Well bugger me.
OK, that’s more an exclamation of surprise rather than a request, but it’s true – we managed to extend our season after all. Much merriment was made, not to mention one or two bets now need to be settled.
It must be a big occasion as I’ve got two reports. Firstly, from Jampot…
It’s never easy with AFC
So we got to the playoffs with a combination of lack of purpose (beyond ensuring we did not lose this one) and Plymouth somehow finding another goal to draw at Cambridge having at one stage been winning there.
Darius Charles then 0 Darius Charles now 0 really did show how much Darius Charles has helped us since his arrival and with Robinson, Kennedy, Fuller and Roos they were the only ones really at the game today.
So in line with the quality of the game we immediately can go to..
Plus points: We didn’t lose. We’re in the playoffs. Kelly Roos who twice saved during Stevenage’s one meaningful attack all game.
Minus points: Anywhere between about 0 and c 80 mins when Bayo came on and we actually looked like we cared a fuck to go forward
The referee’s a…: homer. Gave them pretty much everything.
Them: Pretty shit but did at least try to pass the ball on the ground to each other, though the patterns they performed would have been more appropriate to a patchwork knitting convention.
The crowd is I think MAN OF THE FUCKING MATCH to have put up with that shite. It really was that bad except in defence. If it hadn’t been for the occasion I really cannot see 1129 AFCW fans would not have vented their frustration.
Point to ponder: The Volunteers away day contingent still await seeing their first win since we have been in the league.
Truth is stranger than fiction: Somehow AFCW made it to the playoffs this year. End of.
Anything else? Play the leavers and the kids next week against Newport and give the ever present players a rest for fucks sake Neal. Take them aside and start working them on how we are going to score goals to go any further…. as a team. The strikers cannot do everything themselves!
So, was it worth it? Guess so for a different day out.
In a nutshell: Played shit but still in there – still a sign of a team that has matured and still has a chance.
And from STTA…
So off we headed up the A1M, many of us with some trepidation. Stevenage hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds and they’re much improved of late.
We were also in a tricky position, should we twist and try to secure 7th spot without concern for other results or should we stick and make sure the most we need against Newport is a point?
We set up 4-4-2. Our usual personnel with Francomb returning on the right side of midfield and Rigg replacing Barcham on the left.
The first 45 minutes was uneventful. We had more of the possession but as has been the trend of late we produced very little quality in and around the oppo box.
Having had the better of things we very nearly fell behind on 37 minutes. A cross deep into our box went over the defence, was headed back across goal and Roos did very well to block attempts as both Luer and Parrett tried to scramble the ball home.
On 40 minutes we lost Jake Reeves to what looked like a recurrence of his hamstring injury. This was later confirmed as a problem with his glute, either way I’m not optimistic Jake will back in time to play any further part in this season.
Half time arrived and news from The Abbey was good, the same 0-0 scoreline between Cambridge and Plymouth meant our play-off place would be confirmed if nothing changed in the 2nd half.
And nothing much did change in our game. Lots of huffing and puffing, misplaced passes, poor touches and non-league finishing. Our best chance fell to Sean Rigg , his shot barely had enough momentum to get to their keeper let alone trouble the net.
Then cheers went up in the rammed Dons end on 70 minutes, Plymouth had taken the lead at Cambridge. It seemed this news had also reached our bench as Lyle was instantly withdrawn and the Beast rolled out.
Ten minutes later and Cambridge had scored twice, they now lead 2-1 and thoughts turned to a nervous week ahead with Newport on the final day. However, as long as we didn’t concede in the last 5 minutes we’d only need a point.
We stood firm at the back and just as the ref blew for full-time in our game another roar erupted amongst the womble hoard that could only mean one thing – Plymouth had equalized at the death and Cambridge were cut adrift.
As the players approached us signals of the 2-2 scoreline went up and then that the final whistle had blown. The Dons were in the play-offs.
Cue dancing, hugs, cheers, applause and one or two tears – and that was just Neal Ardley.
Plus points: very solid defensively. We’re in the fucking play-offs.
Minus points: the goals have dried up. Jake’s injury.
The referee’s a…: didn’t notice him… much the same as the game.
Them: reminded me of Hartlepool. Clearly better for a change of manager, organized and hard working with very little talent.
Point to ponder: have we lost a bit more than just defensive solidity with Jon Meades injury. Callum hoofs it where Meadesy was comfortable carrying the ball forwards or cutting inside and bringing the midfield into play. We’re certainly playing less football with Meades and Reeves out the side.
