The games will come thick and fast from now on, and the pattern which is forming seems to be settling the challenge into two clear stages.
In February we’ll have to be able to put away the sides a title-chasing team would hope to beat. As things stand in the table at the moment, and bearing in mind that the weather could switch things around, the highest-ranked side we’ll face in that month is Hereford, who are in eleventh place.
However, in March comes a nasty run of games against sides with real hopes of getting out of the Conference this season. Luton, Mansfield, Macclesfield, Cambridge and Dartford are all in the top ten, and the other two sides we face, Hyde and Woking, are both away matches against sides hitting above their weight in mid-table.
Of course, that’s not to say that March will necessarily be the more difficult month. Last season it was the sort of sides we’re facing in February who ultimately dragged us down in our pursuit of Fleetwood. It was dropped points against the likes of Forest Green, Alfreton and Stockport which ultimately derailled our bid to win the title.
Needing to beat teams who are mid-table and below piles a different type of pressure on you compared to facing a top of the table opponent. It can be tough, sometimes because they’re playing without inhibition, sometimes because they’re fighting for survival. Another possible factor can be complacency, but that doesn’t worry me: I’ve yet to detect that particular defect in an Andy Morrell side.
Wearing my positive hat, hopefully the way the fixtures have fallen will help us out: in an ideal world if we can be ruthless in February we’ll build up a head of steam going into what will clearly be a crunch month, while opening a gap at the top and piling pressure on our rivals. Then, hopefully the high intensity of March’s opposition will mean we keep our eye on the ball as the crunch matches rain down on us. Of course, there’s a very different way that it could pan out, but I don’t want to think about that!
All this could be thrown in the air if our FA Trophy run continues of course, but that would make things even tougher as we try to shoehorn three extra fixtures into an already crowded fixture list. This fortune telling lark’s making my head hurt.