In a way, I’m thankful I wasn’t there yesterday. It’s getting really difficult to write the same stuff week in, week out right now. Fortunately, one of the SW19 bureau (thanx JP) came up trumps. My comments afterwards.
Heading out to the match I absent-mindedly grabbed the only â€˜jumperâ€™ I have on the go. Ironically it was my hooded sweatshirt, bought at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The logo on it was poignant:
â€œFailure is not an optionâ€ (Gene Kranz, Flight Director NASA)
It recalls the Apollo XIII rescue operation in the American Space programme and though today we didnâ€™t fail, nor did we succeed. We did what we always seem to do in big games like this â€“ under perform.
Truthfully, Apollo 1 Soyuz 1 was to be expected. The two meanest defences in the league with their striking prowess blunted by injury, non-availability and transfer dealings suggested anyone with a Golden Goal ticket of Player 1 or 2, Minute 87, 88, 89, 90 might feel excited.
Yet you hoped for more. News on arrival was Dsane was in the dressing room at 1215h; the glorious day was bringing out the large support we craved as 12th man; Margate (the match we had to watch) had as tricky a tie against Ashford Town (Mx) who were fighting possible relegation; and the team selection encouraging with Roscoe starting; Wales on the wing; Gell in midfield; and Goddard, Oâ€™Leary and Shroooooot (the boy wonder) all on the bench. Only Butler S at the back was a slight disappointment as Howard was injured.
But then it all went wrong. We lost the toss. And you know what happened.
Yep, play towards the Tempest End first half. Shit. Ok, mad to think it really matters but we DO play better that way, and exceptionally so in a second half. So my trepidation turned slightly to fear when on 5 mins Heybridgeâ€™s No 3 hit as sweet a 25-yard free kick as we have seen this season over the wall past ALâ€™s at his near post. Either AL wonâ€™t want to watch it on DonsOnline or something was wrong â€“ our players and bench went ape-shit after but I donâ€™t know why.
Suddenly, already, we were chasing the game, not something we are renowned for at home. Fair doâ€™s we upped the tempo immediately but it just seemed up the football into the air for a game of head tennis. High ball after high ball to the diminutive Dsane wasnâ€™t bearing fruit and, I was just noting down whether playing Dsane from the off was the right idea when he created the penalty.
For once a teasing high ball just over the defenderâ€™s head by Garrard saw Roscoe 3 yards on side suddenly then 2 yards beyond the defender who kindly took him down. 1-1 from the penalty spot. Surprisingly just a yellow for the last defender (see ref comment below)
So onward we pressed. A bit more head tennis but we were slowly getting to grips, starting to really play a bit on the deck with 35 mins on the clock, and creating the odd half chance or panic in the Swifts defence.
But then – for not the first time this season – half time got in the way and destroyed, in effect, any chance we had to win the game.
For in the second half, if truth be told, it was like two toothless tigers scrapping over a bone that neither of them would be able to eat even if they managed to get hold of it for more than a second (possession was at a premium for either side).
The ball was forever in the air and what was worse was going down the middle (why not the channels as normal, guys?) feeding the big centre backs. Hope of a change in tactics came when Shoot replaced a slightly off form Wales; Oâ€™Leary replaced the defensive Gell; and Goddard took over from the cramped up Dsane. Yet for that all we had was a long-range shot from Garrard and a speculative drive by Shroot over the bar. You just wondered though, if Shroot had taken that last free kick just outside the area, what might have been with the week heâ€™d had? Maybe, just maybe it might have been one of those amazing twists of fate.
So the season ends at KM as it started – an unsatisfying draw. We didnâ€™t win, we didnâ€™t lose.
The draws are what have killed us again this season for converting just a few would have meant us challenging H&R for the title. Perhaps those who champion we should go for it more are right but we will never know. What is apparent is today the team did try but lacked the guile to get through a well-marshalled defence.
It did make me wonder if Jollyâ€™s absence had more to do with HS worrying about his ability to embarrass them than anything to do with the agreements. You just felt we needed his ability there today on the pitch when he got the ball. But then again he isnâ€™t much taller than Dsane is he?
Plus points: We didnâ€™t lose. Effort from the players. Butler & Lorraine superb. Margate drawing. Crowd over 3300 takes home average gate over 3K
Minus Points: Not winning. No ability at keeping the ball below 6ft when â€œpassingâ€. No â€˜chicksâ€™ at the game.
