Sometimes it snows in april – Destiny, Discipline and Flipflops

By Martin Bull

At this time of the season a club’s position in the table really does influence how they play. This can change game-by-game and it can be problematic for you to look into a crystal ball and expect to find the truth. As an example, we certainly caught Stevenage at a bad time, but who can prophesy how they will play in their remaining games? Their players seemed fully up for our visit and put their bodies on the line for the cause. But now they have the point they needed to make sure of League survival it’s hard to predict whether they might embrace the emancipation that survival brings and play good football, or wind down and not be bothered.

Anyone can beat anyone at this time of the season, and my expectation is that this tense fortnight still holds some surprises; just like sometimes it snows in April.

Hartlepool United could have been the kingmakers as their final four games were all against top six clubs but they made five changes for the visit of Accrington Stanley. After losing that match their manager flip-flopped and said he wouldn’t stand “…for an end-of-season mentality where we’re coasting and everyone wants to go on holiday”; but they still lost at Oxford United. With Pompey (H), and Plymouth Argyle (A) now almost out of the reckoning it seems too late for Darrell to ask his old club to pull their fingers out and come back down to planet earth.

Hopefully York City and Dagenham & Redbridge will be games we can comfortably win, and whilst I love sexy football I could probably handle a couple of relatively mundane wins, especially against our east London bogey team who we‘ve only beaten once at home in four meetings since our first league fixture in 2010. It seems quite inequitable that we were relegated to non-league with 50 points when teams will only need roughly 35 to stay up this season because that duo have played like Batman and Robin having a comedy fight with the Joker. Either may still be capable of springing the odd surprise, as Plymouth found out at the weekend, but overall the ease at which both were relegated will hopefully prove the old maxim that you can dress a swine up in diamonds and pearls, but it’s still a pig.

Although it’s very disappointing that destiny is not in our own hands, I do quite like the simple maths that if we win both matches then we only need Accrington Stanley or Oxford United to fail to win one of their matches and, baring an unlikely goal difference swing for Stanley, we will be in the promotion news. And as they both play Wycombe Wanderers, I can hardly believe I will be thinking ‘Come on you Chairboys!’.

Whatever happens we need to keep reminding ourselves that we have to enjoy being near the top of League Two for the first time ever, although I’m not sure if I’ll be able to put a brave face on it if we lose in the play-offs. The last time we were consistently this high in the Football League was the infamous 1999/2000 season, and both this season and that one have proved the old adage that it can be harder to stay at the top from a decent start (e.g. Plymouth) than it is to mature and rise at the right time later in the season.

One of many marvellously positive sign of the times is that we have the second best disciplinary record in the division, with only 56 yellows, and both of the red cards given were later being rescinded on appeal. It seems unbelievable that we can (hopefully) go a whole season without a genuine red card when in 1997 we had four players sent off in just one match, when chaos and disorder reigned during a December trip to Wigan Athletic’s old Springfield Park ground, before the days of under soil heating. That night, on an ice rink of a pitch, was certainly one to go in the black album labelled ‘controversy‘, and with so few men on the pitch Rovers were forced into the rarely seen 3-1-2-1 formation!

We also have had so few injuries, which is probably a testament to the recruitment of many fit, hungry, younger players. An outfield bench versus Exeter of Ollie Clarke, Easter, Harrison, Lawrence, McBurnie and Parkes is pretty handy, and James Clarke, Jake Gosling, Rory Fallon and numerous young ‘uns couldn’t even get a seat at the princely table.

The building blocks are certainly there for next season, whatever League we are in, but I dearly hope that the 7th of May will include a promotion parade, and that we are partying like it’s 1990 again.

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