I’m confused. Going into last weekend’s excellent win over Barrow I was concerned by the direction this season was taking. Three points later and I’m looking at a league table which has us one point off the play-offs and wondering if I was right to be concerned in the first place.
A closer examination of the table only makes it more pleasing. Three of the five teams above us are part-time clubs who are clearly doing superbly, but wouldn’t really expect to sustain such form throughout a whole campaign
Likewise, look beneath us and you’ll see many of the sides which were expected to challenge for the title this season. So what’s going on? Was I right to be concerned before the Barrow game? Or to put it more simplistically, are we good or not?
I certainly think the make-up of the table sends us one very clear message: there’s a lack of high quality sides in the National League this season. The sort of strong sides which populated the top end of the Conference when we first came down seem to be absent now.
The likes of Luton, Oxford, Burton, Crawley and Fleetwood have gone up, while Kidderminster, Histon and Gateshead have, like ourselves, produced good sides but missed out narrowly on promotion and then deteriorated as the cycle has moved on and their best players have left.
That’s why it’s crucial for us to strike now. Hopefully that cycle I just mentioned is turning in our favour at just the right time. There’s no doubt that if a side clicks now it will have a chance not just of surging up the table, but of overtaking Forest Green Rovers at the top of the league. Rovers might have looked a league above the rest of us when they forged ahead at the start of the season, but their more recent form has made their early air of invincibility look more like a case of the emperor’s new clothes than something substantial.
I’m not totally sure that what we’ve got is a promotion side. Some of our early season brio seems to have dissipated. However, we’re right up there. If you’d shown me the current table at the start of the campaign, when I was in the full flush of early season optimism, I’d have taken it. If you’d told me we’d achieve that spot despite regularly losing points to the supposed promotion favourites, I’d have laughed in your face!
And therein lies some real hope. We’ve certainly not hit a fluent run of form yet, and there’s clearly plenty of room for improvement. That’s a good thing though. If we can get to this position without convincing, there’s scope to really make an impact if we start to click.
If that happens, then perhaps we could finally be one of those sides we jealously talk about, who hit a rhythm in the second half of the season and take the league by storm!