Goodness me, what a month that was. I had a week between the Maidenhead and Havant & Waterlooville games, and in that time I took the squad on a team building day out. We went to one of those escape rooms where you have to work in a team to get out in time and it really did the boys the world of good. Forgotten were the worries that our form was giving us, for the day at least.
Back on the training ground, I took things back to basics, doing what I could to try and recover some of the free-flowing attacking movement that we had seen earlier in the season. Big Cherno’s return from injury was another boost and our morale, which despite our form, was looking pretty good again.
Hopefully, it would be enough to reinvigorate our promotion push.
Matchday 35 – Havant & Waterlooville v Weston-super-Mare
First up in February was a tough away trip to a Havant & Waterlooville side that had recently been on some fantastic form and who now sat fourth in the table, just a handful of points behind us. We couldn’t afford to let another team into the title race, so this game was an absolute must-not-lose for us.
Despite me hammering this into the boys in the changing room before kickoff, we seemed sluggish and it took us a long time to get going. In front of a partisan crowd of nearly 900, Havant & Waterlooville were playing with a confidence that was eventually rewarded, Ollie Palmer tapping in from close range after a well-worked move by the hosts.
At half time I was calm and didn’t shout at the boys, whose fragile confidence was begging to show again. Instead, I told them I believed in them and felt that the group was capable of doing something special for the fans of Weston-super-Mare AFC. This approach worked, and within five minutes of the restart Cherno Samba, on his return to the side, curled a shot home from 20 yards to restore parity.
Unfortunately, despite a brief period of domination following the goal, we were unable to go on and take all three points from the game.
Nevertheless, after such a poor run of games a good, well-fought draw away at one of our promotion rivals was definitely a good result. There were plenty of positives to take into our next game, also against one of the teams looking to challenge us for the title.
Matchday 36 – Weston-super-Mare v Staines
Staines arrived at the Woodspring seven days later on a run of form rivalling ours in its lack of quality. This, coupled with a strong desire amongst the squad to get one over on the manager and team who had inflicted our first defeat of the season, made me think that we could finally get a win. It had been seven games since we last won, far too long for any club with serious intentions of being promoted.
Clearly, Staines agreed that we were due a win, too, as they didn’t really turn up and seemed to simply roll over against us. For our part, we were absolutely dominant, creating 17 chances to their four. This game was notable for the number of times Samba and Hughes had goals ruled out for a series of questionable offside decisions. By the time Hughes finally scored (ironically from an offside position), we could have been three or four goals up, but we would settle for the one at the moment. After finally taking the lead, we shut the game down well and never looked liked surrendering our winning position. The game was wrapped up right on the stroke of full-time as Josh Wilson, on loan from fierce rivals Bath City, was picked out in the box by Hughes to allow him to score his first goal for the club. It was good to see him score and our fans were happy at last.
With the long overdue win finally under our belts, we also got some good news in the form of a returning Ali Gibb after six months out with a broken leg.
Gibb had threatened to retire when he picked up his injury, but it is a testament to the mindset of the 35-year-old that he has managed to get himself fit enough to play a part in the end of season run-in.
Matchday 37 – Truro v Weston-super-Mare
Fresh from our win, we travelled to Devon to take on Truro City, a team we were very much acquainted with already after they knocked us out of the FA Cup and we drew with them in the league earlier in the season. Then they were floating in mid-table, exceeding expectations as they weren’t being sucked into a relegation battle.
Now, though, they were on a formidable run that had taken them all the way up to third place, just one point behind us. This would be a tough one…
And tough it turned out to be, although we gave a decent account of ourselves. We had the ball in their net early on, only for the pesky linesman to rule out yet another goal for Big Cherno. However, things turned sour soon after as Ben King slid the ball into his own net after good work from Truro’s striker. This was something of a sucker punch and we didn’t respond brilliantly to going behind. Having started well, the own goal sapped some of our confidence and Truro took full advantage, doubling their lead seven minutes before half-time.
A win would send Truro above us in the table, as I reminded the team at half time. However this alone was not enough to see us overturn the deficit as Truro were playing very well indeed. We did manage to take a goal back as Big Cherno collected the ball just inside the Truro half before skinning two defenders and slotting home confidently, but an equaliser just wasn’t going to come.
With that defeat, I can happily say that I have had enough of Truro City. Hopefully, we won’t have to play each other again for a long while.
Matchday 38 – Dartford v Weston-super-Mare
At least our final game in February was, on paper, looking more winnable, and would give us a good chance to bounce back straight away and put the pressure back on Truro and Salisbury.
We had only managed to draw with Dartford earlier in the season, but now they were on a run of indifferent form and, more importantly, they seem to have a habit of conceding a fair few goals.
Having had seven days off, we were fresh and raring to go by kick-off at Princes Park. This showed as we flew out of the blocks and threw everything at a bewildered Dartford defence. Marc Hughes grabbed the first, leaving multiple defenders in his wake before bamboozling the keeper and slipping the ball home. Big Cherno then got in on the act and we were looking comfortable. Dartford did manage to pull one back just before half time, but in the dressing room, the boys were determined not to let the lead slip.
We began the second half as we had the first, exploding out of the blocks to pen Dartford back. This lasted for ten minutes before Dartford began to push back, edging into the game and beginning to threaten to score. As they pushed forward we managed to catch them on the counter. Gavin Whelan picked out Marc Hughes with a great ball, and the Dartford keeper could do little other than watch as Hughes’ shot took a huge deflection off of his leg and into the net.
A good win, and one that keeps us firmly in contention to overtake Salisbury and Truro. In fact, whilst we were playing Dartford, Salisbury played Truro in a top of the table clash, with Truro winning to cut Salisbury’s lead at the top of the table to just one point. Finally, Truro did something useful…
At the end of February, we are sitting third, four points off of the top.
We have Salisbury next month which will be a key game if we are ever going to win the league. Otherwise, we have a fairly easy March (famous last words…) in which we could feasibly pick up maximum points. Truro and Salisbury should be scared; the Seagulls are coming..!
Thank you, dear reader, for getting this far. The next part is coming soon, I hope to see you there!