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The Railway children

This really isn’t good for the ticker, this season.

Even your editor could feel it, and he was 200+ miles away at the Amex. Where some self-styled “Against Modern Football” cliche types unveiled this banner for some reason. Needless to say, it didn’t quite go down well.

While that was going on, Warton Womble went to Gresty Road with notepad and pen. My views afterwards, but for now…

After Railway Men 3 Tube Men 3 I’d imagine the journey down the M6 was a fun one – last minute equalisers are brilliant if you’re the one scoring them.

In truth, the match demonstrated the very best and worst of us at the moment. At times we played really attractive football, with Hatton, Knott and Sammy Moore linking well on the right, Moncur, Toks and Sammy Moore in the middle and Jack Midson and Jason Euell darting off each other. Hell, we even passed to players on our own team once or twice.

And we scored first.

Doesn’t happen that often these days so I thought I’d enjoy it. We even looked good in the opening 8 minutes. Then the inevitable personal error, from the usually reliable Seb Brown, who flapped at a speculative shot and we’re back to 1-1. Worse, we capitulated the first half quicker than a Franchise fan leaves SW19. Between scoring in the 7th minute and the whistle going for half time, we were played off the park at times.

If their first was an individual mistake, then it was collective poor defending which led to their second just 2 minutes later. And so we managed to go from an early lead to being a goal behind within 5 minutes.

We settled down a little after that and huffed and puffed without ever looking threatening – although Billy Knott’s opening goal was a really good example of shooting on sight (as promised on the OS) it looked like nobody else was going to risk it. They moved the ball well, and managed to let Seb prove he hadn’t totally forgotten how to punch.

However, on 30 minutes, the ball was crossed into our box and we didn’t deal with it – unfortunately, Greg Pearson hooked the ball over his head to make it 3-1, and those of us in the away side (not end – but I’ll get to that later) got the feeling it was going to be one of those days.

We struggled to half time, and, after a bright start to the second half, it looked like it would be more of the same. This seemed to be confirmed when the ref awarded a fairly soft penalty in the 58th minute, after Jamie Stuart, who looked better than when I last saw him play at Bradford, made contact with Nick Powell in the box. The ball was placed to Seb’s left, but he got down and saved well. And that brought a bit of belief back into the squad.

Chris Bush was replaced by Hoyte, who looked about ten times faster down the left, and no worse at being a left back. With that pace and belief, a midfield which worked hard for each other, and a few more shots on target, we could suddenly see we might get something out of this game.

We started shooting again. Tentatively at first, but working the keeper. Then, in the 81st minute, Sammy Moore cut in from the left, beat a man and let rip a screamer from 25 yards, and we felt like the game was there for the taking. But we still had to get the third.

It came after Midson crossed to the back post in the 92nd minute, and Jolly (who came on for Euell) nodded home to send the Dons back to Euston happy.

Now I could write about how inept we were at the back in the first half (very). I could go on (and on) about lack of focus, at times, from everyone. I could even grumble about the lack of shots on goal in the first half. And sat in the away side after 60 minutes, that was what I was composing in my head.

But actually, despite all the crap that we demonstrated, this was an excellent result, because there was a real performance on display. It’s just a shame we had to wait for an hour to get it.

The midfield look pretty strong these days; Billy Knott has made such a difference, and Sammy Moore once again played his socks off. Toks has stepped up a gear, and Hatton and Stuart look better. But I still worry about what will happen when the loanees go home – well, Billy Knott at least. I’d sell my left kidney and my right bollock to keep Billy Knott a Don for life.

The others? Still on probation – Jason Euell had some good touches, but still isn’t match fit; George Moncur showed good awareness at times and had a few shots at goal, but hasn’t set the world on fire; Hoyte is twice as fast as Bush and looks like he might be a decent player, but he’s lacking confidence – I’d give him a good run out personally, although TB doesn’t seem to be that impressed.

And given he was quoted as saying he was desperate for him to score, bringing on your record signing with 15 minutes to go isn’t really going to help him.

Plus Points: The comeback. Billy Knott and Sammy Moore. MMK looked strong and Sammy Hatton and Jamie Stuart looking more like League 2 players. A little bit. Certainly, with Jamie Stuart you get a little more talking on the pitch and that can only be a good thing. The substitutions had an impact too. And at times we played some really tight football.

