Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.
What on earth is going on? After weeks of misery, a month ago I was fretting about being pulled into a relegation dogfight. Yet now – whisper it – we’re not that far off the play-offs!
I still can’t take the idea of a tilt at the play-offs seriously. How can we be promotion contenders when we’d recruited so badly in the Summer and limped along until Dean Keates performed some drastic surgery in the transfer window?
Yet I can’t deny the facts. We’re only seven points off the play-offs. Admittedly, we’ve played more games than anyone else, but I’d rather have points under my belt than games in hand. There’s a long way to go this season, and enough games left to render the inequality in matches played irrelevant. Tomorrow’s opponents, Dover, are the team we’re chasing in fifth place. They might be just four points ahead of us by the evening, which is really hard to grasp.
Perhaps the statistic that sums up our topsy-turvy season relates to our home form. We have more home points than anyone else in the division, although admittedly we’ve played more home games than anyone else. Yet despite those facts, only one side in the top half of the table – Tranmere Rovers – have actually scored fewer home goals than us, and we’ve played three more home games than they have. It makes no sense, but then what has made sense this season?
In previewing the Southport game I suggested it was the start of a key sequence of five home matches, and we needed to make them count. Well, we won them all: you can’t ask for more than that! With just two away games squeezed in amongst those home games, those results have propelled us up the table, but now we’ll get a serious test of our credentials. Dover away is not the same as North Ferriby at home, and our impressive revival will receive a proper test tomorrow. Our away form has been miserable this season, but this remodelled side has played just once on the road, and ought to have won at Chester. Tomorrow’s game is a step into the unknown.
Whatever the rest of the season holds, I’m certain of one thing: no manager in our division has had such a remarkable effect on his club as Keates. To inherit such a mess from his predecessor and manage to turn things around so swiftly, with a small number of judicious signings and a clear eye when it comes to clearing out the dead wood, is remarkable. To do it in his first managerial position is almost beyond belief.
Surely it’s too much to expect his side, which is still at the early stages of its renovation, to maintain its fine form in the back yard of stronger opponents? Yet I must admit that the results Keates’ diligence have yielded excite me. And what if we win? Despite my misgivings, I have to admit that if we pulled off a victory at The Crabble, I might just start to believe the miracle could happen!