I’ve had enough time to get over the frustration of Tuesday night: I think I hid my devastation about as well as Andy Morrell did! Things might not look too positive right now, but don’t give up hope. After all, in the Conference this has been The Year of the Extraordinary!
First and foremost have been Kidderminster. I was asked at the start of the season to predict the top five by Macclesfield for their programme, and was pretty accurate though I say so myself (Wrexham, Mansfield, Grimsby, Kidderminster and Forest Green were my picks.) Tipping the Harriers looked like it would leave me with egg on my face though, as they were marooned at the bottom of the table for the first couple of months. What they’ve achieved since is nothing short of astonishing,
I wouldn’t put Mansfield too far behind them in terms of mind-boggling feats. When they lost in the FA Cup to Liverpool they showed that they’re a good team, but they also showcased how boggy their pitch was to the world and were left with a hideous fixture backlog to deal with. I’ve always felt I’d rather have points in the bank than games in hand, and stick to that, but if you embark on a record-equalling run of wins I’m willing to make an exception.
Chances are they’ll clinch the title today against a weakened Wrexham side, and although I feel they’ve gambled by splashing out in the close season in the hope it would lead to promotion, I wouldn’t quite class them alongside Crawley and Fleetwood in that respect. If they can churn out a run of wins like that to order, they’ll deserve their success.
Newport’s achievements have been impressive too. Their pitch is in an horrendous state (a football team sharing a pitch with rugby and suddenly finding it’s a ploughed field. Who’d have thought it!) and the string of postponements they suffered meant they have had to play two three-fixture weeks in the run-in. I wrote them off once the fixtures piled up, assuming they couldn’t possibly come through those matches without being on their knees. Yet they’ve actually finished the season strongly, which is massively to their credit. I don’t know how they’ve done it, but they’ll be a real danger in the play-offs.
In fact, out of the top five, the only teams who haven’t pulled off a miracle yet have been ourselves and Grimsby. We’ve both looked ragged since qualifying for the FA Trophy final, having looked best placed to fight it out for the title at that point of the season. Maybe we’ve both been saving our miraculous feats for the play-offs: looks like we’ll be seeing them again at Wembley then!