Reflections on the art of losing

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Alex Gerlis

30 April 2023

And so, the relatively short trip from west London to Stevenage for Town's fifty eighth game of the season and the twenty eighth away from Blundell Park.

The away trips have been especially rewarding for us this season: nine league wins on the road as against just six at home and of course the famous FA Cup win at Southampton, the draw at Luton and that agonisingly narrow defeat at Brighton.

But sometimes in football there's a script and there certainly was one for Stevenage: club not owned by Hollywood actors narrowly escape relegation last season thanks to bringing in a Manager Who Doesn't Like Us and turn things around this season under the same Manager Who Doesn't Like Us and this afternoon they just need to draw or not lose, or something like that and they're promoted and all we need to do is win to spoil their party.

And for the first fifty-five minutes or so we looked like we may be doing just that. Stevenage, we were assured, are a very physical side so we attempted to counter that with our own impression of a physical side. In the first half we were certainly the better team: I checked the stats after about thirty minutes and we had 65% possession which is approaching Manchester City levels. But there the similarity ended and we had little to show for it: a few shots, plenty of corners, none of which particularly threatened the Stevenage defence and some longish throws.

But ten minutes into the second half Stevenage remembered the script and started to put us under serious pressure and we began to lose possession: the goals in the 57th and 67th minutes were both as per the script.

In the end it was one of those days when you look for consolations, meagre as they are. The weather was nice and Wolves lost at Brighton by a greater score than we did, making us officially better than Wolves, and the home team's promotion meant most of their fans stayed behind to invade the pitch, meaning we could get away quickly.

But the truth is that this was a typical end of season game involving one team which really needed the result and the other team which didn't. And we mustn't forget the biggest consolation of all, that exactly one year ago we were playing a bit further down the A1 at Barnet, just about managing a draw and the miracle of the play-offs such an unlikely prospect that few were even dreaming of them.

And nor should we forget that there was a very short close season – considerably shorter than we'll have this year and it's unquestionable that this had serious implications for recruitment and possibly fitness too.

Now we've had a season back in the EFL where not only have we comfortably survived but may well finish in our highest position for twenty years and also made history in the manner in which we reached the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup.

And on top of that the improvements made by the new owners continue and the club's new and improved relationship with the community. A quick glance at what Scunthorpe are going through ought to help underline the importance of that.

Sure, we've not won enough home games and sometimes have been frustrating and that 20+ goals/season striker remains elusive, but the achievements of this season are not to be underestimated. I reckon even the manager's most ardent critics would have grabbed the outcome of this season with open arms this time last year.

This was brought home to me this morning when Facebook came up with one of those Five Years agoAlex Gerlis memories, a photo of me at Crawley in 2018. In fact, it was in the February, so not quite the exact anniversary but the Facebook algorithm must have been confused. I think Lee Blease took the pic of me all alone, looking thoroughly miserable – and that was before the game, which we went on to lose 0-3. Had I known it was to be Mr Slade's last game in charge I may have forced a smile.

And so that was Stevenage and that is almost the end of the season, by which time we'll have played in twenty-three consecutive calendar months, which may be some kind of record.