Five games left. Within touching distance of glory. This is unprecedented territory for the club, the fans, the players and – most of all – me. Whatever happens, come full time against Dover in a few weeks time, I will have gnawed all of my fingers to the bone with worry.
Matchday 44 – Weston-super-Mare v Welling United
Welling United were the first team we face in the run-in at the end of the season. Welling were floating precariously above the relegation zone and were in the kind of form that suggested that they weren’t too bothered whether or not they stayed up this season. Whilst I outlined my belief before that we do better against teams in good form, I still had an inkling that this game would go well.
What can I say? We got the win, we were utterly dominant and could have won by more, but the 1-0 scoreline pleased me nonetheless. It didn’t seem like it would necessarily be a happy afternoon for us, though, as first Brian King missed a penalty before both he and Marc Hughes were carried off injured. Jamil Adam and Ali Gibb replaced them, but the pattern of us dominating the game without scoring continued right up until the 71st minute when Big Cherno finally rammed home to hand us the win.
We could have made things easier for ourselves but, in the end, a win is a win. Also, no matter what happens in the next four games we will at the very least be competing in the promotion play-offs. But let’s not think about that, let’s keep looking at making the top of table our own..!
Unfortunately, Brian King will be playing no more part in our season after pulling his hamstring during the match. The same goes for Marc Hughes, who must have taken an almighty knock as he will be out for a number of months after tearing his calf muscle.
This prompted me to dip into the transfer market for one last signing. Wilson from Bath was adding nothing so I sent him packing. In his place, I brought in David McMillan, yet another Irish player. Here’s hoping he can make an impact before the end of the season.
Matchday 45 – Sutton United v Weston-super-Mare
So with a depleted team, we rocked up at Sutton United hoping to continue our recent good form and really take a big step towards promotion. We had only managed to draw with them earlier in the season in a game chock full of frustration. The same thing couldn’t happen again, could it?
No, this time, we contrived to lose to the buggers. They took an early lead, and although we went at them like a wounded animal we were unable to break down their defence before half-time. I was angry, but I have seen Mike Bassett and I know what happens when you lay into a team. Instead, I put on my best ‘disappointed’ face and stayed silent. The lads knew what this game meant to the club and to their future careers. Nothing more to be said. Big Cherno took the game by the scruff of the neck and scored immediately from kick off, but still we couldn’t make the telling breakthrough. The game descended into a scrappy affair and two of their players were forced to leave the field through injury. Just as I was gathering up my jacket from the dugout to go back to the changing rooms, Sutton broke suddenly and smashed home a late, late winner. Bugger.
Matchday 46 – Weston-super-Mare v Eastleigh
Ugh, what a horrible trip home. The fans clapped us off the pitch, but we knew we had blown it. Three games to go, Truro two points ahead of us, and now we have the toughest game of our run in, a home tie versus big spending and in-form Eastleigh. What hope was there?
Perhaps I should pay more attention to my theory about facing in-form teams. Whatever it was, we somehow pulled off one of the best results and performances of the season as we thrashed Eastleigh 4-1 in front of 448 loyal Seagulls fans.
It could have all been so different, though. We began brightly, but Sacha Opinel contrived to score a calamitous own goal after 23 minutes to set the nerves in the Woodspring jangling. Luckily we have Big Cherno Samba, a man with balls of steel, nerves of steel…he’s good. He took the game by the scruff of the neck, scoring another of his patented offside goals before finally getting on the scoresheet for real, running with the ball for 20 yards before slotting home. Just six minutes later we had taken the lead through Brett Trowbridge who slapped a screamer into the top corner from 25 yards out. We were now 2-1 and cruising, and things got even better as David McMillan marked his first start for the club with a vital, vital goal.
The half time dressing room was a nice place to be. The boys were high on confidence, so I just told them to carry on. The second half was less impressive, but we still controlled the game well even if we only scored once more, McMillan again proving an astute buy as he slipped the ball underneath the Eastleigh goalkeeper to round off the win.
And even better, as I returned to the dressing room after the full-time whistle my assistant ran over to tell me some more good news…
Maidenhead had scored a 90+1 minute winner against Truro, who had had a man sent off. We were top of the league again by a single point!!
Matchday 47 – Chelmsford City v Weston-super-Mare
The whole season comes down to these last two games. Just 180 minutes of football remain between us and an opportunity to lift the Blue Square South title. Can we hang on?
