So, the die is cast…
After nine months of a season that has pushed us to the limits of tolerance, and then some, we’ve finally got to the end game.
All the post-mortems on the season about to end tomorrow will come a bit later. Right now, only one thing matters, and that’s coming away from Valley Parade with three points.
Yes, I know that a draw could do it, and even a loss won’t necessarily condemn us, but this really is it.
It’s been a funny week since Wycombe, hasn’t it? Some people are very nervous, others are more relaxed. But just about everyone wants to get tomorrow over and done with.
Your editor had a very weird stomach bug which made things a lot less fun this past few days, but I now feel strangely calm if still apprehensive.
I’m doing the day job at Luton tomorrow (all sympathies accepted), and Brentford on Sunday, so won’t be writing much up until Monday.
But right now, I feel like I did pre-Wycombe, and even Eastlands and Wombley. A good thing? Maybe.
Let’s get the worst-case scenario tomorrow out of the way first – we lose, Southend and Plymouth do the business and we’re in League Two by the close of play tomorrow evening.
That will feel the biggest kick in the teeth, probably even more than being seven/ten points adrift at various stages of the season.
We have to keep that in the back of our minds, by the way.
Forget ourselves for a minute, and how capable we are of putting in an absolute stinker tomorrow. Plymouth sacked their manager earlier this week, and they may have a shot in the arm against one of the lousiest defenses in the division.
By the sounds of it, Lapado fell out big time with Derek Adams, and you would expect him to be raring to go. Yes, even quicker than when he left our medical room**.
** – though given how things have panned out since, I wonder if his bailing out was more than just him bottling it? Canary in the coal mine, and that’s not a Norwich City reference either.
As for Southend, I bet they can’t believe their luck right now. A Sunderland side that is losing form at exactly the wrong time, who shat the bed at Fleetwood and only won once in the last six games.
Simply put, we cannot rely one bit on either Scunny or the Mackems bailing us out.
Which is why our focus tomorrow has to be 100% on what we do, and forget what happens at Home Park and/or Roots Hall.
Walter’s approach tomorrow seems to be the best one – don’t hype it up or play it down, because the players know what’s at stake anyway.
Our success (or failure) really will depend on how much we stick to what we’ve been doing since March.
Tomorrow is not a time for us to be fancy, or flash, or complacent, or indeed anything out of the ordinary (unless we finally discover our scoring boots and gub Bradford 6-0).
And I don’t doubt W&G have been drilling that into the players this week – perhaps more so than ever.
The squad themselves may be nervous, or apprehensive (I don’t think they will be expecting to just turn up and win, they wouldn’t be allowed to), and this is where I think good management will come in.
Take that pressure – that fear – away, and that’s half the battle.
Obviously, Walter and co can only do so much, and once they cross that white line the players themselves have to take full responsibility.
If you’re a squad member tomorrow, you obviously know how much graft you have put in to get to this stage tomorrow. You certainly know what working environment you’ve been working under.
But you will also know that relegation tomorrow could damage your career.
True, there will be some wearing AFCW clobber tomorrow who won’t be afterwards, regardless. But there will be a few who are staying after all, and they’d want to be L1 players next campaign.
That’s just professional pride, but let’s be a bit more cynical here – there’s a few players who are ninety minutes away from having their wages cut if they balls it up.
Your editor was at Milwall last week, and afterwards their skipper Shaun Williams said that relegation would have cut their salary by 50%.
If that’s the case with us, some of our current squad will hurt more than just professionally if we go down. We’re not the best payers as it is.
So with that in mind, who knows about tomorrow? I guess that’s why I’m a (little) bit more relaxed than I could be.
Relegation will hurt like fuck, but it really wouldn’t be the end of the world. Not as cataclysmic as L2 to the Conference would be, anyway.
Plus, I’ve kind of steeled myself for relegation most of this campaign, even for tomorrow, and I also know that it will also mean a catalyst for yet more fundamental change.
But I don’t want us to go down. Neither do you. Neither does anyone at AFCW. And I don’t see why we should do, either.
You would hope – no, expect – the youngsters in particular to know that they’re ninety minutes away from being heroes at this club.
And I think it really is that simple tomorrow.
Wally Downes doesn’t deserve relegation tomorrow. Neither does Glyn Hodges. The yoof certainly don’t, and to be fair a couple of the older heads are the same as well.
You don’t always get what you deserve, of course, although Walter in particular is in a no-lose situation regardless (stay up and he’s a legend, go down and he was left with too much crap to deal with).
But there will never be a better opportunity to make your own luck than tomorrow against an already-relegated team. With the points and league table and various permutations laid out on a plate for us.
In other words – beat Bradford. Because then everything else is irrelevant…