Do not adjust your monitor, this really is an SW19 update…
Although all games from now on come under this category, tonight’s game is going to be one that will ultimately define our season. On the balance of things, we should win tonight. We’re (still) top of the league, and our West London opponents (they’re not really rivals, are they?) should be put to the sword with them pleading for mercy.
But then, “should” is such a big word, isn’t it? We should win every time we go to Church Road, although we never do. It’s quite possible we finally discover that winning streak we haven’t really put together this season so far – if we’re going to do one, now is not a bad time to do it – and end up winning by a decent scoreline.
At the same time though, this could go seriously wrong. The Footballing Gods aren’t giving us much hope – TB hasn’t even gained a single point there since he left Hayes all those years ago. Not even a single scrappy undeserved draw. Add in the factor that Handy were apparently unlucky to lose to York and by 10pm tonight some of our fans may have to be coaxed down from the nearest bridge.
Of course, title run-ins are full of these little sub-plots. Victories are always welcome, especially when the games are starting to run out. And we’re now in March, which for those who know their history is a rather excruciating time in the race for the top. Remember two years ago? I still have therapy over the St Albans game, when there was a sense creeping in that we could blow it. We didn’t in the end, but that felt a long, long month.
Fast forward to March 2011 and it could go very quickly. What’s different this time round is that we expect Crawley to be a good few points clear by the end of it. After tonight, they have a mind-boggling six games on us, and should they win them all, they’ll be fifteen points ahead. And by that stage, we’ll be mentally preparing ourselves for the first of (hopefully) three playoff games.
Emphasis on the word “should”.
It was interesting to note that Crawley got another late, late goal against Barrow on Saturday. Shades of what the Axewounds were doing in March 2009, too. Late goals are all very well, but as we know ourselves you can’t get away with it too often. Whether that’s the sign of a championship winning side or one that is lucky remains to be seen, but a cursory glance at their fixtures shows they have a lot to cram in.
We talk about our own run of form, but our good friends and business associates from Sussex could find a dip in form to be quite damaging. And their fixtures aren’t easy either (away to York, Kiddie, Fleetwood and Heed for starters), so there could be more to play for than we may think. Oh yeah, and a little game against us…
Fortunately, and you can view this any way you want, we’re not under that much pressure. It would be good – OK, more than good – if we go up, but if we are in the Conf next season we’ll just see it as another season to develop. If you said to us we’d be top at the beginning of March without playing that well, I’m not sure whether we’d laugh or send you to the nearest mental hospital.
There’ll still be blips of course – your editor hasn’t been to a game since Tamworth, but can imagine just how bad Wrexham was this time last week. Although we were due a stinker at home. Get through tonight, and do the same in the deepest North on Saturday and things could start getting interesting.
Speaking of interesting, one reason why there was no SW19 report from the Alty game was that your editor was covering Southend v Northampton instead. Both teams who we could be facing next season, and at least one of them threatens to be a good awayday…
Walking away did leave a couple of startling conclusions. If one casted their mind back to the FAC tie against Stevenage earlier this season, we’d remember what a gap there proved to be. And while I think we’ve bridged that gap with loaning in Gwillim and co, it does suggest we’re going to have to raise our game just to be Northampton’s position. While we’re playing well at the moment, there’s certainly a gap between the Conference and L2.
Both sides’ squads appeared to be a mixture of Broughton-esque journeymen, Gwillim-esque “good solid pros” and Reece Jones-esque Premiership academy castoffs. Plus those from their own academies, of which we have no real equivalent yet. Without going through every single L2 outfit, there’s never been anything to suggest that it’s radically different elsewhere.
We’d certainly need to do some rethinking. There wouldn’t be much opportunity for the likes of Main, Nokkers and Wellard – if they look out of sorts in the Conference, L2 would be two steps too far. DK and Sammy Moore would remain unknown quantities, although both would deserve their chance.
The likes of Jolley, Jackson, Franks, Harris and AN Other would be part of the squad, but would they get any more game time as they do right now? Although one would expect to see more of the Franks and Harris type players rather than the Jolleys getting signed. As for the likes of Brett Johnson, if we do go up, we need to sign him up ASAP. And who knows, perhaps Mulley could be persuaded to sign his name too.
If we’re lucky, we could ape Stevenage and keep their Conference winning squad, but it’s more likely we’ll need to do the same rebuilding as we did last pre-season. The current squad would probably struggle to be honest, although our transfer policy is going in the right direction – if trying to build a young squad on peanuts was a tall order in August 2010, it would be nigh on impossible in August 2011.
We’d still play the loan game, as Southend are planning to do, but they’re kind of forced into doing so as they’re losing £100k a month. Which does make one wonder what kind of losses we’d be making as a L2 side. On the plus side, we’d get more sponsorship from npower, although this gives an idea on prize money (just scroll down, although it’s a couple of years old), so we wouldn’t be fighting poverty.
It will be an eyeopener and then some, probably more so since 2002. The Conference was a kind of eye-opener, but perhaps not as much as it could have been – there are still a fair amount of the Histons and the Altrinchams and the Handys about. There’s no L2 equivalent of Alty – maybe Macclesfield or Morecambe are the closest you’ll get, but as TB said in his programme notes on Saturday, this division is the most polarised anywhere.
We’d bridge that gap, because we’ll make it our business to, but it will make some people grow up very quickly. Just as going from the Conf South to Conf National made us realise that going full time wasn’t only an aspiration but a necessity, going into L2 will force us into properly looking at transfer policy, budgets and scouting. And yes, the long term future of AFCW, especially one that should be a viable League club, will be reviewed yet again.
Last week, the club claimed it was ready for promotion, but that was in reference to happenings off the pitch. We’ll find out sooner or later how prepared AFCW really is, and whether we really are winging it and getting away with it. But as we go into tonight wanting to remain top for as long as possible, we’re more concerned right now about getting there rather than how we’ll settle into life in the proper leagues.
And let’s face it, we sure as hell want to take that chance…