OK, I don’t usually do midweekers, but after S&M 2 H&Y 0 I feel moved to put fingers to keyboard.
Simply put, if we find ourselves as champions at the end of April, this game will have done as much to secure that title as winning games against the likes of Chelmsford. Tonight, my worst fears almost got confirmed : the layoff saw a lot of ring rust, together with a sloppy performance with little of the swashbuckling and verve we’ve shown in recent weeks. Add to that the inevitability of a shite performance due and somehow you think we slightly got away with it tonight.
But if this was Manchester United overcoming a Wigan, or an Everton at home, we’d all be saying that that’s Yernited for you. That’s what they do. We played a team who closed us down to good effect at their place and stopped us playing, and coming away with a win. Tonight, they did the same and this time a bit of luck got us through. Their keeper fumbling in the best way possible was luck. Getting a penalty is always fortunate in a way, and to this day I never consider them “proper” goals. We misplaced the ball too much, we looked nervy, and we should have come a cropper.
I’m pointing this out, not only because it’s stating the obvious, but I’m signing up to a theory that I’m sure some sports psychologist has written in a book somewhere – the theory of demoralisation. Think about it : right now, you’re a Chelmsford fan and you’re having a quick read of this site (and I know they do). You’ve seen your team play horribly over the weekend and lost. You’ve now found out that the team you’re chasing has won its game in hand. Worse still for you, they’ve scraped through without a major lynchpin in midfield. While you’re obviously still expecting a slipup, when the final whistle blew tonight a little bit of your title chasing dream died.
Think back to last season when we closed the gap (albeit not by much) on the leaders, then we slipped up and they didn’t. Imagine how you felt when you heard that last season, the opposition had a game just like ours tonight. You never gave up hope, but deep down, you were already making plans for an extra week at the end of the season. A quick look at February 2008 showed that we had just come off the back of throwing the game away against Tonbridge at home, followed by that horrible Boreham Wood defeat. Granted, we made up for it a bit with a good win at Horsham, but the psychological damage had been done by then. Especially when Chelmsford were getting results at Carshalton, ETU and Wealdstone. Although this time last season, we were playing Torquay and CCFC had just been gubbed by AFC Coldseal….
It’s worth keeping an eye out on the reactions of those chasing top spot in the next month. No doubt there will be the usual comments that there’s still a long way to go and there’s plenty of points still on offer. That’s very true of course, and the title is never won in February. But can it be lost? If there’s talk that we’re just a two man side, that we’re really there for the taking still etc etc then it’s obviously psychological warfare. But as we know ourselves last season, there’s talking yourselves up because you think you can do it, and acting like you know you can do it. We did a lot of the former last season. I’m definitely starting to feel the latter this season.
Tonight may have just been the most massive result of the season so far without realising it. H&Y are not a bad outfit, they’re within striking distance of the playoffs themselves, and should they get in them could cause a few raised eyebrows. Losing Mark Sambrook (though thankfully not seriously by the sound of it) was a blow, and poor Sam Hatton obviously had too good a birthday party on Saturday. Boy, do we miss Dwayne Lee as well. This said, I did think we finally started to control the game to how we should be doing it with 15 minutes left. And I’m a big critic of our defence, but tonight it started to do what it also should be doing – no sloppyness, booting it away to safety when possible and do its own demoralisation of the opposition. Not to mention Jason Goodliffe’s indian summer…
Also, the H&R manager plus a few players were there tonight. Were they there to experience an atmosphere tonight? Like many, they are a dark horse and the one team who I think could really put us out of joint if we’re not careful. Wins like tonight certainly help our cause. Obviously, every game this season is important, but we get H&R right at the end of the season. That could be absolutely massive, or it could easily just be as irrelevant as a PSF.
At least we have the ability – and the league position – to render that game irrelevant. Just imagine having to face H&R in March? Or Chelmsford? OK, I know we have to go to Eastleigh, but all the other teams are now ever so slightly starting to realise they’ll run out of games before they know it. They can’t afford to slip up now, any of them. And they do have to face each other at critical times of the season, too. From what I’ve seen, Chelmsford, Eastleigh and H&R are quite similar in standard to each other. It’s perfectly possible that they could start taking points off each other, and providing we don’t lose on those particular matchday ourselves, our task becomes just that little bit easier.
Anyway, tonight was the result what we wanted with the performance we feared. It’s still far too early to get excited about winning the league. Anything can happen and most probably will. But somehow, somehow, a small step forward was taken………