The Skrill Premier table is a constant source of confusion for me this season. No matter how many points we drop, we still seem to be closer to the play-offs than I expect. Ten points is nothing. Making them up is, I admit, a different proposition. Some gaps are small, but the play-offs are far away.
Yet the edge of the play-offs still lingers cruelly just before the horizon. Like a man crawling through the desert, desperate for water, we drag ourselves through a frustrating season with an oasis just within our compass.
To be honest, before the “crucial festive period” I had a nagging feeling this season might turn out to be one of those ironic affairs: having challenged for the title to some extent for each of the last three seasons and been denied, I wondered if this time round, with our expectations considerably lower, we might put some late season form together and sneak into the top five. Amusingly, in the process we’d become that thing we’ve feared for the last three years – the side hitting the play-offs in form. The dangling play-offs kept this hope alive in me, but it died over Christmas.
Dropping six needless points to Alfreton made me bite the bullet and accept that we aren’t going to leap into the top five any time soon. I resigned myself to mid-table mediocrity and a rebuilding job. Yet when I stop to look at it, those play-offs are just as close as they always were. In essence, our situation hasn’t changed, except that we’ve marginally less time to jump up the table. In fact, if anything the Christmas games showed how easy it would be to make that leap: if we’d won the two Alfreton games, which is hardly a ludicrous proposition as we threw away the advantage in the home game and dominated the second, we’d be tenth, four points off fifth-placed Halifax with two games in hand.
It just goes to show that a week or two can make a big difference to the table, and there are sixteen weeks until the end of the season. But despite that, the play-offs still feel far away to me.