The Refereeâ€™s a â€¦: Generally had a good game except he bottled the sending off (the penalty) My ref assessor friend said: â€œLast man. No one else was going to get there, were they? Straight red. He bottled it.â€ The other odd thing was he seemed to give 8 straight free kicks to Heybridge at the beginning of the first half, then gave us 8 at the start of the second. Spooky.
Them: Big, physical with an occasional flash of skill. Another team set up NOT to lose rather than win. Can see why people said without Jolly theyâ€™d struggle to score. Apart from the No 3â€™s strike donâ€™t think they had a serious shot on goal. Mind you nor did we.
Competitor watch: Thankfully, Margate only drew, though it was better that they were losing at half time. H&R will wrap up the title on Tuesday if they beat Heybridge at home, after their 0-3 win at Leyton. The other crunch match was Bromley v Billericay that saw Bromley home 1-0. Chelmsford snuck home only 0-4 at doomed Slough.
So that means the best we can achieve now if results go our way is 3rd. Us, or Billericay I think are the only two now who could lose out to Margate (who are away at Hendon). Billericay are at home to Leyton and weâ€™re at ETU.
Point to ponder: Are our players such automatons that once they get out on the pitch any instruction etc HAS to come from the bench? Weâ€™ve a lot of experienced players out there (both league and non-league) yet when things donâ€™t seem to be working no one has the balls to try and force a different style of play. The substitutions had some impact on our style of play but surely someone could have seen before then things werenâ€™t working the way they should. A manager does his job in the dressing room; the players have to do it on the pitch.
Truth is stranger than fiction: 1) Apparently God is 80 years old this year. According to Vincent Jones, the late lamented Syd Neal, who died at the age of 84, was 4 years older than God. Nice minute silence for Syd impeccably observed. 2) Do â€˜minute silencesâ€™ upset the build-up before the game starts, â€˜chilling the atmosphere?â€™ 3) Was the man of the match award to DA a token of thanks, or sarcasm? 4) That it will be ETU who decide the fate of our season again like last year (for those with short memories the late late win over them ensured we had the chance to make the playoffs)
Anything else: How we could have used a few of those â€˜excessâ€™ goals against Slough in recent matches.
So was it worth it? Well itâ€™s still in our hands though I think weâ€™d all feel better not having to go to East Thurrock knowing we really need to win. But hey, this was what we fought for in 2002 and 2007 wasnâ€™t it?
In a nutshell: To quote our esteemed Ray Armfield: â€œDo you realise that could be the last competitive match we see here for 4 months?â€ Over to you DA.
My â‚¬0.02 worth. The worst thing about this result (when I received it as a text message at 5.05pm yesterday) was how predictable it was. I said to myself “I bet we scored first and let it slip”. Reading what happened, it could have been much much worse. Thank Satan for RDS, otherwise the KM pitch would have to be sealed off for blood contamination
We’re still in a shout of not only getting into the playoffs but still with all possibility of finishing third (with not one but two KM games). The big problem is that right now, nobody really feels it. Hands up those who think ETU will beat us next week? More than a couple. Hmm. It’s hard to share some peoples’ optimism that somehow it will all turn out right in the end : by the sound of it, we’ve actually got worse.
While everyone wants out of here ASAP, there’s also a feel that we just want the season over with, and give it another shot next year. Events since January have taken a lot out of people, and a summer to recharge ourselves looks really quite attractive right now. It must be the hot weather.
What’s hurt most of all is that when we got it reduced to 3 points, we didn’t kick on and annhilate everyone in sight. For the first time, the majority (or very large minority) don’t want DA around next season. Another season like this will seriously test peoples’ enthusiasm, and AFCW can’t afford that. Recent results have reflected too many games in the past two seasons, and the joke is starting to wear thin very quickly.
DA’s tenure seems to be winding down, and it will take the miracle of winning the playoff final to boost it up again. I read about slanging matches between our bench and people in the JS, and DA’s post-match comments that he’d quit if we didn’t go up are highly, highly significant. It was the first (semi) public statement that he knew his job was on the line.
The bottom line is that we shouldn’t be scraping in the playoffs on the last weekend of the season. Last season I thought we were lucky to be in them, yet still secured them with a game to go. This time I think we’ve got the better squad, and had the better individual results (Chelmsford, Bromley, the FAT games) but on paper we’ve got worse.
Chances are we probably will be in the playoffs, and chances are we’ll end up getting through to the final. But christ, it shouldn’t feel like a chore….