Whisper it quietly, but I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Stockport. Maybe it’s that 4-1 win there a few years back, or the fact trips there invariably involve decent beer and bad trains, the two staples of any enjoyable away day. Or maybe it’s just the fact that they’re a big club with loads of fans and a proper stadium (give or take the odd missing roof) and games against them are a pleasurable reminder of the days we were a Football League side – an era that to me at least seems like an ever-distant and slightly surreal period as the years roll by, a bit like the Moon landings.
MID-WEEK MISSION And while it goes without saying that a return to the Football League should be our ultimate goal, our visitors this evening are very well placed to take a giant step towards that themselves. A win tonight would see them nip ahead of Chorley into first place on 66 points as the undignified chaos of the Vanarama North begins to calm down and a proper title fight slowly emerges. Stockport’s recent run of form has been nothing less than extraordinary and has seen them edge closer and closer to that long-awaited return to non-league’s top flight and a tilt at a return to the ’92. So, let’s not be under any illusions – this is going to be a very tough evening against one of the league’s very best sides. On the flip side, we’ve already beaten Stockport this season, and they’ve been forced to make an undesirable midweek cross-country trip because they’re better at cups than we are. Serves ‘em right.
CLOSER TO HOME But enough about County. What about us? Well, as has been the case all season, it’s another story of ups and downs. If the one-star reviews were anything to go by, Saturday’s match was hardly a classic but the Pilgrims were at least able to go toe-to-toe with Telford only to be denied – yet again – by a goal so late half the crowd were already on their way back to the car. Frustrating? Absolutely. And going “toe-to-toe” with your playoff rivals doesn’t really mean a great deal if you can’t actually beat them. As disappointed fans got home and checked the table, the sight of a six-point gap to Telford will hardly have cheered them up. Are we still in the hunt? Of course we are – but with games running out and the gap creeping ever wider we’re going to need these close games to start falling our way. Tonight’s match would be a good start, but anyone who was at the Boston-Stockport game last season will recall another stoppage-time horror show so, y’know… if we’re leading tonight with six seconds left to play, cross your fingers eh?
BOTTLE JOB After the match, Craig Elliott wasted no time in slapping down certain sections of the crowd who’d labelled his side “bottlers”. Late goals do tend to bring out the emotions more than most, so while some criticism in the immediate aftermath can probably be attributed to a certain element of over excitement the fans who took to Twitter to repeat the claim hours later can’t hide behind that excuse. They’re entitled to their opinion of course, just as Elliott and his backroom staff are entitled to push back against it. For what it’s worth, I think the number of late goals we’ve conceded is another symptom of the league just being absolutely crazy this year. The other theory is that we’re a side that isn’t particularly good at “game management”, something that is hard to deny when you look at the stats. And why might that be? It’s not like the coaching staff are watching a different game to the rest of us. While player turnover has calmed down in recent weeks, and performances have improved as a result, a large part of successfully managing tight games against decent opposition comes from a settled team with bags of games under its belt. I really think it can be that simple, which is another reason the manager has sought to tie down a core of players for next season. Fix the turnover issue, and other things – like not conceding daft goals in the dying seconds of a match – will often fall into place behind it.
CHAMPIONS! Finally this evening, huge congratulations to Boston United LFC – crowned champions on Sunday following a 3-0 win against Grimsby Borough right here at the Jakemans. As we continue to chunter away about the men’s side struggling to impose themselves on a baffling Vanarama North, it’s thrilling that other sides fielded under the Boston United umbrella are bringing home silverware. Well done to everyone concerned, and here’s to lots more success in the future.
Enjoy the game.
This article originally appeared in The Pilgrim matchday magazine. Boston were defeated 1-3 in front of 1073 fans.