. In fact, I’d go to say he’s cost us points over the course of the campaign. Therefore, I’d offload Collin with the aim of using his wages on a new number one.

Carl Dickinson is another player that has been error-prone and seems to have had a rough time this season. It may be best for both parties to part ways.

Another experienced pro Jonathan Forte has seen limited action and appears to be out of the manager’s plans – a shame after his impactful loan spells earlier in his career. With Stead on my release list, I’d hope to see Forte given a proper chance in his actual position, up front, but if he’s surplus to requirements, I’d have no qualms over letting him go to free up funds to strengthen the team.

Ending on a positive, I’d love to see us recruit Jorge Grant on a permanent basis as a real statement of intent. He’s young with bags of potential and exactly the kind of player we need to be signing if we’re serious about promotion. We missed out on Kieron Freeman a few years back and it’d be a shame to miss an opportunity with another talented Red potentially headed for the City Ground exit.

Tom Nixey @tmtm_blog

The Decision

Alan Smith  – Keep (Coaching staff)
Richard Duffy – Release
Haydn Hollis – Keep
Shola Ameobi – Keep
Mark Yeates – Release
Rob Milsom – Keep
Scott Loach – Release
Curtis Thompson – Keep
Elliott Hewitt – Keep
Jordan Richards – Keep
Wes Atkinson – Release
Montel Gibson – Release
Jack McMillan – Release
Adam Campbell – Release
Jon Stead – Release
Thierry Audel – Keep

The Reasons

Arguably the most contentious decision would be my choice to release Jon Stead. I’ve never been one to call into question his work rate and desire but sometimes when we need him to stand up and be counted he is found wanting. Generally his first touch is questionable and although he’s obviously not a target man, his hold up and link up play leave a lot to be desired for a player who has played the game at a decent level for a number of years. I hope he goes off to America, earns a decent wage and has a good couple of years in the sun banging a few goals away.

Secondly, my decision to release Richard Duffy and keep Haydn Hollis could be seen as odd due to our overall hugely impressive form under Kevin Nolan. Whilst Duffy has improved under Nolan, he still makes poor decisions, his positioning leaves a lot to be desired and he’s too easily bullied by a big striker. Whilst Hollis isn’t John Terry, I maintain he has all the attributes to make a solid and reliable lower league centre half – he wins every header, knows when the ball needs to go out or down the line and communicates well for a young man. I feel Hollis has time on his side to improve, whereas Duffy won’t get any better. Tactically, I don’t think you can underestimate the value of a left footed centre half in the ranks.

Maybe the final contentious issue would be the retaining of Curtis Thompson. I’ve been a big advocate for the talents of Thompson over the last few years and the long term injury to Michael O’Connor may just have saved his Notts County career under Nolan. I believe Thompson has the qualities to be a dominant force in a midfield in either League Two or League One. He covers the pitch like no one I’ve seen, even more so than Rob Milsom, has ability on the ball and can operate in defensive and forward positions. If Thompson is to reach his potential, he needs to be played in his rightful central midfield position for a run of games – maybe the skipper’s injury will give him this opportunity.

Rob Milsom, Shola Ameobi and Elliot Hewitt have probably been the players of the Nolan era and their impact mean they thoroughly deserve to stay on for next term. Whilst I can see the qualities Adam Campbell has, he won’t be afforded a run in the team as a main striker and he’s ineffectual out wide so his time is up. Jordan Richards has obvious potential but needs a loan move for game time and Thierry Audel provides excellent cover to all defensive positions.

The Others

The key sticking point here will be the paying up of contracts and is Alan Hardy willing to do it. If he is, Adam Collin and Carl Dickinson need to be first out of the door. Collin is a steady League Two goalkeeper, but fails to instil any confidence in a defence, stays glued to his six yard box and can barely pick a target out with his kicking. Carl Dickinson has been the biggest let down of the season. He frankly isn’t good enough for a promotion push, he lacks pace, gets beaten by an opposing wide man too easily and rarely picks the right pass when looking forward. Time to go for both of them.

