Mind The Gap

A favourite Sunday morning pastime for me is to study the league tables over a leisurely breakfast, writes Richard Godson.

Back in the day, it would be the Football Echo that served this purpose. These days, it’s more likely to be an online version such as Football Web Pages. And it’s not just our league either. They all hold a certain fascination and to me, they are not simply inert objects but dynamic entities, changing from week to week with some teams moving up and others down, with a few hardly moving at all.

What I begin to notice come this time in any season is gaps opening up between individual teams and between groups as well. A team that has been there or thereabouts might suddenly advance several places or equally suddenly fall away after early season promise and it’s all there to see from week to week. Ipswich are a prime example. Early front runners, six games they were top, they have since faded and now find themselves languishing in twelfth, 5 points shy of a play-off place and 10 points away from automatic promotion.

It’s a bit like a horse race with all the runners closely bunched for the first few furlongs before the field begins to stretch out and gaps open up, with a front runner moving a few lengths clear of the rest of the field and one or two becoming tailed off.

At the opposite end of the table – Credit Graham Burrell

Right now, in League One the Imps having been in the top six all season, have opened up a 4 point gap at the summit and Burton Albion, having been seemingly cast adrift have got a second wind and are closing on the teams ahead of them, four of whom are neck and neck. Behind the leaders is a closely grouped bunch of four with only a point between them with a four-point gap to sixth. After that the field has become quite stretched out with a point or two between individual clubs before we come to Shrewsbury in 17th who are seven points clear of Rochdale in 18th. Dale head a pack of six separated by only 2 points who Burton are striving desperately to catch. A month ago the gap between the Shrews and Dale was 2 points and although neither have moved up or down, you would think Shrewsbury fans are breathing a little easier than in mid-January.

What is also noticeable is that from seventeenth to eighteenth, the goal difference figure falls of a cliff from -2 to -13, another measure of a team’s success or lack of it.

One difference between this season and previous campaigns is the variation in the number of games played on any given date which can give a false impression of a team’s actual progress and that gives rise to the age-old conundrum of games in hand against points in the bag. At the foot of the table, points in the bag has to be the ideal and although I think that applies to a lesser extent towards the top it would be a mistake to assume that every game in hand is worth three points.

Man City U21s, their senior side are top of the PL – Credit Graham Burrell

The situation is even more pronounced in the Premier League where Manchester City, having recovered from a slow start which saw them in 13th place in mid-November, 8 points behind then leaders Tottenham Hotspur, are now top, seven points clear of neighbours Manchester United in second. As for Spurs, like Ipswich, after strong early running they now languish a full 17 points off the lead and six points shy of a Champions League spot.

What of League Two, I hear you ask! Well at the top, Cambridge United’s 4 point lead over second place Forest Green is assisted in large measure by the three extra games they’ve played. Points in the bag or games in hand? Well, just suppose the Village People continue with the same rate of points per game as they have at present, this would see them top by a point over the Us.

As for the basement end, well I suppose you want me to gloat over our Fishy Friends’ plight and indeed their situation does look dire indeed but their plight is shared by both Barrow and Southend as the three of them begin to become tailed off, Stevenage having drawn five points clear of the struggling trio.

Southend struggling – Courtesy of Graham Burrell

So there must be plenty of anxious supporters at both ends of each of the league tables, those at the top eyeing the pursuing pack and hoping they can maintain their lead and those at the other end praying for a miracle, all wondering if they’ll be over the moon or sick as the proverbial parrot come May. And even then, for those in the play-off zone the agony is protracted even further until one more team will climb the ladder to the next level.

Anxious times indeed, which brings me to Sunday evening and the Imps first Sabbath day kick off for many a year. Although outwardly confident of a positive result, I had a horrible foreboding that a banana skin awaited and after Dion Charles’ early goal it seemed my secret fears might be coming true. In Matchday Live, I heard Gary remarking that while in some ways he has never felt more in touch with what is happening at the club, in others he has never felt so detached and as the first half progressed in which the Imps seemingly weren’t at the races, I understood exactly how he felt. Indeed, I was feeling utterly impotent; powerless to intervene, even to the extent of shouting encouragement from the stand, acting as part of that twelfth man Danny Cowley used to talk about so often.

I knew I wasn’t alone, especially when at half time, I ventured onto Facebook to compare notes with fellow supporters who, like me wanted to rail against someone, something, anything. Squarely in may people’s sights, including my own I must confess, was BBC Radio Lincolnshire. Our friends from the county’s leading public service broadcaster were having their own nightmare with a jingle a good minute long repeating itself on some kind of loop every 15 minutes and those at the stadium unable to do anything about it. I don’t do Twitter but I imagine plenty of traffic would have been generated there too, but on Facebook, there were several posts lamenting the state of affairs and I have to admit, I added my four penn’orth partly in Michael Hortin’s defence since it clearly wasn’t his fault.

You might think commentary is easy, but it isn’t

Comments ranged from sub-Mr Angry from Purley to utterly hilarious references to Tina Charles and Kelly Marie whose decades-old hits had also interrupted poor Michael’s commentary. He must have wanted the St Andrews Stand to open up and swallow him there and then and I imagine it must have severely affected his concentration as he struggled valiantly to make himself heard over ‘my head spins, my heart beats like a drum – pow pow’ in between trying to talk to the studio and get the benighted Miss Marie to wind her neck in. Thankfully, the issue was rectified over half time and there was no repetition in the second period. One poster threatened to make a formal complaint and I understand carried out that threat and having called the station the following morning, had the good grace to post later that the station was able to explain in some detail what had gone wrong.

Some may question the value of reporting something like this but I imagine Radio Lincolnshire will value such feedback. It is a local station with a close connection and relationship with its listeners as well as several county-based football clubs with Lincoln City primus inter pares or first among equals if you prefer. Any organisation worth its salt needs to know what its customers think of it, so it can ensure it gives the very best service possible. I anticipate those on the desk at the next home game will be looking out for this problem and doing everything possible to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

After the final whistle when the relief at a salvaged point was tinged with disappointment at two points foregone, the mood lightened somewhat and the comments became increasingly witty. Nevertheless, I offer this warning. As we stand on the threshold of history, not knowing whether we will cross it or have the door slammed in our face, there will be plenty of further anxious, dare I say squeaky bum moments between now and the end of the season. It was ever so and let’s face it, we wouldn’t have it any other way!