PLAY-OFF HANGOVERS by Thomas Kelly

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Thomas Kelly – @tommyktufc

Since our heart-breaking play-off final penalty defeat to Hartlepool, most supporters were wondering how the Gulls would bounce back come the start of the new season. Eleven games in and I think it’s fair to say that most, if not all Gulls fans would answer…..poorly.

The Gulls (at time of writing) sit a disappointing 15th in the table, registering just three wins so far, struggling to hit the heights we have come to expect from such a great season last season. A gutsy away performance at Notts County, a Gary time winner at home to Southend and a 5-0 demolishing of Wealdstone are so far our only real high points.

Is it a hangover from the Play-Off final defeat, or is it poor recruitment? It must be stressed that we lost a lot of quality over the summer. Randell, Sherring & Whits comes to mind, and with our extended run to the final, we ended with not only the least time to prepare and refresh, but also other clubs were able to prepare for the current season whilst we we’re still trying to get ourselves promoted.

This is not me trying to find excuses for our poor start, nor should it be. Do they have a factor to our poor start? Of course they do, but we must be honest with ourselves and say that our recruitment of players who have come in are not at the level as those who were playing for us last season and now Gary has huge pressure to either utilise the loan market or instil belief into the side he has brought in and get them playing his way. Either way something has to give and it needs to give soon.

This got me wondering though on how other clubs who lost previous play-off finals in the National League faired the following season and although it’s hard to compare with the sizes of certain clubs who made it and failed to get promoted from the National League, as you’ll see below it’s quite a mixed bag. It just goes to show how difficult getting out of this division is and how important it is to take your chance when you get the opportunity. You never know how the following season will go and even if you get the chance to avenge yourself from the disappointment of play-off final heartbreak. Fingers crossed Gary can get the lads clicking, as we discovered last season, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish and there’s plenty of football left still to play. COYY!!!

2019/2020: Notts County (lost 3-1 to Harrogate)

Finished 5th in 20/21 season (lost 4-2 to Torquay in Play-Off Semi Final.)

Notts County failed in their quest to return straight back to the Football League after suffering to a disappointing 3-1 defeat in front of an empty Wembley Stadium to Harrogate Town. One of the oldest clubs in the English game and also one of the founding members of the Football league were confined to a second season in the National League.

With their opening day defeat at Dover expunged, the Magpies started relatively well, winning the first three games of the season but proceeded to lose their next three, one of which in the FA Cup to Kings Lynn.

Notts found themselves well in the title fight until hitting poor form at the beginning of April which coincided with the sacking of manager Neil Ardley, who had lost just two from his last sixteen matches. Despite a good start under new boss Ian Burchnall they went on a six game winless run which saw them drop out of the play-offs spots before hitting form at just the right time to finish fifth.

Dispatching of Chesterfield in a tight game, Notts came to Plainmoor and fell short as goals from Danny Wright, Asa Hall and Dean Moxey sent the Gulls to Bristol and off to the play-off final. We all know what happened next and I don’t ever want to hear “Sweet Caroline” ever again. HINT HINT TORQUAY UNITED!!

Notts have started OK this season I think it’s fair to say, just a point off the play-off spots but eight points off current leaders Grimsby, the pressure for success for Notts to return to the EFL will be a heavy one on the shoulders of Ian Burchnall.

2018/2019: AFC Flyde (lost 3-0 to Salford City)

Finished 23rd in 19/20 season. Relegated.

AFC Fylde’s ambition of playing in the Football League by 2022 was almost realised three years ahead of schedule when the Coasters, bouncing back from losing to Boreham Wood in the eliminators the season before, made it to the home of English Football in their biggest game in the clubs history. Sadly for them, big spenders Salford cruised to victory with a 3-0 win and thus completed their meteoric rise through the non-league pyramid.

Despite the disappointment, AFC Fylde bounced back a week later by winning the FA Trophy and at the time, it seemed like it would be a perfect platform for them to go that one better and win promotion to the EFL next season.

It wasn’t. In fact, it was the complete opposite. Despite winning two of their first three league games, AFC Fylde would win just two of their next thirteen and saw their long serving manager Dave Chalinor leave the club in the relegation zone. Despite a good run to the third round of the FA Cup and a respectable 2-1 defeat away at Sheff Utd, AFC Fylde ended the season in 23rd place on PPG, not winning a single league game from December until the second week of March.  Struggling to find the goalscoring form of previous seasons, AFC Fylde’s season was compounded further when Rowe went to Oldham in the January transfer window.

A fierce reminder of how success for smaller clubs can hurt them further down the line as better players become targeted by clubs further up the leagues and also to how important recruitment is to clubs looking to go one better than seasons past. 

2017/2018: Boreham Wood (lost 2-1 to Tranmere Rovers)

Finished 20th in 18/19 season.

Boreham Wood, like AFC Fylde had risen up the non-league pyramid and were establishing themselves as National League clubs. Having finished 19th in the 15/16 season and 11th in the 16/17 season, Boreham Wood became one of the surprise promotion contenders in the 17/18 season, finishing a very respectable 4th and made their way to Wembley to face Tranmere in the play-off final. Despite playing pretty much the entire game with an extra man, Tranmere Rovers returned back to the EFL with a 2-1 win against the odds.

Without question this was a huge opportunity that had slipped through the Woods hands and never really recovered from in the following season.

One win from their first five games was followed up by going unbeaten in their next six with four wins., before losing their next four games. On Boxing Day the Wood were 11th and nine points off the play-off spot, but winning just three games for the rest of the campaign saw the Wood finish in a lowly 20th spot and although finishing eight points clear of a reprieved Aldershot, it was a big comedown to the previous season and one that manager Luke Gerrard would have expected much more from.

They did make it back to the play-offs in the 19/20 season, missing out to eventual winners Harrogate Town and on early viewing, look like they will be pushing for at least a play-off finish this season.

2016/2017: Tranmere Rovers (lost 3-1 to FGR)

Finished 2nd in 17/18 season (Promoted)

Whilst Torquay exited the National League in the worst way possible, Tranmere Rovers bounce backed from Play-Off final heartbreak the season before by returning to the Football League at the second time of asking. It wasn’t easy as you would just read above but Tranmere overcame everything that was thrown their way to join champions Macclesfield Town in League Two.

They didn’t start the season in good form though. Just one league win in their opening six games (including a 0-0 draw with Torquay on the opening day) looked as though Nicky Mellon’s side were suffering from “play-off hangover”.

After a 1-0 home defeat to ten man Wrexham on the 23rd September, one of the biggest sides in the division were languishing in 18th place, just two points off the relegation zone. Tranmere soon hit stability and began to climb back up the table and at the end of October they really began to start motoring. For the rest of the season, they won nineteen games, drawing four and lost six, two of those defeats coming right at the end of the season.

They faced a very spirited Ebbsfleet side in the semi-final, eventually coming from behind twice to defeat the Fleet 4-2 in extra time before avenging their play-off final defeat from the season before.

COYY – Tom

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2 thoughts on “PLAY-OFF HANGOVERS by Thomas Kelly

  1. There are many varients you need to get things right and some just drop into place through time and hard work.

    Identifying players that will fit into your game plan and culture can be challenging, many mistakes are made by just adding players who have the potential to do a job, reality can be different and only time will tell with any planned strategy.

    Like

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