Hidden within the guts and glory of our FA Cup defeat was an uncomfortable truth; we were suddenly on a losing streak. Not only that, we were facing three more away games and, therefore, weren’t that far away from finding ourselves in a slump.
This wasn’t exactly new, last year between 10th January and 2nd February we played six games four of which were cup games. We beat Swansea and Millwall – both memorable results – but then lost to Millwall and then to Blackburn. In addition, we fell to a painful league defeat to Bristol Rovers. We then lost two home games on the bounce for the first time, both to promotion rivals. By the end of February we’d accumulated a giant-killing and booked a Wembley appearance but we were on the brink of physical and mental exhaustion that threatened to derail the whole season.
The year was stabilised by the most unlikely player – Jordan Bowery. Bowery scored in five consecutive league wins from late-January to the end of February. When the story of that promotion season is written Bowery will get little more than a few paragraphs, but he was crucial in helping set up the run-in and promotion.
The stakes aren’t quite as high this year – I don’t think anyone is expecting promotion – but we didn’t want the season to fizzle out. Wins against Charlton and Chesterfield leave us just four points from the play-offs. Conor McAnely, who has looked a little lost in his cameos at home, has suddenly changed the whole complexion of the season. It’s possible that McAnely will become this year’s Jordan Bowery scoring key stabilising goals at a crucial time. Maybe he’ll even become this year’s Kemar Roofe, who knows?
That said, it’s debatable as to whether a charge for the play-offs is truly desirable. With games in hand, the play-offs are in our hands, but it’s questionable just how ready we are as a club to play Championship football. Any run-in involving the play-offs – whether it ends in success or failure – will be hugely intense. It will mean the club will have played something like 120 games – including many many big ones – in two years. Great for the fans, exhausting for people like Liam Sercombe and John Lundstram and maybe even Michael Appleton. If we did manage to get promoted, we will suddenly be presented with a whole new world to deal with, are we really ready?
Another year and a lot of this year’s squad will be reaching their physical maturity and maybe even the stadium issue will be sorted out and so we will be much better position to deal with any new challenge. Dilemmas around a promotion charge are a nice problem to have but, perhaps, it’s a bridge too far at the moment?