It has to be said, even the most optimistic of fans couldn’t have hoped that both Tranmere and Bury would drop points tonight.
Just a fortnight ago it looked likely to be MK Dons and Mansfield missing out this season, with Bury set to challenge us for the title and Tranmere almost certainly looking like dark horses. I called Bury as possible champions a couple of times, not least because of their superb attacking threat.
Many have called them the best team in League Two, perhaps as much for their football as anything. Now, after 40 matches, only one side has lost just four matches. Us. Only one side is top, clear by eight points. Us. They’ll be handing out the best team award in a few weeks time and that will go to whoever is top of the table.
After the weekend’s draw I feared perhaps we had missed a chance to seize the initiative, but did we actually make good a tough situation? As he season draws to a close, are the tougher matches against sides fighting for their life?
Tranmere had won eight of their last nine matches before this evening, setting League Two on fire and seemingly staking a real claim for a top three finish. Who could have envisaged Oldham, so woeful after fifteen minutes against us, as beating them 2-0? Well, of those eight Tranmere wins only three have been away from home and prior to that they’d won one in eleven on their travels in the league. Maybe, just maybe that defeat wasn’t such a surprise.
Oldham weren’t exactly fighting for their lives, but at Boundary Park earlier in the season they were resolute against us. They’re not a bad side, they’ve got decent players but off the field turmoil has set them back. They are still fighting for a top seven spot and perhaps feel that tonight’s result justifies their endeavour in recent weeks.
Then there’s Bury They were my title tip a few weeks ago, as we drew with Stevenage at home, they were on a collision course with the top of the table. Cheltenham kept them off the top and since then they’ve floundered whilst we’ve pushed on. Cambridge have moved on to the 45 point mark and having seem the U’s twice this season I’m baffled how they’re not top half. In both matches against us they were strong, hard to break down and offered pace going forward. Jevani Brown is, in my opinion, a hugely talented player with Championship potential and George Maris has always been quality too. Their win might have been eyebrow raising, not least as it was away, but it wasn’t an impossible result. On their day, Cambridge are as good as anyone. They were certainly as good as us at Christmas, but we ground out a 2-1 win.
It seems inconceivable that Bury are now behind MK and less of a threat to our title challenge. Football, it works in mysterious ways.
That’s not strictly true though. In my opinion, this league is very tight. There’s only luck, fortune and a bit of quality separating the bottom four and the top four. Look at Macclesfield this weekend. Okay, we could have got a win and maybe should, but were they really that bad? No, yet they’re in the relegation mire. We’ve struggled in two matches against them, not because we’re poor but because in truth, they’re not a bad side. A couple of decisions going their way and a few more quid to spend on a decent striker or midfielder and they’re a top ten side.
On their day, anyone can beat anyone. It’s why the consternation at a draw with Northampton is misplaced; any sort of result that carries on a run is good. We’ve dropped points, but our ‘bad’ runs have been draws, not defeats. The only side to beat us so far in 2019 had a £50m striker and still needed to hang on in the dying moments.
We’re maybe not the best side in the division in terms of passing, we’re maybe not harbouring the best striker League Two has to offer in our squad and maybe we didn’t get four players in the EFL Team of the Year, but there’s no denying we’re the best team right now. When we’ve needed to, we’ve ground out results. Whenever there’s been a situation where we need to turn up, just like there was tonight for Bury and Tranmere, we’ve done it. Even when we struggled (Exeter at home), we still salvaged a point. Also, we’ve lost half as many games as 22 of the other sides in the division and three fewer than the team closest to us in terms of defeats.
Tonight’s results haven’t handed us anything, because nothing will be handed to us. With six games and 18 points still to play for we have to go out and win this League. We’ve done a great job of getting into pole position with six games to go, but this evening’s results have proven that means nothing at all if you take you eye off the prize. I firmly believe there’s another defeat lurking in the final five fixtures for us, but three more wins and we’re essentially home and hosed.
I’d thank Cambridge and Oldham tonight, but they’re fighting their own battles and certainly didn’t win their matches on our behalf. However, a word of caution. Five matches ago Bury had beaten Macclesfield 3-0 and were just three points behind us with a better goal difference. In five matches they’ve dropped six points and seen a ten goal swing in our favour.
The season isn’t over, not by a long way.
We’re still going up though….