Ok chaps, this is it. We have seven games (six this month, one next month; great work fixture computer..!) left to decide our fate for the season. Will we gain an unprecedented promotion and take Weston-super-Mare to new and ever greater heights, or will we stumble and fail like a newly born deer that has been thrust unexpectedly into a professional dance competition? There is only one way to find out…
BUT before that, there is the small matter of a crucial Euro 2016 qualifier to be decided. England and Russia are neck and neck in their qualification group and – in this crazy, crazy world – only the team that finishes top of the group gets automatic qualification. Can the Three Lions do one over on the side that stopped them going to the World Cup in Brazil and take a huge advantage into the rest of the qualification campaign?
Nah. The game was poor watching as England wilted under the pressure of a capacity Wembley crowd. Russia, by contrast, rose to the occasion and grabbed all three points thanks to Denis Glushakov’s early goal.
Roberto Mancini has his work cut out now if England want to qualify for the tournament in France…
Away from the optimism and hope of England, we had a league to win. We started a crucial April against mid-table Burton Albion…
Matchday 48 – League Two – Weston-super-Mare v Burton Albion
Burton were in good form but seem to have let themselves drift a bit over the Christmas period. At one point they were challenging for the automatic promotion spots but, as it is, they have fallen away somewhat and are now slap bang in the middle of the table with nothing much left to play for. We, on the other hand, knew that we just needed six more points to guarantee our automatic promotion. We had our eyes on the prize. We were focussed. We were playing some mugs from Burton at the Woodspring, this would be easy.
We lost 0-1 (#foreshadowing). It was a classic Weston-super-Mare match in that we created a huge number of chances (20) without putting many on target (3). Burton were equally blunt in attack but did at least managed to score one of their two shots on target as Billy Kee scored moments after the restart.
I worried about this at the end of last episode; would the loss of our two best strikers (Bob Holmes suspended for two games, Wesley Said injured for weeks) mean we lack the cutting edge necessary to seal the deal and win promotion? On this evidence, the answer is yes. Olli Sara and Steven Howarth struggled to get on the end of the chances we created and our midfield, which can usually be relied upon to pop up with a goal or two, didn’t do much better.
Our first crucial game and we lost it. Not to worry; we still have plenty of chances to win promotion yet…
Matchday 49 – League Two – Aldershot Town v Weston-super-Mare
Luckily for us, we only had to face a thoroughly in-form Aldershot Town side in our next game. Four wins in their last five, loads of goals scored, not many conceded. What could go wrong?
Their manager, Dean Holdsworth, got in on the pre-match goss by claiming that we are real contenders and could hurt Aldershot’s promotion chances. This was an interesting tactic from Holdsworth; usually opposition managers slag me off without having ever laid eyes on me and then they end up losing. Hopefully he is right and we will manage to get past them, by hook or by crook.
With just three days between the Burton and Aldershot games, I did as much rotation as possible in order to maintain some fitness. Still without Bob Holmes for one more game, Sara and McDermott started up front. Alex Diabate started on the left, Simon Feindouno was out wide on the right, but the rest stayed put. We needed to win this game. We needed to…
We lost 1-0 (#foreshadowing), this time to another 49th minute goal from a previously shonky striker. The parallels with the Burton game, however, stopped there. Whilst against Burton we had create numerous chances that our strikers just failed to finish, against the Shots we managed a paltry six efforts in total, without a single one on target. Aldershot, in contrast, were excellent, created a host of chances, and were unlucky to end the game with just the one goal. It was a testament to the hard work of our defence and goalkeeper that the Aldershot strikers were restricted to just the one goal.
Towards the end, in an effort to force a goal, I threw on Howarth and freshened up our midfield to try and inject some creativity into the side. This had literally no affect at all on the outcome of the game, however, and Aldershot cruised to an important three points.
This is getting bad…
…OK not that bad, but it is still a worry that we have failed to score a single goal in our last two games. We may have guaranteed a play-off spot, but we are in danger of losing our grasp on top spot or worse if we carry on in this vein. Would this be the biggest bottle job in Weston-super-Mare history?
Matchday 50 – League Two – Morecambe v Weston-super-Mare
Luckily for us, Bob Holmes was back from his suspension just in time to face rock-bottom Morecambe. The Shrimpers have been dreadful all season and are rooted to the bottom of the league. Should they fail to win this game, their relegation to the Blue Square Premier would be confirmed. Should we fail to win this game and I will be very, very annoyed…
Last season we officially became professional, but in case anyone doubted it, this performance put them to rights. We were clinical and efficient. Bob Holmes was at the centre of everything good that we did going forward and it was his intervention that worried James Fry enough to turn the ball into his own net to make the score 0-1. Not to be complacent, however, we continued pushing for a second and got it after 26 minutes when Liam Conway, starting in place of the tired Alex Diabate, poached his first goal for the club by slipping the ball under the keeper from close range.
