Let me tell you about last Easter weekend. It’s an uplifting tale, not quite “Peter Kay’s Car Share”, but up there in terms of feel good stories. It’s the story of how every little thing turned out alright – our own redemption song.
Clearly there was a need for redemption for the entire squad after seven games without a win, culminating in a home defeat to Maidstone which was particularly badly received by the fans. There were extenuating circumstances – a missed penalty at 2-1 could have been a turning point, and Maidstone were in superb form despite their lowly league position – but there was still an air of depression afterwards.
It was partly created by a sudden realisation that perhaps we weren’t coasting our way to mid-table after all. Although the number of sides between us and the bottom four suggested that relegation still wasn’t going to happen, the margin of six points between us and the drop was suddenly looking rather slender.
The other cause of misery after the final whistle on Good Friday was the long term future of the squad. A couple of good judges I spoke to after the game were convinced barely any players would remain once Dean Keates had wielded the axe, such had been the failure to respond to his call that they play for their contracts.
Which all led to a couple of days fretting about the rest of the season but, more immediately, Easter Monday. For weeks the trip to York had looked like a bank holiday trip to relish. Popping over to York for the weekend to enjoy the fantastic pubs, the beautiful sights, and the ritual thrashing of Gary Mills’ Minstermen as we condemn our pantomime villain to an unimaginable relegation? Don’t mind if we do!
The problem was that things changed over those months. Mills, allowed a free hand to recruit as if the final league position would be decided by the size of your squad, had finally settled on an eleven which was getting results, with a core of experienced ex-Football League players. You know, like he didn’t try to recruit in the summer for us.
What was seen as a great way to wrap up the season and celebrate the turnabout under Keates suddenly looked like our worst nightmare: Mills’ team plays in a manner far beyond what his Racecourse recruits could aspire to and not only virtually secure their safety, but shove us towards the drop!
So we had the perfect set-up. Every epic tale needs jeopardy, and we had it coming out of our ears! What happened next, of course, was an inspiring tale, as many of our players redeemed themselves.
Some did so within the context of the match. Shwan Jalal ought to have done better with the 75-second goal he conceded, and having let seven in over the previous two matches might have been forgiven for wondering where the afternoon was heading, but instead stood up to be counted with two superb second half saves.
Russell Penn, once York’s captain but booed by the home fans in what seemed to be a retaliation for the grief doled out to Sean Newton, rolled his sleeves up and showed them what they were missing out on, a one-man midfield who dragged his side through the toughest spells.
And then there was Jordan White. A man you can’t help but wish well after what he endured last Summer. Yet as the weeks have gone on, there has been a creeping dread that, despite his terrific commitment to the cause and willingness to play out of position for the team, he might not be what we’re looking for next season.
His response? Three excellent performances back-to-back, scoring in each, dominating in the air and grabbing two at York to take his tally to four goals in three matches. Mills knew what he was doing when he brought him in to score the goals!
When Leo Smith’s first career goal capped things off it seemed too good to be true. As popular a scorer as you could hope for, rounding off a tale of heroic redemption: Keates had directed a real Hollywood ending. Here’s to more of that next season!
This is 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.