QUALIFIED optimism is the theme this week.
Yes, we can get to the play- offs, of course we can, but there is one large obstacle – away games. There are too many of them. The next two give special cause for concern, there being well determined trends that need to be reversed.
The first is the curse of the cameras. Rovers have a poor record when on TV. This season just one point was claimed from the matches against a moderate Hereford side.
It must be different at Southport on Thursday, but remember they have been beaten only four times on their own ground.
Then comes the Kingsfield curse. Recent matches there, against either ‘The Cards’ whom we play on Tuesday, April 1, or Hayes and Yeading, when ground sharing, have seen Rovers demonstrate form that has varied from poor to abject. These are different days now and we have the players with the ability and attitude to bring us at least four points but it will not be easy.
For AP it will be a real test. “The best man manager I have played for,” is how Stephen Gerrard describes his Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers.
The evidence is that many players feel exactly that way about our current gaffer. Ady surprised some by being pleased, rather than frustrated with Saturday’s performance. He wants his players’ morale to remain high and his post-match video and radio utterances on Saturday will surely do that.
It must be the same for us. Had we drawn against Grimsby and beaten Welling we would be in buoyant mood, talking about the four points won. Too many are frustrated by the two points lost.
The signs were good on Saturday. The Ambassadors scheme, marvellous in both concept and execution gave an extra pre-match buzz. There was a good crowd and reasonable weather.
On seeing the players take the field it seemed that a visiting barber had attended the training ground for a block booking, all looked smart, but some were visibly shorn. Taylor, Russell, Hodgkiss, Norwood and Stokes remain the fashion leaders but it is a close run thing. I believe AP had also succumbed to a snipping, but in his case not too drastic a one.
As the game progressed it was suggested that the haircuts had resulted in a Sampson like scenario, our players being somewhat below par. There were certainly not at their best, and no wonder given recent physical demands but no criticism will be forthcoming from this quarter. They have done us proud in recent weeks.
In addition there was the unfortunate injury to playmaker Marcus Kelly. Now we know what an important player he is.
The willing Chris Stokes was pushed forward, the manager wanted a left- footed player to keep the team’s balance and shape but Chris, still finding his way back was somewhat subdued. Kelly’s absence will not be short and perhaps there is a case for bringing back the busy Steve Brogan.
There may not be the need to do that if Yan K is fit. He was just the player needed to steal a goal and alter Saturday’s stalemate.
The twelfth man – us – did our best. Outstanding on Tuesday we stayed loyal and vociferous on Saturday. Like the players we must keep our efforts up. The Fat Lady has not yet started to look at her music. She will not draw breath until the last Saturday in April.
The fight for positions two, three, four and five will go on that long. Cambridge and Grimsby will earn two of them. Then for the other places, two words come into play – pressure and resources.
Alfreton are the surprise team of the season, and splendidly organised as they are by Nicky Law do they have the squad strength to maintain their current high position.
Nuneaton owes much to manager Kevin Wilkin, but he is no longer the man to give them a happy end to the season, having left for Wrexham. Kidderminster and Gateshead represent greater threats. Barnet are the unknown quality.
As we saw at Cheltenham, Martin Allen is one who likes to change everything, throwing the baby out with the bath water. He cannot do that at this stage of the season and will have to make do with existing resources and rely on his considerable motivational skills.
They must not be ignored. It is going to be very close indeed, the intensity of the struggle proving the quality of the league. My play -off quarters are Cambridge, Grimsby, Kidderminster and FGR, with Barnet as first reserve. Optimistic – certainly. Realistic – I hope so.