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The season starts here

It was nice in the blustery April sunshine that it finished Nestle 2 Findus 1, because it was a good way of ending the campaign. It was good to see Luke Moore on the scoresheet, that apart from him going off nobody is suspended or crocked, and it did give people to give a fond farewell to Jon Main. And winning is always a great feeling.

But right now, it’s not particularly relevant.

Just like that, yesterday is another season, and we’re about to embark on a new one from today. Everything that has happened from Southport away until the Mariners at home is now history. Forget the rather crappy time we had between January and March, that’s now consigned to the DVD that will come out. The win against Crawley at KM is but a distant memory (christ, it was a distant memory when we were stumbling against Darlington). Mind you, so was the loss against them…

Which is why we shouldn’t really pay too much attention to form tables, and how we did in this season just finished. When we face Fleetwood on Friday, the 1-1 and 1-0 games won’t matter, because they’ll be coming from a clean slate and so will we. Much in the same as IF we got to Manchester, our smash-and-grab at the Racecourse and Luton gubbing us won’t mean a lot either.

We may be behind Fleetwood in the form table (we’re second by the way), but form won’t be of much use now. It’s now down to individual moments of brilliance and mistakes, of who wants to be a hero, and who doesn’t want to have drinks bought them the rest of their life.

In other words, we are no longer in a league – we’re in a cup.

Now, admittedly that’s not a good omen. TB is a damn good manager in the league, but his cup exploits suck. Anyone who remembers some FA Trophy “performances” will know that. And looking back over his Aldershot days, we’d better pray we don’t end up with a penalty shootout at Eastlands…

At the same time though, we overcame the Turdeyland playoffs. Now that was even more difficult to win than the ones we’re about to enter – at least we have two bites of the cherry in the semi-final, and the glittering prize this season won’t be played with home advantage. So we can do it.

And the reason why we came through it back then? We treated it as a new season – our form back then was pretty wretched, but we knuckled down and remembered why we were up there to begin with. Our form at the end of this… er, last season has been good, but it has masked some pretty lousy games before then.

So it’s all to play for. I suppose yesterday was the last in our pre-season “friendlies” that the last couple of games have become, and things do look promising in that what-do-we-do-when-it-really-matters manner.

No, there won’t be much on the game. It doesn’t really matter now, and I was doing the NLP report so you can read that instead. And left me cursing Premier Sports even more than ever…

Plus points: We won. Mostly intact for the playoffs. Played quite well in parts. Nice relaxed atmosphere. Luke Moore’s goal. Feeling we would probably go up a gear if need be.

Minus points: Conceding. Luke Moore’s knock. Bit crap towards the end.

The referee’s a…: I’m struggling a bit to remember anything he did. Which can work either one or two ways.

Them: Grimsby are a team – and a club – who you wouldn’t be surprised to see in the Conference in 2018. A bit like York City now seem to be a permanent fixture in this division, and indicative of how the power shift at this level of football (including League Two in that) has evolved over the past decade.

If you think of the sides coming directly from L2 that have escaped back from the Conference – Exeter, Carlisle, Doncaster, Oxford to name but four – they all had an air of transition about them. You always knew that Oxford would be back in L2, you expect Luton to do the same, though hopefully not this season. You don’t feel that with the team who put six past WFC at Blundell Park…

Actually, they’re a very good lesson for AFCW, club and fans alike. As you’re casting your minds back to that particular drubbing – SW19 wrote about it from back then if you want reminding how things used to be – that was nine years ago. When you stagnate, you tend to fall down the divisions because the rot sets in. A reminder for any AFCW fan complaining we’re trying to push too far, too fast.