We were two up and comfortable. Morecambe were having a complete nightmare on the pitch and everything they tried seemed to be cut short by a poor pass or touch. It was clear for all to see why they were less than 90 minutes away from relegation, but for the remainder of the first half they did at least keep us at bay.
The second half, however, was a different story. We came at them quickly in an effort to break their will and turn the game into a procession rather than a competitive fixture. Bob Holmes was excellent and got the goal that his good play had deserved just twelve minutes into the second half as he nodded home a Liam Conway cross.
Conway was having by far his best game for us and underlined that by putting on another goal for Holmes just six minutes later as his through ball released Holmes to rifle home his second and our fourth.
At this point, Morecambe fans were streaming from the ground and they weren’t wrong to do so as three minutes later, Alex Diabate – on for the excellent but knackered Conway – popped up with our fifth of the afternoon to really rub their faces in it.
After the blitz of three goals in under ten minutes, the game settled down in exactly the way we planned. All the fight had gone from Morecambe and they were just biding their time before relegation was confirmed. However, our goal-scoring wasn’t over just yet. Diabate and Holmes were both hungry for more goals and it was some good play between the two that led to our sixth goal. Holmes slipped the ball out to Diabate who ran with it towards the Morecambe right back. Diabate beat his man, then tried to square the ball to Holmes to complete his hattrick. Unfortunately for Holmes, Barry Roche was in the right place to intercept the pass. Unfortunately for Barry Roche and Morecambe, all he could do was divert the ball into his own net.
Bam. There you have it, as complete a win as you will see and an excellent return to form after two games that really had me worrying. For the first time in ages we took a lot of our many, many chances. We created 20 of them (again), but this time we put ten on target and six into the net. I was pleased.
Morecambe were less pleased, but then 28 points is a pathetic total. Should have tried harder…
Matchday 51 – League Two – Weston-super-Mare v Dagenham and Redbridge
So, with our demolition job fresh in the memory we returned home to prepare for the visit of Dagenham and Redbridge. We had already taken revenge on the dastardly Daggers for our FA Trophy defeat at their hands two years ago. This time, we just had to play for promotion. Win this game and we would have so many points that we could not drop below third place. Win this game and we had won promotion to the third tier of English football, something that this grand old club had never achieved before. The dream land was so close. We just had to reach out and touch it.
We did more than touch it, we gave a right old thump! What a way to seal promotion; with a 5-2 home win. Our play in the first half was electric and we had the game wrapped up and finished by the time the referee blew the whistle to signal the end of the first half.
Captain Barbosa started proceedings by firing a daisy cutter into the bottom corner of the net from outside the box. Ten minutes later, Bob Holmes turned a defender inside out before curling a shot into the far corner to double our lead and, just four minutes after that, right-back Vladimir Rusnak powered home a header from a corner for our third. We weren’t done there, though, and only six minutes after Rusnak’s goal, Holmes got on the end of a Captain Barbosa cross to tap home his second and our fourth.
It had been a breathless first half so we slowed up somewhat and took a breather, seeing the half our comfortably to the “oles!” of the crowd after every completed pass.
To say we had become complacent was accurate as, despite my best efforts during half-time to keep the lads focussed on the task at hand, Dagenham and Redbridge started the second half the stronger side, eventually forcing Claus Larsen into giving away a penalty. Billy Bingham scored it and briefly the Daggers seemed to be threatening to come back into the game. Luckily we are made of stern stuff and substitute Simon Feindouno did his best to quell the belief in the Dagenham team as he smashed home our fifth on 79 minutes.
This all but condemned Dagenham to defeat, but they still had one last shudder of life left in them as, two minutes after Feindouno’s goal, Alex Osborn netted to make the scoreline a bit more respectable.
That was that, though, and the game was won when the referee finally put the whistle to his lips and blew nine minutes later.
We had done it.
“Undoubtedly one of the best managers around”. That’s me they are talking about.
Even the board, who haven’t exactly been my biggest fans since the announcement of our financial issues, had to grudgingly admit that they were happy with our promotion. And why shouldn’t they be when it will provide us with a much larger portion of the Premier League’s parachute payment money?
Everyone was mighty pleased, but my attention had already turned to securing ourselves the League Two title. Rachel Greenley gave me some excellent news when she informed me that Norwegian Mo was yet again fit and healthy.
Perhaps even better news came in the shape of a returning David Hruby who had been out for nearly three months. Hruby’s injury had coincided with our stuttering recent form so to finally have him available for selection again was a relief.
