Up until a couple of weeks ago, the game at Broadfield tonight was shaping up to be the ultimate Clash Of The Season™. The nouveau riche of Crawley Town against the humble hard workers of AFC Wimbledon. Good v Evil. Light v Dark. Wrong v Right. Competence v Non League football…
Amazing what a set of poor performances and results can do, isn’t it?
For a contest that pitches up first against second, it’s been a pretty low key one. The only bit of contention has been the ticket arrangements, where Crawley decided to issue home and away end stubs without any distinguishing features. Cue between 200 and 800 (depending on who you believe) Wombles popping down the M23 and aquiring some from the home end. All with no questions asked.
Fortunately, common sense has eventually prevailed, and Wombles with home end tickets can stand in the away end after all. It’s easy to sneer at Crawley and that despite all their money they remain non-league at heart. But this really was a Staines-esque cockup and a half on their part.
Trying to limit away supporters to gain an advantage is nothing new of course. We do it ourselves, although we are genuinely limited to 800 at KM (come on, do you really think the AFCW beancounters would turn down 2000 Luton fans turning up?). But it’s backfired on them a bit, and with luck it will come to haunt them tonight.
The emphasis though is on “with luck”, because right now it’s hard to see anything better than a draw tonight. Seriously. Recent performances have either been, or have sounded, pretty shite, and worryingly shite at that. Kiddie last Saturday may have been a pivotal moment for some, as for the first time I can remember since he got here, the first real doubts over TB surfaced.
True, there’s still about six weeks to go of the season, and anything could still happen. Mathematically speaking, we could still win the league, but “mathematically” is a code word for “sodding unlikely”. If Crawley were to collapse right now, you really would need to bring in the Fraud Squad.
Since Saturday, there’s been as much talk of whether we’ll actually be in the playoffs, which is really quite unsettling. Especially when you consider we’re second and nine points ahead of fifth with the same number of games.
Then again, last season’s slump still weighs on our collective minds. And unlike twelve months previously, the excuses we came up with for it don’t apply. We’re now full time, not part time. We train x amount of days per week, as opposed to the twice-weekly (at most) when we were still amateur. We haven’t done too much chopping and changing to the squad, and yet history seems to be on the verge of repeating itself.
So, is TB’s job suddenly on the line? No it’s not, and he’ll be here next season even if we do end up sixth. But for the first time since perhaps his first season, he’s under legitimate pressure. A loss tonight won’t damage us any more than normal, but yet another poor performance will start to raise questions on his motivational skills.
Which is really what tonight is all about. If any team needs a confidence boost right now, it’s our good selves. A win tonight will make everyone feel good for the next week, although it won’t really win us the title. We lost that last week against Kiddie. But even a good performance and a “brave” one goal loss will at least make us feel happier as of late.
Our real issue from now until the end of April is what we do after tonight. Even a barnstorming and heroic victory tonight will mean little if we revert to recent type against Rushden. It’s all very well for TB and DK to hint this week that we’re up for it, although Lee Minshull has taken a more measured approach, but the squad does need to prove it’s not just paying lip service. Not just tonight, but for the next seven games.
You can fully justify why the mood is a little sour right now. To go from first to second is kind of understandable, but to go from first to something like fourth isn’t. No, we haven’t done that right now, but it doesn’t look as mathematically uncertain as one may think. For all the talk about “overachievement”, no team worth its salt should ever slip away like that. The club itself is planning for promotion, as Erik Samuelson states today:
“Promotion is this season’s aim,” Samuelson added. “We’ve got a very good young team and we’re doing our utmost to reach League Two. Beyond that? Who knows? We have already done what many thought impossible.”
Somehow, you get the impression that the club may not be as forgiving as some of the supporters are.
A point was made earlier this week that TB may be starting to panic a bit. His dream of managing a team to the Football League is looking a bit less likely right now, and our club is an ambitious one. If one can find the last PLC accounts, it states pretty clearly that the League is where we need to be sooner or later.
So TB does need to start producing the goods, and overcome a hurdle that he’s never been able to vault over. It does seem like he’s been rebuffed (so far) in trying to get another loanee in, which may in itself signify a hardening of attitudes at AFCW. Time will tell whether he does make that jump into the League, although we’ve yet to see whether the answer comes in May 2012 or May 2011.
Which is why Steve Evans’ attempt at mind games earlier this week hasn’t quite worked out. Mainly because it happens to be true, even if reluctantly accepted. But then, this whole week has been even more low key than one may expect.
OK, you can’t really compare it to the build up of the home game, which if we’re being honest went a bit OTT. And I’m not sure it did us much good in the long run. After all, how many times have we reached those heights since this campaign?
This time, there’s been no bloodletting, no t-shirts printed, no commemorative fanzines telling us that Steve Evans is a convicted criminal and should be hiding from Big Bubba in D Block. Granted, he’ll get some stick tonight, but it will be more pantomime villan-esque rather than anything else.
Tonight has become one of those hope-for-the-best games. You want us to stick it and prove we’re still alive, but at the same time you won’t be totally surprised if we’re 4-0 down at half time. Think Oxford at the Kassam last season, and the pre-game thoughts before that.
A point would be great, three points would be even better, but a loss will have a degree of inevitability about it. It’s not the fiercely contested title-race clash that Premier Sports hoped it would be, but that doesn’t matter. Tonight, it’s simply about how we perform.
But then, twas ever thus…