Matt Tootle should cement his place as our first choice right back and could become one of our best players, whilst Jon Forte, who should have been afforded more playing time under Nolan, still has an ounce of pace to scare defenders and if played regularly, through the middle with Shola, would cover the goals lost by Stead’s departure with interest.

On the loanees, I’d love Jorge Grant to stay, but I think the top end of League One is calling for him and Marc Bola for a full season would be a huge, huge bonus and give us a real unique attacking option for next season; and his defensive capabilities have come on no end under Nolan as well, but I fear he could follow Grant and make the step up.

Lee Mckenzie @leemck83

The Decision

Alan Smith – Keep as coach
Richard Duffy – Release
Haydn Hollis – Keep
Shola Ameobi – Keep
Mark Yeates – Release
Rob Milsom – Keep
Scott Loach – Release
Curtis Thompson – Keep
Elliott Hewitt – Keep
Jordan Richards – Keep, loan out
Wes Atkinson – Release
Montel Gibson – Release
Jack McMillan – Keep, loan out
Adam Campbell – Release
Jon Stead – Keep
Thierry Audel – Release

The Reasons

Out of all of them Duffy, the much-maligned Hollis and Thompson were the difficult decisions. Hewitt’s versatility and form will see him earn a new deal. Campbell for me can go, as he offers nothing in a attacking sense. Audel’s injury-proneness makes him lose out also, I’m afraid.

The Others

We have to sign Grant no matter what. Bola will likely end up somewhere else on loan higher up the food chain so I’m ruling him out. We need to try and agree a mutual termination with Collin, who is easily the worst regular first-choice keeper seen at Notts in recent times. All in all, a busy summer ahead (again)!

Colin Sisson @Colin_sisson

The Decision

Alan Smith
Richard Duffy – Release
Haydn Hollis – Release
Shola Ameobi – Keep
Mark Yeates – Release
Rob Milsom – Keep
Scott Loach – Release
Curtis Thompson – Release
Elliott Hewitt – Release
Jordan Richards – Keep
Wes Atkinson – Release
Montel Gibson – Release
Jack McMillan – Release
Adam Campbell – Release
Jon Stead – Release
Thierry Audel – Release

The Reasons

Fourth division football should not be difficult, yet perennially Notts seem determined to make it look so. Throw in development squads, continental managers, heads of recruitment and transfer committees and you end up with the proverbial camel; a horse designed by committee. And camels we don’t need, so that’s at least half the list taken care of.

A successful player at this level needs just one defining attribute. Something that can be fit into a tactic/system and used to its advantage. Those I selected for release do not have that defining characteristic but rather a kaleidoscope of averageness. That might sound harsh on Stead, but without the players who can put the ball in front of him in the 18 yard box, he becomes exactly that.

So it is with some relief that we can finally be rid of the stubborn remaining elements of the Moniz/Branston confusion. Instead, we can look forward to a smaller, purpose-built squad under the guidance of Kevin Nolan, whose performance in January suggests he knows a thoroughbred from a camel.

The Others

Ameobi’s strength and Milsom’s tenacity will need to be complimented though. Jorge Grant’s movement has been a joy to watch and would be a major addition if it could be made permanent. Sadly, it seems a replacement for O’Connor is now needed too – a player who would’ve featured high on my release list up until January – but has impressed with his range of passing. Adam Collin remains a question despite having a year left on his deal, but money is probably best spent elsewhere. That said, I’d release Dickinson no matter the cost. Two wide men, one with incredible pace and another who can cross with precision (you’ll never find one with both in L2), will be crucial additions.

Photo: Andy Stokes

Rob Davies

2 Comments

  1. Can’t believe anybody wants to keep Haydn Hollis. He’s too slow, too clumsy and lacks concentration. A National League player at best.

  2. I really don’t see the benefit of keeping Rob Milsom,he is a nearly man, nearly made a challenge, nearly passed the ball to someone in black n white, he nearly contributes. He chases shadows off the ball and doesn’t offer anything positive with the ball. A no trick pony and an older player who should be off loaded IMO…

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