Issue 80 – reality bites (or does it?)

First and foremost, this is not a negative article. After the absolute dross of the last three or four years – it’s been so rubbish for so long that I really don’t know when the rot set in – the 13-league match unbeaten run was a welcome tonic for all Shrimpers. It simply made going to games a pleasure once again. Although the team wasn’t perfect in any way (indeed I would suggest the Three Amigos would say we are very much a work in progress) it was a lovely feeling taking my seat in the West Stand and being optimistic that not only we could match the team in opposition but win. For a change.

Did we score enough goals in this run? Probably not. We aren’t a free-scoring team, yet. There was no thumping of any team we defeated but we scrapped hard, didn’t give up, and got results from games we simply would not have got from the recent past. We have pressed hard, turned the ball over well and overloaded in wide areas giving us more goalscoring opportunities per game. The whole “xG” measure is one of these new things (like half and half scarves and signs asking for players shirts) that I’m not all too convinced about, but this metric did rise and expectation levels rose with it.

Did we keep enough clean sheets? No and probably no, but Super Steve Arnold in Goal (copyright pending) and a defence marshalled by the Big Pole (gone, but not forgotten) did enough to give us a chance of winning games – and at this stage in the rebuilding programme, it was enough. The defence was quite settled during this run, but with injuries, loan recalls, international call ups (go on the Afghan Prince) and most problematic in my opinion, the team simply running out of steam, the resulting dip in performance and results was inevitable.

So where does this leave us? I think the team is above the curve in respect of where the Three Amigos thought we’d be. Promotion from the Conference is a arduous task – am sure everyone reading this would agree – and am sure the recalibrated requirement for this season was to ensure we pull away from the relegation zone, finish as high up as possible and lay the foundations for next season and a push for the play-offs. This, as far as I am concerned, has been done. We are now in no danger of being relegated, and due to the top seven being so consistent and out of reach, a top half of the table finish is possible and that’s grounds for optimism.

Off the pitch regarding the football department – we are in good shape. The famous “wall” with the lists of transfer targets is there with John Still and his band of scouts watching players as well as adding to them I’m sure. The foundations are there for more decent signings and the evidence is in the signings made so far: they are all of the right age profile, in the right positions and all have something to prove coming from lower leagues. Not all have set the world on fire yet, but a good pre-season with the core of the side already in place will set us up for the best possible chance of success. When was the last time we could genuinely say that happened? Under Tilly after promotion from League 2? Maybe?

The Head of Physiotherapy is close to being appointed so our chances of getting players back on the grass will hopefully be better. A new Head of Academy is being interviewed so all the building blocks are being put into place so more optimism there. I could write a whole article on off-the-pitch shenanigans concerning Uncle Ron but I’ll leave that to more learned colleagues but this shouldn’t detract from things actually getting better.

So let’s go back to the title – has reality bitten us after the end of the run? Probably yes, but we are certainly in a better position than we were on Christmas Day. The last three or four games have probably shown the management team more about the character of the squad than the unbeaten run and without naming names, I’m sure a number of players have played themselves out of next season’s squad. Is that a bad thing? No if we can move players on easily but there are a couple of high wage earners contracted for next season, I’m sure will need to be gently eased out of the club. In the Three Amigos we trust. 

Did we ever think we’d ever walk this league? God no. This is my 32nd season supporting the Thames Estuary Galacticos and we’ve had better teams and we’ve certainly had worse. Spring has sprung, the nights are lighter and optimism will be thrown around once things get moving regarding player arrivals and departures. The new season will be on us before we know it.

And I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Simon Dodd