Minus Points: The first hour really…

The Referee’s a…: hmmm. Their penalty was soft, no doubt about that. When Jamie Stuart isn’t even spoken to, let alone carded for the challenge, you know it’s soft. Also failed to give us pretty much anything, including a couple of (admittedly fairly dubious) penalty shouts. Frustratingly, he also started brandishing his card for good tackles, but there you go.

Them: Looked like a good outfit at times, but their fans and the manager were angry about the way they let us back in – it’s the kind of thing we normally do… There wasn’t really anyone of their players you’d have got your cheque-book out for, but for all that they’ll be pushing for the playoffs come May.

Point to Ponder: After Tuesday’s performance I was actually looking forward to a strong defensive display, so 10 minutes in had ruined that. But why is it that we can’t seem to score without conceding? It should be possible. Other teams seem to manage it. But we can’t seem to do it. And it’s all very well Terry Brown saying we won the 2nd half 2-0 – I don’t want to have to win the 2nd half because the 1st was piss poor.

Three’s a crowd: It really narks me, but clubs need to think more about away fans. I hate not being behind the goal at away grounds. I mean really, it’s not like they didn’t have the seats available, given capacity is probably about 11,000 and the attendance was 4, 240. And yet away fans were spread along the touchline instead. It meant that the normally non-stop singing from away fans was missing, and it was harder to get a sense of the fans as a unit. Frustrating. Good pies though…

Anything else? Not really.

In a nutshell: Another point closer to safety and the big rebuild…

This is one of these occasions where one is genuinely in two minds what to think. And both arguments end up cancelling each other out.

By that, I mean the thought process that I have right now about it. It’s a case of “yeah, we won, but we shouldn’t have been 3-1 down to begin with”, or “yeah, we were 3-1 down but the way we came back was magnificent”.

Both have a strange symmetry about them, and both are perfectly accurate viewpoints to take. The most important thing of course is that we got yet another point towards the completion of Operation Survival. As far as the remainder of this season is concerned, that’s all that matters.

Had you asked me this time last week whether we would go to Cheltenham and Crewe and be unbeaten, I would have patronisingly patted you on the head, secretly changed your will to include me in it and passed your details to Dignitas. In fact, this is what I actually wrote after Morecambe:

If we can go away from Cheltenham, Crewe and Hereford with just one defeat, that will help us a lot right now. Needless to say, an unexpected win will be a good bit of stimulation for the ego. Play like we did for (most) of today, and we stand a good chance of doing that.

So we can guarantee a loss at Edgar Street next week, then.

I would say we’ve got a bit of luck, but we’ve used up a lot of it this season already (PV at home, Gills away, sure you can think of a couple of others). And yes, comebacks are a mixture of luck and inner belief. There was something almost inevitable about the result after Seb Brown saved that penalty, and I expect those there will tell me that with just five more minutes we could have won it…

Good fortune or not, and whether you think our current setup and personnel should be here next season, we have a massive chance this next fortnight to as-good-as secure safety for next season. The fixtures have more or less fallen on our lap here – Hereford, Plymouth and D&R are all below us, and you’ve got to expect 5 points minimum as mandatory (I have an odd feeling about Plymouth already and reckon it might be quite an unpleasant evening).

Psychologically at least, we have no excuse not to get that anyway. We did go to Cheltenham and come away with a clean sheet, and yesterday tells its own story. If we don’t do the minimum expected from the next three games then we really are a genuinely dire side and deserve to be in a relegation dogfight.

This said, there does seem to have been a general upping of game recently, off the pitch too. I won’t wax lyrical too much about how our OS updates have improved 1000% plus since Chris Slavin took over. But this week we have found out that we’ve been putting in extra shooting practice, and that maybe might have helped get a seemingly unlikely point yesterday.

Whether there really have been words said (as suggested after Cheltenham) or not we’ll probably never know. And if we do secure Operation Survival by  this time next month it will be interesting to see our form afterwards. It may be a demob-happy reaction, although equally it might match the one in our first season in the Conference…

Yeah, we’re papering over the cracks that simply have to be sorted out during the summer, and watching their goals on Sky Sports News last night was depressingly familiar. I still don’t think TB will take us forward next season, and if he is to stay he must have a full time defensive (and probably goalkeeping) coach as a mandatory obligation of employment. And somebody not currently employed by the club either.

Right now though, we can put that off. I expect we’ll be reminded of that at least a couple of times more from now until May, but we may finally – finally – be limping towards the finishing line this campaign.

And for now, that will do…