Happy New Year everyone! After the win against Thurrock, we allowed the lads a day off to rest up, as we only had two days before we faced Basingstoke at the Woodspring. Whilst they were away I went into my office to file away some paperwork and prepare for the game. As I approached my room I saw Trevor Benjamin standing by my door, looking determined.
I invited him into my office, and he informed me that he wished to leave the club in order to gain some more regular first team football. I reminded him that we have a busy few weeks coming up and that he was my back up to big Cherno, but he had his mind set on leaving. We agreed to cancel his contract and parted on amicable terms. Trevor would be missed – he was a good presence in the dressing room and had chipped in with some important goals – but, at his age, he needs to be playing as much as he can before he has to retire. Best of luck to him.
Matchday 30 – Weston-super-Mare v Basingstoke Town
As soon as Trevor left, I got right down to plotting our way past Basingstoke. We had comfortably beaten them at their place earlier in the season, and given our conflicting fortunes in the recent past, I couldn’t see too much hassle from them this time either.
The game got off to a good start, with Ben King scoring early on with a free-kick. It looked as though we were going to run out comfortable winners in the opening period and I was confident. Unfortunately, this good feeling didn’t last as Big Cherno hit the ground hard after a meaty challenge from a Basingstoke defender. It was immediately clear that he was in pain, so we took him off and sent him straight to the hospital to get his chest looked at.
This clearly hit the team’s rhythm and Basingstoke were increasingly able to get a foothold in the game, eventually equalising right before half time. Despite some encouragement from myself, I was unable to rouse the boys to force a winner, and the second half played out as a drab affair. We hit the post a couple of times and were wasteful from corners. When the final whistle went, I had to admit that we hadn’t deserved the win.
Dropping points was annoying, but the news from the hospital was worse:
Matchday 31 – Weston-super-Mare v Woking
Luckily for us, we welcomed Woking to the Woodspring next. Woking were another team that we had thumped earlier in the season and were on woeful form coming into the game. All things suggested that we wouldn’t miss Big Cherno too much.
How wrong I was. We started the game as if nothing was wrong at all, with Brett Trowbridge taking Samba’s place on the score sheet and hammering in a couple of beauties. At half time spirits were high and we were coasting. Looking back, we were clearly not giving Woking the respect they deserved and the boys weren’t really listening as I reminded them that the game wasn’t over.
Straight after kick off Woking scored, setting nerves jangling and giving a nasty shock to our complacent players. We kept them at arm’s length well, but without Samba we didn’t have much of a cutting edge with which to punish them. In the end, we were punished for this bluntness as Elvis Hammond equalised before Jamie Griffiths struck a late winner for the visitors. I threw on Marc Hughes to try and force an equaliser but, after only minutes on the pitch, he was carried off with an injury.
Hughes, I was told, would recover for the next game, but the worst was to come. Despite not complaining during the match, two-goal Brett Trowbridge had landed awkwardly on his knee and would be out for a month at least.
With the team dropping like flies, and without the reliable back up that Trevor Benjamin provided, I had to bring in a replacement. Not wanting to waste money on a permanent signing, I looked for loans. Unfortunately, very few players were willing to join us, despite our lofty league position. The only striker available was Josh Wilson of our fierce rivals Bath City.
Knowing the fans wouldn’t be happy, I nevertheless decided that for the good of the team I needed to bring Josh in. He joined until the end of the season and, whilst the fans grumbled they did at least see the sense in signing some extra cover. Hopefully he would perform for us when needed, otherwise, his time here could be tough…
Matchday 32 – Dorchester v Weston-super-Mare
Games were coming thick and fast now. Four days after the Woking defeat we made our way to Dorchester. They were sitting in 17th position in the table but had enjoyed something of a purple patch, winning two and drawing one of their previous four games. We, on the other hand, had been knocked back on our heels by Woking’s comeback.
Dorchester clearly saw that we were there for the taking and went on to land a damaging blow to dent our promotion push. We did well to score zero in this game in which Dorchester belied their poor league position to put us to the sword. It could have been many more than two if not for the form of Paddy Gamble in goal who played like a cat possessed by Lev Yashin between the sticks and ended up earning the man of the match award. He was the main reason that it took Dorchester so long to score, holding them off until the 80th minute before a stunner from Sebastian Broomfield left him with no chance. Broomfield grabbed his second three minutes later to condemn us to our second successive defeat that saw us drop to second in the table. To top it off, Wilson played dreadfully and was derided by our fans when I hauled him off just after half-time. Brilliant…
Despite the dire performances so far this month, I was still able to take solace in the fact that we remained in the promotion picture. Our rivals had overtaken us, but they were not winning consistently enough to put out of sight. Hopefully, we could stop the rot soon and start putting more points on the board.
Matchday 33 – Eastbourne Borough v Weston-super-Mare
Eastbourne were a tough prospect, especially coming off of a run of poor form. They had won three of their last five and were making an unexpected push for the play-offs. We hadn’t even scored in our last game, underlining how important Samba is to us.
We did at least manage to stop our run of conceding goals, as we battled to a 0-0 draw that could easily have gone either way. We lost left back Sacha Opinel to injury in the second half but managed to keep a solid back line. Unfortunately, our misfiring strikers were unable to take advantage of our attacking play, something that is seriously starting to worry me. We were knocking the ball about beautifully a few short weeks ago, and now we look like a team that hasn’t ever played together.
Still, at least we didn’t lose. Plus, the point moved us slightly further away from Truro who are rapidly eating up the distance between us and them in the table. We need to start winning soon.
Matchday 34 – Weston-super-Mare v Maidenhead
A home game against Maidenhead, that’s what we need! We had knocked five past them when we met last time, so maybe we could do another number on them to get back on track? Even better, they were on a two-game losing run and had dreadful moral, whereas ours was still reasonably good.
I sent the boys out in high spirits, hoping to blow Maidenhead away quickly. Things looked to be going our way when they had a man sent off for a dirty challenge after only 15 minutes. Surely this was a sign, we had to take advantage! We were dominant, we created chances, we hit the crossbar four or five times. We looked again like a team who were challenging for a title rather than relegation battlers!
Somehow they held out until half time. The boys looked determined and confident that the win would come. I massaged their egos a bit and tried to give them some more belief before sending them out again. We were going to do this, I could feel it.
Two goals in quick succession midway through the second half proved how misplaced my optimism was. Even when Gavin Whelan grabbed one back, we never looked like completing the comeback. Maidenhead were confident and shut the game down well, restricting us to long shots and allowing us to do as many of our utterly ineffective corner routines as we fancied.
This is really getting bad. We have had a dreadful month, picking up just two points and, even worse, scoring only four goals. We were going to have to have a serious turn around next month to undo the damage we have just done to our promotion push. The press are starting to ask questions about whether we will now fall away into mid-table. I will not let that happen. Also, whilst we have been faffing about this month, Truro have stealthily caught up with us and Salisbury have extended their lead at the top to six points. It will be tough to beat both of them, but perhaps we can still do it.
Next month we only have four games, meaning we will be able to get a good bit of recovery time in between every single game. This can only help as it will allow us more time on the training ground where I can work with the boys to get us out of this slump.
Come back next time, if you can bear it, to see if I am able to turn around our poor form and take us back to the top of the tree..! Thanks for reading!