A very happy New Year indeed

Cod Almighty | Article

by Alistair Wilkinson

6 January 2011

After six long weeks we get back to the league, fully recharged with a second close season, and this time we know what we have to do. The season starts here. We're ready and we're looking forward again. The team can (mostly) defend. The team can pass. The team can score. We have defenders. We have wingers. We have forwards. We have a central midfield! We have shape, belief and desire. The game is simple again and all is good in the world.

Dean Sinclair's permanent - albeit short-term - addition will surely mean that we have an effective contracted central midfield for the rest of the season. The flip side: with Andrew Wright's return to Scunthorpe we'll be over-reliant on a glass-legged player who failed to perform consistently in both his previous spells with us.

But today's a good day, tomorrow we fret.

Mansfield were clumsy scrappers, scuffling like drunks in a kebab shop, intoxicated from their previous two outings, 5-0 and 5-1 against Cambridge and Worksop. A spent force, they were blown away in the first six minutes. They tried to recover, flailing at the Town players, throwing themselves at the penalty area, never threatening any real harm until a horrible mistake by Arthur let them in. Yet another wonder goal lashed in against us only increased the entertainment.

The atmosphere was disappointing. Seven goals can make for complacency in the crowd but the silence that smothered long periods of the game told of a deadening of the senses, a long suffering not easily recovered from. Only a far too lenient referee kindled the remotest passion. After so long without a game we should have been kicking off like kettled students but we sat in our seats and accepted this bonus among the cuts. At 2-0 there was grumbling at Town's seeming acceptance of the scoreline and at 2-1 there was an air of crumbling expectation.

Five second-half goals in front of the Pontoon meant that this season will be remembered for at least one positive. A Bore hat-trick and some exciting wing play meant that we might lose him this month as he refuses to extend his contract. Kempson seemed to remember his early-season form and Atkinson is regaining some consistency. Arthur made that one mistake. Ridley added energy to his phlegmatic charm and Wood continues to bully his way into our affections. Cummins carried on from his partnership with Wright. Coulson has settled back into the side like he's never been out and Ademeno will soon have his goal. Connell is still Connell.

Woods was able to call on a strong bench, resting key players and keeping the pressure on Mansfield, looking for more goals. Peacock looked better for his rest, his thighs no longer strapped. In a single afternoon we've footballing things to think about and discuss. A pleasant feeling. Histon have finally done what we've wanted these part timers to do since August: lie down and die after a plucky fight so that we don't feel like we patronised them.

Conquering heroes who sweated but never laboured toward six goals, and again the strong bench as all three subs, Hudson, Peacock and Eagle, score. Is the plan working? Are our superior squad and cheque book going to pay off in this congestion?

No matter how optimistic I might be feeling, I can't see us challenging for the title. Fleetwood and Newport look catchable; Wimbledon and Crawley don't

A crazy January will test all the players' fitness as we cram in eight league games and a trip to Chasetown in the FA Trophy. Five of those league games are away, including long trips to Wrexham, Luton and Eastbourne. In February six more games, four of them at home, lurk waiting to pounce on dodgy knees. Fourteen league games in two months, seven at home, seven away; come Saturday 26 February (Darlington at home) we'll know whether or not there's still life in the season.

For now we sit five points outside the play-offs with games in hand on everyone outside the top three. No matter how optimistic I might be feeling, I can't see us challenging for the title. Fleetwood and Newport look catchable; Wimbledon and Crawley (who have a game in hand on us) don't. As for Luton, well, ten points is a big gap, but with more than half the season to go... what the hell, it's an optimistic day.

In the last five years the teams finishing in fifth have peaked at 81 points (York, Stevenage and Burton) and troughed at 74 (Morecambe). The peak has also been the norm, with 81 points needed to achieve fifth place in the last three seasons. But looking on (or possibly for) the bright side, an average of 79 points or 1.7 points per game gets a team into the Conference play-offs. With 35 points from 22 games we're averaging 1.6.

I'd expected a lower average. The last two games have bumped it up considerably, but those low expectations were still there, still lurking. It takes more than two games, more than 13 goals to raise those. In the second half of the season we must average 1.8 points per game: a tall order given our form over that same five-year period.

Before I put so many numbers into this that it looks like a shampoo advert, allow me to clutch at a few straws and take a look at sixth place: a five-year average of just 75 points gives Town a new target of 76 points or 1.7 points per game for the rest of the season. In the next two months' league games, eight wins and four draws would see us well on the way.

That's the kind of form we need and that's the kind of form we haven't shown in a long time. Can we do it? Even with 13-goal optimism it seems unlikely. If we can strengthen or at least not weaken in this transfer window; if Bore stays and continues to improve; if Coulson stays fit; if Ademeno kicks on after his first goals; if Connell maintains his impressive start; if Kempson can have two good games in a row; if Arthur remembers how to organise a defence; and if, if, if.

Perhaps a more realistic target is six wins, six draws. We come out of February with 53 points and probably just nicely settled in fifth. For me it revolves around one man: we go back to Sinclair. Can he last the season? Can he last the next two months? If he does then we've got a player we can shape a team around. If he doesn't...

Today's a good day. Today's a day we can look forward and count the numbers. Bring on Wrexham.

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