Well luckily Chelmsford had nothing left to play for, having been comfortably mid-table and decidedly average all season long. We just had to hope that our injury ravaged squad could do the business…
Of course they could, of course they could! We took Chelmsford apart in their back yard, scoring three without reply to get within touching distance of promotion. Harpal Singh, not known for his composure or goal scoring, got us off the mark with a well-taken goal. After half time a Gavin Whelan strike and a Ben Kirk penalty wrapped up the points for us.
We had done our bit, and again we heard the news that Truro had dropped points as they could only draw against Boreham Wood (I’ve always loved that club…).
Another club that had done their bit was Paolo Di Canio’s Swindon who wrapped up the League Two title having led the division for the majority of the season. What a day!
Matchday 48 – Dover Athletic v Weston-super-Mare
So this is it. We know what we need to do. A win or a draw will guarantee us the title, barring an extremely unlikely fifteen goal swing in Truro’s favour if we draw. If we lose, Truro can take advantage if they win. Simples.
We play Dover Athletic, a team playing well who don’t concede many but who don’t score loads either. Truro play Staines, a team who caused us trouble early on in the season and who have the capacity to beat anyone on their day. It was going to go to the wire.
We had a week to prepare for the game, which we used effectively:
Brilliant. So with Singh out, I had to bring in Ben Cleverley on the left wing. Big Cherno started up front with new signing David McMillan. Gavin Whelan and Ben Kirk played in the centre of the pitch, with Brett Trowbridge out on the right. Our back line remained unchanged from the Chelmsford game, with Sacha Opinel, Jak Martin, Simon Gilbert and Liam Darville starting in front of Paddy Gamble. Naturally, we were lined up in my tried and tested 4-4-2 (here’s why, if you’re tempted to object).
So, to the game. In the changing rooms at Dover, I gave the boys my final team talk of the season. I told them to go out and play for the fans. I told them to play for the club, for themselves. I asked them to play for me. Tears were shed.
But the boys were inspired and ran down the tunnel ready to fight tooth and nail to get their hands on the trophy which, rumour had it, was in a helicopter above the Crabble Athletics Ground, Dover, ready to be flown to Truro’s game at Staines if events panned out in a certain way.
Things didn’t start well as Truro shot into a 1-0 lead after just eight minutes putting them level with us. This was fine, they would have to score 15 more before they had a better goal difference than us.
Then, to compound matters, Cherno Samba picked up an injury and was forced to withdraw from the game. With things going as badly as possible, Dover then decided to score through Shane Huke. This was bad. For a moment we had dropped to second place and Truro were going to win the league.
Thank the footballing gods for penalties, though! Truro were in first for just two minutes, as straight from kick off we attacked and Jamil Adam won us a penalty, which Ben Kirk duly converted to level the scores and put us back on top on goal difference.
We made it to half time without incident and upon entering the dressing room were met with some good news – Staines had equalised in injury time! Now we had some breathing space and the news put big smiles on the faces of the team.
The remainder of our game was relatively uneventful. Neither team had enough about them after a long season to really push and create proper chances. We had half chances, but we weren’t able to really threaten and put the game to bed to secure the title. Over in Staines, a cagey affair exploded in the last ten minutes. First Truro took the lead again, putting the pressure on us again if we were to concede. But whilst our defence held strong, theirs again buckled as they conceded a 90th-minute equaliser.
It was confirmed with the final whistles across the Blue Square South…
WE WON THE BLOODY LEAGUE!
YES! YES! Some fans were kind enough to give me some of the plaudits…
…as were the board, who were so deliriously happy that they even agreed to look for another parent club for us.
For those interested, here is the final table. As you can see we couldn’t have been much closer in the end. Truro pushed us all the way and were worthy opponents. Still, though, I hope they get beaten in the play-offs. Next season will be hard enough without them in the same division as us…
There was also some cheer for our fans as it was confirmed that our fierce rivals, Bath City, had been relegated from the Blue Square Premier. It is a shame that we won’t get to play them next season, but in the words of Nelson Muntz: “ha ha!
Here is the rundown of our March results. A decent enough month, although things could have been much less nervy had we not lost a late winner against Sutton United. Ah well, I shouldn’t complain.
And finally, just for those interested, here is the final Premier League table.
So, there we have it. A successful first season as a manager that has brought Weston-super-Mare AFC a surprise but welcome promotion. Next season we will play in the Blue Square Premier, the highest level that the club has ever played at before. Join me next time when I will be revamping the squad in time for the new season. Expect singings. All the signings.