11th in the League, how cool is that and who would have thought it after our dreadful start to the season? Two wins out of three very tricky fixtures, including one almost in the Atlantic Ocean and another in another country both in consecutive weeks, the latter being a decisive victory to go alongside our defeat of non-league big boys Salisbury at The Home of World Football. Oh and of course, I must mention our customary victory over the smaller club in Walton, in what was a low-key affair last Tuesday. Credit to Steve Conroy, building a team from scratch, up against it and with doubters suggesting it would all go pear-shaped. Well it hasn’t yet, and the signs are that things well and truly are moving in the right direction.
However, at these seminal moments, complacency can be a scourge and this campaign has not been one where we have really built momentum or consistency and with clubs below us having games in hand, the worst we can do is to start thinking about the Play-Offs, which admittedly I did the moment the final whistle went in Wales on Saturday, which is utterly stupid and fatal. I apologise profusely.
Let’s hope tonight is as exciting as our last home league match down here on the banks of the River. I knew something special was going to happen as I cycled down the towpath to the game and in the opposite direction, sprinting as fast as James Ewington chasing a Rene How flick-on, was Mo Farah! The disappointment was that he couldn’t have been pegging it quicker away from Waterside Drive, as if he’d been wrongly told that Walton and Hersham were playing in 10 minutes rather than the mighty Stags. He would have been better off practising on the Athletics track and then popping his head round to see Rene’s early goal of beauty and then that pulsating last 10 minutes. Possession counts for diddly squat and although it seemed that Salisbury had most of the game, we were absolutely clinical, bordering on ruthless.
Moaning was a key theme of the Salisbury match. I found it funny to watch their manager, TV pundit and former Premier League and Championship star, Steve Claridge grumbling and cursing in the dug-out and then, from where I was standing near him, you could hear the expletives from their fans sitting opposite in the seats as their shouts of disgust at their team rang round our amphitheatre. It was easy to get the impression that they thought it was beneath them losing to a two-bog, rag-tag outfit such as Walton Casuals. Even when they equalised, the noise was more akin to “normal service has been resumed” and a sense of entitlement that they would go on and get the three points. If you go to their ground, you’ll admit it has a big-club set-up about it, but their fans have a sense of superiority. Moaning wasn’t limited to the visitors, though, and it was noticeable that dear Rene, in his captaincy role, was commentating on every kick during the entire match, mainly positive but some grumbling when things went wrong which served as a bit of a “kick up the backside” for the whole team to prevent the focus levels from dropping – “you can’t do that as a footballer at this level”, was one of my particular favourites!
I’d been unable to venture down to Truro and Merthyr (divorce proceedings would have been enacted had I even asked the question at home), so spent the last couple of Saturdays watching Chertsey Town. The first match was when they hosted Tooting and Mitcham and lost 0-5, the second was their 4-0 win at hapless Staines Town in “The Thorpe Park Derby”. My highlight of the Tooting match was hearing “Rooney” shouted by one of the visiting team and then realising that one of my non-league heroes of all time, the former Casuals skipper, Daryl Coleman was playing for them. There was I thinking it was only us who called him “Rooney”!
My trip to Staines on Saturday brought it home just how far the Swans have regressed. In the run-up to the game, former Casuals player Mahrez Bettache was relieved of his interim manager duties, despite having sparked a mini revival. Mahrez took to Twitter to complain about the decision and he was supported by many, though he was to be replaced by the very experienced Martin Kuhl, who has represented Derby County, Birmingham City and Portsmouth and had management roles, in some shape or form, at Reading, Aldershot, Wycombe Wanderers and Torquay United. Mahrez was spotted in the Main Stand on Saturday and it will be interesting to see if he read the Chairman’s programme column in which he explained that he had been offered the post as senior coach “which we believe given his relatively young age of 26, represented an excellent opportunity for him to work under someone of Martin’s stature”, something which he has “declined”. Whatever the case, it looks like Kuhl has some turnaround job on his hands – Staines were utterly awful, in front of a small crowd of 175 of which at least half had made the very short journey from Chertsey.
Anyway, back to us Stags and it’s exciting that we’ve three home games on the bounce here in just over a week. Granted that none will be pushovers, by any stretch of the imagination, particularly high-flying Chesham’s visit on Boxing Day, but there is the chance to gain a bit of much-needed momentum. I don’t think I am in danger of sleep-walking into the dreaded realms of complacency by suggesting that if we were to gain, say, 6 or 7 points by the end of the festive period and our visit to Harrow Borough, that we could be not too far away from relative security and then we can build for next season in a way that we didn’t last time round and we can grow our fanbase, dream of promotion next season and then…..Oh dear, I’m getting carried away again.
Come on you mighty Stags!