With the success we’ve been experiencing in the cup competitions this season I think it’s easy to assume we’ll sweep all aside in the National League, so the last five days have been something of a wake up call for City.
The more discernible Imps fan knows that league football isn’t as close as we think, and that finishing second to fifth represents an enormous challenge in the play-offs. Many assumed we’d roll York over on Tuesday and draw yesterday, but as things stand we dropped four points in two games: or did we win two points in two games?
It could be argued that teams battling relegation are fighting harder than some of the mid-table sides, and Aldershot must feel they can gate crash the play-off party, hence their run of form and resilient display. Both sides had plenty to play for, and I think that was evident in their performances. In fairness we could have won both games, but that’s football for you. We’re still top, we’re still the team everyone needs to beat, and on Tuesday with the right set of results we can be six points clear of the chasing pack once again. If you look at what is coming up in March though, we’ll need that six point gap.
Tranmere left it late to beat Chester, and Chester are a side with very little to play for. They’re nine points clear of relegation but 14 shy of the top five, possibly one those few teams that won’t be up for the fight quite as much as others. I’m not taking away from the Trannies win, but I am suggesting that play-off chasing Barrow will be a far sterner test for Micky Mellon’s men on Tuesday.
A win for us Tuesday will nudge us onto 72 points, which will represent a six point gap over FGR having played the same games. If Tranmere were to slip up against Barrow that could be the gap going into the three cup games, signalling that there is no need to panic just yet. Braintree will of course be fighting for their lives, and we can’t simply expect to go there and win. However, Champions do not drop points three games in a row, certainly not when two of them are against teams fighting relegation. Or do they?
Last year Cheltenham experienced a blip in form at exactly the same time as us. On February 23rd they drew 0-0 at home to Gateshead, a week later they lost 1-0 at Eastleigh and they capped off their horrible run with a 1-1 draw at Welling, who were relegated at the end of the season. So in truth, teams who win leagues can have a run of three games without a win late on in the season and still triumph at the top of the league.
On the face of it yesterday was a decent point, make no mistake about that. Aldershot are a well oiled machine and Gary Waddock (known as the Wadfather, I shit you not) is a manager who has already won this league once with Aldershot. They’re some way off champions just yet, but they have good players who play football the right way. It is perhaps interesting to note that the referee from yesterday, Craig Hicks, has taken charge of four other Aldershot games this season against Wrexham (2-0 win), Solihull Moors (2-0 win), Woking (4-0 win) and Maidstone (2-0 win). It looks like we did well to break up his wonderful run of form with the Shots!
It’s frustrating on our part that we were unable to convert one of our chances yesterday, but unfortunately (and I don’t care what anyone says) we are missing Theo Robinson. The strikers that have come in since Theo have struggled for fitness (Southwell, Marriott and Margetts), and we haven’t looked as clinical as we did when our FA Cup hero was in the side. Hopefully either Margetts (when fit) or Angol (when it’s announced) will be able to add that injection of whatever it is we need up front.
As yet I’m also unimpressed with Billy Knott. I know there is more to come from him, but his cameo roles haven’t convinced me he has anything that Alan Power or Elliot Whitehouse do not have. It’s not being critical, but we’re trying to get players in the side and on method at a stage of the season where indifferent performances have a marked effect. It isn’t just us either, Tranmere have got to try to find a new method after losing Kirky and Tollitt, FGR have to as well after (as usual) shuffling their pack significantly. Trust me there will be far more twists and turns over the next two months than you imagine, and although it looks like a three horse race right now, any of those teams tucked into the top ten could be capable of having a say in what happens.
I’m still wary of the threat Forest Green pose at this late stage of the season, and don’t be surprised if by the middle of March we are knocked off the top of the table. FGR play 11th, 14th and 18th, a match on all of our cup dates. Their clash with Dagenham next Saturday is crucial, they travel to Sutton on the 14th and host mid-table Wrexham on the 18th. Seven points from those three games would be enough to give them a lead once again at the top of the table, making our March 25th clash the most important game at Sincil Bank in years. We could go into that game a point behind them with three games in hand. I’d much rather Dagenham keep the pressure on by beating Forest Green next Saturday, because psychologically I wouldn’t want to start playing catch up with just four weeks of the season remaining, no matter how many games in hand we have.
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