Teams that win promotion show a relentless quality. If you consider the difference between promotion and the play-offs last year was one point and you spread that across 46 games, that’s just 0.02 points per game. The good teams and the less good teams broadly do all the same things; difference between success and failure is right in the margins.
I remember playing Crawley in 2012 when they were promoted. We had aspirations for promotion ourselves and played with a fantastic intensity. It felt like we were playing at maximum capacity which was great to watch. But what we considered to be extraordinary was what they considered to be under-par. We led, but in the last minute, with a certain inevitably, they equalised. Extrapolate those moments of marginal difference across the entire season and the margin grows considerably. We ended the season 16 points behind Crawley.
Maintaining that intensity throughout a season is the biggest challenge facing any team hoping for promotion. This is particularly true against teams like Mansfield. In many ways, this was the first true test of our potential. It was away, it was off the back of a top-notch performance, it was against one of those teams it’s difficult to get too excited about. What drives the performance is not the opposition, but the inner intensity to perform, which in turn, is driven by the objective.
So, as a result of the draw with The Stags, are we demonstrating that relentlessness and intensity? Not yet, but there’s no doubt we’re robust. We’ve now played four games and conceded first in all of them. And yet we remain unbeaten. That’s a team with a solid resolve. Those statistics point towards a team who should be harbouring ambitions for the play-offs. Going beyond that requires a bit more; Jim Smith used to say that to win the title you had to win at home and draw away. The draw against Crawley on the first day of the season means we’re slightly behind that sort of run rate. As a result, as encouraging as the signs might be, the jury remains out as to whether we’re quite at the point where an automatic spot, or better, is realistic.