Another weekend, another step forward to safety….
I wasn’t there (which is probably why we won), but Jampot was. His report below, my thoughts afterwards.
It started with the overflow car parking being shut by WUP guestbooker Meadow as I arrived; then the dissipating snow decided it would try to put the game in doubt by falling heavily again; and then we didnâ€™t sell out of Golden Goals. It felt like a forthcoming perfect storm of failure.
And on a day we really, really didnâ€™t need it.
The day we could put daylight between us and the relegation places. The day we could move within 2pt of our pre-season target. The day we could convert, on a Saturday, a game if played on a subsequent Tuesday we might well lose, and/or compound the following Saturday with tiredness and another loss.
The day we could psychologically turn the screw on other relegation candidates, frustrating leaving those without a game behind and heaping further misery on those who failed to win today as they sit tired and depressed in a dressing room elsewhere in the land.
And for around 30 minutes that perfect storm looked pretty nailed on. But one thing we have learnt this year â€“ the hard way at the receiving end is if you donâ€™t take your chances you tend to lose. And despite 3 pretty good chances in that first 30, us scoring the first goal against the run of play, you knew in a way Toast 2 Sardines* 0 was going never going to be in doubt.
OK, none of us are that confident but having got to half time 2-0 up, the likelihood of a Port Vale recovery seemed improbable, and â€“ after an early goal mouth scramble was finally cleared – as the second half wore on it became more and more evident we had at last learnt how to professionally see out a game from half-time.
Clear the lines, play the channels, pack the penalty area with the centre backs at free kicks, and use the elements to your advantage were all pleasing executions of NAâ€™s master plan. Couple this with the excellent return of Antwi, adding more strength in depth in the team again, the team working ethic of Darko and calming influence of Long, and this turned out to be one of the best second halves at KM this year.
Its only failure was to produce another goal for us; but even there it was only an excellent goal line clearance that prevented that, and good save from Pellâ€™s shot.
After the severe disappointment midweek at Accrington this was just what NA ordered, and the team ultimately delivered. Now with a bit of a break we can regroup, consider our plan as we face the fat criminal on Good Friday, with renewed vigour, confidence and knowledge that winning there would be doubly sweet: ensuring our survival I am sure and denting his ambitions yet again.
Plus points: A clean sheet, saved by Sully II; Antwiâ€™s almost flawless return; MMK, suitably man of the match; KSLâ€™s celebration
Minus points: First 30 minutes and 5 minutes at the beginning of the second half; the pitch showing real signs of wear and tear
The refereeâ€™s aâ€¦ short arsed little fella but did reasonably ok. Certainly not quite such a rugby fan as some recently. Brave to give the back pass decision but excellently placed to see the penalty. Certainly better than most but thatâ€™s not really saying much to be truthful!
Them: I think they said 125. And they had a drum. Not that I heard it or them. Except, after GAâ€™s break of the offside trap which leads to the first goal by KSL, a sarcastic cheer when the linesman did give an offside. Otherwise I thought they might have caught an early bus home.
Point to ponder: This was a solid win in the end with players showing the professionalism in the second half that you would expect. But it all hinged on that first goal and if that had been Morecambeâ€™s?
It seems significant throughout the leagues that first goal is so significant. Of course there is a stat floating out there somewhere which shows when we go 1-0 we tend to lose (until recently at least). So thatâ€™s an obvious area for NA to work for the rest of this season, and the next.
Threeâ€™s a crowd: Not quite the 4K I was expecting with nearly all the seats sold; think it was 3900+ so a tad disappointing as it was such a key match. Also explains the failure to sell out the Goalden Goals. However the weather probably put off some, even if we did get a couple of fans from other clubs with cancelled games, like Woking and Brentford
Anything else? Strange how we have suddenly found our home form?
In the last 8 it has been W3 D5 L0. And that includes those games we felt we should have won like Wycombe, Northampton and even perhaps Port Vale. It just shows how significant home form is both to your placing and also to the psychology of the team. Certainly it seems the higher we have moved up the leagues the more shit our home form has become. If NA can turn that around then we may genuinely be within the next couple of years, promotion candidates.
But that is, of course, assuming we do believe we are safe NOW and go on to lose all the rest of the games left for this season, going down on the worst goal difference/goals conceded in the league!
In a nutshell: Weâ€™re almost there, and itâ€™s wonderful, itâ€™s exciting itâ€™sâ€¦. About bloody time!
* Relates to a banner seen at KM saying â€˜Sardines on Tour.â€™ No, I donâ€™t know why as their nickname is The Shrimps!
At this stage of the season, the points matter rather than the performance. And thankfully, that is what we got.
We are now in that rather weird purgatory : we’re not safe, not one bit of it (as Bennett states) but we’re not struggling down the foot of the division. A win and a draw should (and in all probability, will) see us play League Two football next season.
Needless to say, those four points will now end up being the hardest to get all season.
When you look back on things though, this last couple of weeks have been amazing. Before York on the 9th of this month – a mere fifteen days ago – we were unhappily in 92nd place and shitting bricks.
Today? We’re in the same position as we finished last season. In fact, in 2011/12 we earned survival on the 16th April – to do similar this season will mean we do it against Exeter in a couple of weeks time.
We can almost ignore the blip at Accrington, and one wonders if we would have done better if we hadn’t played it when we did. As in, when it was originally scheduled in January.
The game itself could have gone badly wrong, by the sounds of it. A bit of luck, a lot of hard work, and eventual reward does seem to sum up every comment about it, and hearing how professional we were in the second half is almost as pleasing to hear as us scoring more than four goals in a game.
I’m not too sure if there’s much else to say this evening. We’re not there yet, so we can’t wax lyrical about staying up. We have a comfort zone of seven points, which is still a bit precarious, but one of the teams has to play two other sets of strugglers, and the other team in the relegation zone still has to win three of its home matches to catch us up.
My own gut feeling is that we’re one very good weekend away from survival – two at the absolute maximum. By that, I mean we win and the other teams below us lose. With luck it will come sooner rather than later, as I really don’t fancy having to go to Priestfield to get a result.
One suspects that NA wants safety ASAP, and he may think that if we can go from bottom to 16th in just over a fortnight, we can get the right amount of points in six more games. I doubt if the players will be getting it easy, although you suspect the likes of Bennett, GA, Sully jnr and Pell won’t be slacking off.
This weekend, it properly fell into our own hands. We should survive, indeed there should be a few throats slit if we don’t. It does sound like our work ethic is in full swing, and even if you believe a lot of this squad is all right to survive but nothing more (like SW19 does), at least it knows how to grind out results these days.
And right now, we need that as much as anything…