As for yesterday, they played well enough. Could have equalised, but I think that was more down to us going off the boil a bit and not wanting to get hurt or suspended. Mind you, apparently we did similar up there, and we all know what happened. Oh, and four of their fans (one of whom was a recognised troublemaker) went in the KRE and made a bit of a nuisance. Just in case you wonder why sometimes the bars get closed for away supporters…

Point to ponder: And this will probably be the last time I will ever write this – wither Jon Main? Yesterday’s cameo was a mark of recognition for him, but it was simply the closing of the chapter. Yes, he tried hard, everyone sung his name, and people are genuinely upset to see him in an AFCW shirt for probably the last time.

I know he expressed a desire to be involved in the playoffs with us afterwards, but personally I hope he doesn’t. To do so would just be a mark of sentimentality, and the likes of Mo, Luke Moore, Jolley and even Nokkers are more likely to win the vital next three games for us. Take out the emotion of the occasion and if we’re being honest, he wasn’t that good yesterday. Certainly not the effective gamechanger that he was against the Axewounds when we needed him most, anyway.

Come to think of it, could yesterday have been the passing of an era in more ways than one? We all know the club will change if we go up, and not necessarily in a bad way either. But if we don’t, keeping the likes of Seb, DK and Hatton becomes that bit trickier – it’s not something that AFCW fans have had to contemplate since 2002, but the more we want to be where we were pre 28/5, the more we have to accept what 99.9% of fans have to put up with.

To this day, I still remain unconvinced we fully replaced Chris Hussey, though I wouldn’t object to see Gwillim with us permanently. We would be tested in a way we’ve never been before if we lose DK for example. To replace him would start costing some pretty serious money for this level – you would need somebody like Alan Connell (who scored yesterday for them).

No, this isn’t the situation we had in the RP playoffs, where we really did need to get out of that poxy league. Losing players of that quality is more Learning Curveâ„¢ than disasterous, and our scouting suggests that it’s in hand. But the AFCW that will line up next season against either Stockport or Southend will be just that bit different…

Truth is stranger than fiction: (1) Is the regular season really over? Was it really this time last year your editor pissed off Gateshead and went to Millwall instead because he wanted to see a decent game for once? Twelve months really do make a difference. (2) Realising the next game actually matters. If it hasn’t already, the news reaching your bowels will occur on either Tuesday at 11am, Wednesday at 1.45pm or Thursday at 4.15pm, depending on your disposition in life.

Anything else? OK, it’s time to say it – what was the point of awarding a Runners Up trophy and medals? It’s only worthwhile if it’s two automatic promotion spots – if you’re going for a playoff, it’s like the third place game in a major tournament.

But then, it’s a very Conference thing to do. Don’t get me wrong, securing second place with 90 points, considering everything, is a good achievement this season. But it’s only the start – I bet I wasn’t the only one who saw our players receive their medals and feel just a little bit  hollow inside. Yes, silverware is always nice, but don’t pretend that the one in three weeks time isn’t a thousand times more important.

Actually, perhaps they award it because finishing between first and third is a jinx? Only Hereford from memory have ever won through after finishing where we have, so as usual the omens don’t look good. It’s a bit of a strange statistic, and it’s not really easily explainable why it’s the case. Do the runners-up push so hard that they’re gone by the time the extra games come about?

We’ve certainly not pushed Crawley, not that we really needed to after the middle of March. If anything, knowing we weren’t likely to win the title seemed to co-incide with one of our better spells – though as pointed out earlier, the form guide now goes out of the window.

Nobody could say we’ve been “gone” within the last month, although nobody else has really scrapped for a playoff place. Our attitude seems correct, our confidence is as good as it has been during the campaign just ended. And thankfully we have a full squad.

It may be stating the obvious to the point it offends people, but the notion that the playoffs are a lottery is probably more true this year than most. Normally, you get a fair idea who will reach the final, but this year you can’t predict it – Fleetwood v Wrexham is as plausible as us against Luton.

Maybe it is the year that the second placed jinx finally gets broken? It’s that kind of year after all…

So, was it worth it? Nice day out. Bit windy, though.

In a nutshell: Three more games.