Matchday 53 – League Two – Tranmere Rovers v Weston-super-Mare
Fresh from our promotion party we travelled up north to take on Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park. A win in this game would put us within just a point or two of the title. Rovers didn’t seem as though they would be offering much in the way of resistance, although they did have a huge amount to play for. They were in poor form and were balancing precariously above the relegation zone. They couldn’t afford to lose. Would they pull a crucial result out of the bag?
No, in fact they were listless and didn’t really offer up much resistance as we rolled them over comfortably. On this showing, they might well be heading down this season…
We, on the other hand, are on the up and up. Olli Sara opened the scoring with an excellently taken finish from the edge of the area. We harried them constantly in the first half and were first to every ball. The problem was, Roy Burnell took this a little too far and managed to hurt himself in a challenge as he won the ball back in midfield, forcing him to come off. To adjust to this misfortune I brought Norwegian Mo on and put him out on the left with Alex Diabate moving into the centre of the park. The injury and subsequent changes meant that our momentum was somewhat interrupted but at least we didn’t let Tranmere back into the game.
Half time was all about making sure the boys kept their focus and saw the game out. We needed these three points to help us stay ahead of Notts County, and I made sure they knew that. Perhaps it was my inspirational words, perhaps it was the manic glint behind my eyes that told of a man close to the edge of sanity. Whatever it was, the boys went back out there and did an excellent job in restricting Tranmere to long range efforts that didn’t trouble our goal. We also created a decent number of chances to put the game to bed, although it wasn’t until the 70th minute that Norwegian Mo finally tapped home to seal the win.
We had won and now just needed to equal or better Notts County’s result in our next game in order to guarantee ourselves the league title. We were so close I could almost taste it…
Of course we would have to go the last two games of the season without the influential midfield presence of Roy Burnell who had sprained his wrist and would be out for two weeks.
To balance out this bad news, Wesley Said returned to full training slightly earlier than expected, meaning that he was in line to potentially play a role in our title deciders.
As would Steven Howarth who had returned to fitness in ridiculous time following his sports hernia. That said, four goals in eighteen appearances meant that it was more likely that he would be spending the next two games on the bench at best, but let’s just be glad he’s ok.
Matchday 54 – League Two – Weston-super-Mare v Wycombe Wanderers
So this is it. Probably, anyway; we could lose this game and the title race could go down to the next game against Northampton, but let’s stay positive. All we had to do was equal or better Notts County’s result and we would be crowned champions of League Two. We had already done the unexpected and won promotion, could we cap the year off with another league title next to our names?
Standing in our way was mid-table also-rans, Wycombe WanderersTM. The Chairboys were in iffy form and had nothing to play for, but then again they had already beaten us earlier in the season. We had everything to play for and reminded the lads of this before kick-off.
Considering that we knew a positive result in this game would guarantee us the title, we started the game by imploding; a risky tactic, I am sure you’ll agree. Abdullah Deeb scored after just five minutes, before Stuart Lewis doubled Wycombe Wanderers’TM lead a mere five minutes later.
Shell-shocked, we attempted to push back and get ourselves a goal. This sort of worked, in that we made lots of chances, but also didn’t work because Wycombe caught us on the break to extend their lead just before half time, Stuart Lewis the man on the end of some good build up to sweep home Wycombe’s third.
The changing rooms were not a place to be at half-time as I got a little upset with the lads. It is not a tactic that always works. This was one of those times. Claus Larsen did his part by hammering in a volley from a corner to give us hope, but we were unable to break them down again and the game ended 1-3 to Wycombe WanderersTM. Bottle job…
Or maybe not…Now, I mentioned before that we only had to equal or better Notts County’s result to win the league. Well, luckily for us, Notts County contrived to lose as well, meaning…
Yes, despite the horrible defeat in our final home game of the season, we had won the league! It can’t be very often that a team loses 3-1 but still manages to win a title at the same time.
And yes, The Football League Paper has got the right idea with this kind of story…
They know what’s up.
Speaking of which, the board are suddenly my best friends again after I delivered them another bit of silverware.
Luckily, for fans of Tranmere, they managed to survive the drop this season thanks to a really bad performance over the year by Crawley Town. They did at least do a lot better than Morecambe, but that isn’t saying very much.
So, with one game to go, here is the table. We have secured top spot, Notts County are second, and there is a three-way battle going on to decide who comes up automatically with us. One of Aldershot, Gateshead and Oxford will take third, whilst the other two will contest the play offs. We would need a bumper result against Northampton, but we could also break the 100 goal barrier in our final game of the season. Unlikely, but you never know…
So, our April results look like this, with three losses and three wins that were enough to guarantee us the title. We nearly let things slip and had we played to our fullest potential we could have come close to breaking the 100 points barrier, but as it was we still did enough to win the league and hold off the challenge of Notts. Well done us.
So, that is nearly that. Will we get a win in our final game of the season? Can we get the seven goals we need to reach 100? Will the club have enough money to survive in League One?? Find out next time, cheers!