Where for us now? The play-offs yes indeed (forgetting a pointless fixture against the Taffs next week). Do we have any chance? Well yes but a slim one as a look back at results against our likely opponents will confirm.
If Tuesday against Pompey was a good guide to what type of game we’ll see in the play-offs then the game at Stevenage maybe gives a clue on how we might set up.
With five strikers on the books it’s odd to say our defence is our strong point but since Darius’ arrival it’s true.
We will need to set up this way in the play offs, no 4-3-3, no diamond midfield. A standard 4-4-2 with somewhere near our best XI and we have a chance. This defence can keep clean sheets, Bully and Connor can shield them and if our strikeforce can find the odd goal that’s our route through.
The supply line problems are for later but I suspect there to be major changes in that department whichever league we find ourselves in next season.
For now we should enjoy our achievement (as this may well be the peak). And it is an achievement whatever some of our permenantly disgruntled fanbase believe.
To go from the side he inherited in October 2012 to a team with a serious chance of promotion in May 2016 is a great return from Neal’s 3.5 years in charge.
I note the “As the players approached us signals of the 2-2 scoreline went up” comment in the second report – not sure if it was the scoreline or the usual greeting to the players by some of our support…
So, we’re in the playoffs. And I have to admit, I genuinely didn’t think we’d do it until Dagenham.
Sure, we were putting on some consistency, but at the very least I would have expected one or two other clubs to take it on with us.
The fact that it turned out to be Cambridge who, let’s face it, had to pull off a minor miracle to overtake us pretty much demonstrates what SW19 has said for eons – it is a division that is much of a muchness where budgets are a red herring.
And when it’s that, all you need are some workable tactics, the proverbial great team spirit and just the odd bit of luck here and there.
Plenty will be sucking NA’s cock right now, not just the usual fanboys, and for him this is a vindication of sorts. He’s suffered a fair amount of brickbats (most of them deserved, TBH), so you can’t blame him for celebrating like a loon after the game.
Those who saw him trudge almost defeatedly at half time at Newport last December will have wondered what changed, both for him and the team.
The second half at Rodney Parade saw us come back in a way that we’re still living off now. We’ll never properly know what happened in that break, or indeed what transformed us since.
Were various positions under genuine threat? Not just on the field, either. I still believe to this day that our fortunes changed when the sports psychologist came in, and you shouldn’t underestimate how much just a simple change of voice works.
Granted, we’ll also never properly know what could have been if he hadn’t decided to be all clever with his three up front bollocks, but then perhaps it needed THAT Stevenage game and THAT first half at Newport to finally say enough was enough.
Whatever happened, it’s led to this. Blips aside, usually when your editor turned up to games (I’ve seen seven AFCW fixtures in 2016 and we’ve only won one of them), our consistency has got us in the playoffs.
And for that alone, we deserve to be in them.
Whatever happens now is a nice bonus. I saw it described over the weekend as a free hit, and that’s basically what it is. We’ll be the rank outsiders, and with no small justification, though it’s the playoffs and anything can happen.
Our opponents will either be t’Stanley, Brizzle Rovers or Oxford, although it doesn’t really matter which one we get in truth. All will be tough and we’ll have to be on top of our game twice to get through.
Some will believe that finishing fourth may devastate the team that dips out, although that does assume that said team doesn’t have the mental strength to pick themselves up.
Your editor covered Oxford in the JPT Final last month, and their manager said something along the lines of they’re going for automatic promotion because they don’t want to have a second trip to Wembley.
Whoever we play will likely have that mentality, and if we underestimate that the first leg will be out of sight quicker than you can say “Wembley tickets”.
So yes, it’s a free hit. It’s a lottery, and you need a ticket to win it, and other such cliched bollocks. Come to think of it, Newport this Saturday becomes a bit of a no-lose contest as well.
Perhaps time to give many of the fringers a run out? There wouldn’t be much harm in resting Taylor and Elliott, and anyone else with a niggle should be given the day off.
We’re losing a little bit of momentum anyway with the last two results, so it’s not like we’re not breaking up a steamrollering team.
Actually, Saturday will be a bit strange insofar as it really doesn’t matter what happens. We could lose 6-0 and it won’t dampen the collective mood.
OK, it shouldn’t do, but some people seem to get personally offended when one of our players misplaces a pass.
But enough of all that. We’re in the playoffs, perhaps unexpectedly. The best thing to do is simply enjoy it and not worry about whether we win or lose.
It might be a springboard to the next stage of the AFCW story. Equally, this might be as good as it gets for a while. Either way, it’s best to die trying…