Media interviews done, Adam Murray ambled back to the dugout at FC United’s Broadhurst Park and sat alone with his thoughts for a moment. As his players warmed down on the empty pitch, the United manager stretched out on the bench and gazed out into the distance in a contemplative trance, a bit like a bloke who’s had one too many sambucas on a night out and is wondering where his mates have gone.
He knew it. We knew it. Boston had failed on the road – again – and this time it was against perhaps the most limited opponents they had faced. And anyone who travelled to Tamworth will know that’s hardly a ringing endorsement of FC United.
It was in many ways the perfect setting for United to kickstart their season away from the cosy confines of home: a glorious sunny day, a big crowd, and a pristine pitch at FC’s smart operation in Moston. And what a smart ground it is, all fresh paint and decking. Or at least, it will be when it’s finished.
So the omens seemed good: not only had FC stumbled into the season, but Boston’s record against the Mancunian upstarts is very good indeed. Surely you couldn’t ask for more reliable opposition?
Yeah. Well, about that. When does football ever work out how you want it to? By the end, as FC United cranked out the Stone Roses to an appreciative audience in the club bar, and as Murray faced the cameras, United’s players apologetically applauded another healthy contingent of frustrated travelling Pilgrims.
Frustrated because, as is now becoming a familiar theme on the road, the Pilgrims had failed to stick away a team that in truth should have been there for the taking. With the exception of Spennymoor, and perhaps Southport, United have faced unremarkable opposition, and yet… and yet.
This is a side that is still not quite clicking; still not quite there. But you sense it’s close. It may not feel that way at times, and we certainly haven’t been treated to a whole lot to cheer about so far. But as the team plays more football and we get a better sense of its strengths and weaknesses, there is a definite feeling that the Pilgrims are making inroads. But – and this is a massive but – the results don’t reflect that. And the performances are still very inconsistent.
What you do feel, though, is that this is a team that’s one good win away from sparking into life. Murray will have known this as he sat there gazing across the pitch, before Karl Hawley joined him to chew over the day’s events. He’ll also be acutely aware that our away form is a worry – and the sooner that unwanted streak of bad results is ended, the better.
Looking down from FC United’s bar, I started making a mental note of just how many times in a row I’d seen Boston United lose away from the Jakemans Stadium, and realised to my horror that I had reached my ninth consecutive defeat on the road.
When I listed them down, the defeats ran the full spectrum of misery. There were narrow losses (Alfreton) and proper thumpings (Fylde). There were defeats due to bad game management (Hednesford) and defeats due to…. well….. Tom Denton (North Ferriby).
Yeah, watching United lose 9-2 in a heavy hail storm, or chucking away that play-off advantage in Ferriby – that’s bad enough. But the losses at Tamworth and FC United are perhaps the worst kind, not least because of the red cards.
Of course, playing on the edge – as certain players like to do – brings with it the ever-present risk of straying over, and after the match Pilgrims fans were pretty much split down the middle, between those ranting about irresponsible indiscipline and those who were just grateful players were willing to take the risks needed to try and inject some life into an oddly listless United side.
Leaning over the barrier above them, I tried listening to what Murray and Hawley were chatting about, but all I could hear were Stone Roses tunes. Perhaps the management were trying to figure out why their side had seemed to play better with nine men than they did with eleven. If you can explain that one, you could probably make a mint as one of those performance analysts I wrote about in the last programme.
I slumped back into the bar, which was now playing Oasis, or the Inspiral Carpets or something. I forget which. “Just stop coming to games,” said one Boston fan when I listed my nine consecutive defeats. Nah. No chance, sorry. I’m seeing this streak through to its bitter end.