After doing a load of research around the Conference play-offs a couple of weeks ago when Grimsby Town were first assured of their place in them (for the third season running), I’ve decided to stick my neck out hugely and make some predictions based on the things my excellent research discovered.
I don’t normally do predictions (I leave that up to my cat), so why am I changing a habit of a lifetime? Because I’m brave, that’s why. And also because I didn’t make any predictions last year, or the year before, and that did us no good whatsoever.
Firstly, I want to discount Forest Green. No team that finished 5th ever went up, so that’s that done. Also, it helps that they lost to Bristol Rovers last night. I doubt they’ll turn that around at the Memorial Ground.
The Mariners hit form just when we’d given up all hope of challenging for the Conference title. By winning seven from eight and getting ourselves back in the title race, there then emerged a little bit of pressure to keep winning.
We were meant to beat an injury-hit Gateshead at Blundell Park, but we scraped a draw instead. In front of a large crowd, naturally.
The game against Wrexham the following weekend became must-win, so we lost it 1-0 in what was roundly agreed as the worst home performance of the season.
Maybe I should just get round to saying what I’m hinting at. When the pressure is on – when the crowds are big, and when the team is expected to win – the team usually struggles.
When the pressure is off, and the fans are relaxed about the outcome, see Aldershot (h). Consider Barnet (a). The two huge wins against Gateshead and Alfreton earlier in the season happened when Town had made an inauspicious start to the campaign and were threatening to not bother with a tilt at promotion – or even score any goals (our first of the season came from Jon-Paul Pittman’s arse).
When the fans’ expectations drop, the team performs. It may explain our phenomenal away record this season, which is better than any I can remember in my lifetime at least.
But of course I’m generalising. Town have had, on the whole, a good season – which threatened to be great, but just fell short. They’ll go to Eastleigh tonight as favourites to progress to the play-off final.
If we are to make the final I feel as though we need to win at Eastleigh, because I really don’t fancy us putting them to the sword at home. The game at Blundell Park is destined to be edgy as hell, in front of a large, expectant crowd who are doing their best to keep Sunday 17th May free.
I’m sensing we might edge this 1-0, just as we did in the league, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we drew it 1-1. If it is a draw, then Sunday will be attritional (to borrow a word from test cricket).
We’ve already suffered too much play-off heartache, so it’s about time something bloody changed. The Mariners need to play as they did during their excellent run in March – and also hope that Lady Luck gives them a referee that isn’t an incompetent toss bag.
Crucially, I really do believe Paul Hurst when he says this squad is the best equipped to be successful. Let’s hope his hunch is right – and the players do themselves, the manager and the fans proud.
I’m saying Town will do it. We’re destined to do it, mainly because I’m on holiday when the play-off final takes place. I’ve known I’ll miss the play-off final all season. What more evidence do you want?