Act III: Huxley’s Halfback Heroes

I’ve been handed the opportunity of a lifetime by the owners and Jason (Turner), and I intend to seize it with both hands and take Notts County back into League Two at first ask.”

Clive Huxley at his introductory press conference, June 25, 2019.

The following is from Clive Huxley’s personal journal.

It’s been a whirlwind few days, I still haven’t quite wrapped my head ’round all this. One of the owners of Notts County approached me while I was training my Sunday side and offered me the chance to coach the Magpies. Unbelievable! I was, of course, incredulous to the situation, but took him up on the offer to at least meet and discuss the position. Managing Director Jason Turner was very persuasive and I figured, what did I have to lose? If I fail, I’ll go back to my day job and train that Sunday side again. With the chance to do something I’ve never done before, I’ve resolved to be creative and see where it takes me.

I’m motivator by nature, so that suits me. I can talk up the lads a bit, but I know it’ll be difficult to win them over and get them playing football my way. It’s likely most of the squad has never seen anything like this, they’ll resist, at least initially. I have to expect that. I’d be mad to think otherwise. However, I’m confident, and I’ve told Jason this, that once they see my methods, and the way we can play on the pitch, they’ll come around. They’ll want to play Huxley’s Football.

The local media are rightly questioning the motivation of the club. The owners do want to move this club forward, they’ve assured me of this and I fully believe them. I can see their commitment, but they too want to do things differently. Can we upset the apple cart? We’ve certainly got to try.

How are we going to do this exactly? With my favourite position in football. The halfbacks.

The 3-2-3-2, or ‘Huxley’s Halfback Heroes’

Unorthodox? Absolutely, but there’s a method behind this madness. While it did take a little bit of nudging to convince ownership of my tactical plans, they were on board fairly quickly. I admire their openness on this issue. While at this level, it would be safer to play a 4-4-2, or something equally elegant, I’ve opted for this because nobody is going to expect a back three that only includes one central defender.

The Halfback Heroes when on the ball.

Here’s how I’d ideally like to see it work. On the ball I want us moving quickly and with great purpose. No waiting on the ball, no wasting time, we must always be attacking, always be moving on the pitch, looking and finding the opening.

My central defender will remain back in cover.

The fullbacks will play inverted to create underlapping runs with the wingers who will attack the flanks in wide positions.

The holding midfielders, the linchpin to my enterprise, they will look to recycle possession into the counter, staying slightly deeper. They are key to spreading the ball to the wingers.

My central midfielder will fulfill a box to box role, he’s expected to make late runs into the box, generally finding himself centrally, while the fullbacks find themselves on either edge of the 18 yard box.

One of the forwards will act as a target man with his back to goal. I also want him being able to play in the wingers and the arriving central midfielder. The other will be in an advanced attacking position, looking to play off the last defender.

We’re going to play positive football on the attack with the potential to see 6-7 players arriving in the box if possession isn’t moving quickly enough. However, we want to see the wingers whipping crosses in. We’ve got two strikers. They’ve got heads and feet, we’ve got to find them.

The Halfback Heroes in transition

When we lose the ball, I want the team to immediately regroup. We have to be wary of the counter attack, always. While the halfbacks are expected to drop back to help defend centrally, it will be tough if we constantly press. By regrouping, we allow the entire team time to reshape and prepare to win the ball back.

Once we’ve done that, it’s time to spray the ball around. Get it out to the wingers, let them cross or find the fullbacks making runs in. There’s going to be enough runners and men at each post to make it work. More to do with possession, but working in transition, the expectation is to win set pieces. The more chances we create for ourselves, the better.

The Halfback Heroes without the ball

Once we’ve regrouped in transition, I want use to begin pressing again. Get stuck in, make challenges, be brave. We’ll pick up cards, yes, but teams won’t relish coming to Meadow Lane and taking on these Mighty Magpies of mine. We’ll keep the back three low, as well as the forwards. We’ll still be able to break out from there.

Clive Huxley’s attributes.

So that’s what I’ve been able to convince them of. At least they’ve humored me to this point. I’ve no coaching badges, no experience outside of Sunday leagues. I’m 34 and have worked as nothing more than a data analyst for this or that company over the last 10 years. Now I’m managing the oldest professional club in football, my boyhood club, Notts County.

Life can be wonderful, can’t it?

(Coming Soon: A look at the first team and U18 squads at Notts County and who can be expected to fit into what roles in Clive’s formation.)

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