Wembley Reflections: A Week On

As far as I was concerned, Bank Holiday Sunday and Monday were written off and not just because of the weather. I could hardly muster a smile and was completely lost within myself, contemplating every moment of the game and what could have been the most unlikely of promotions, over and over again. Watching a recording of the game didn’t help and only served to reaffirm my embarrassment at our lacklustre performance.

Now seven days on from Wembley, with Dagenham & Redbridge and Rochdale rather than Portsmouth and Nottingham Forest confirmed for 2010/2011, I’ve had a chance to properly reflect on the day and the end to our season.

Back in August, I’d hoped for and expected a top ten finish. A higher finish, even in the play-offs, was perhaps out of reach given our strong, organised and ‘big name’ competitors including Leeds, Norwich, Southampton, Huddersfield, Charlton and of course Millwall to name a few. So the fact that Town’s final game took place at Wembley did surprise many, including myself. The final was Millwall’s day and if I could have had the match replayed ten times, perhaps Town could have won only once. It was that much stacked against us.

We could have been promoted, but they key question is whether we could have sustained our sucess next season and avoided immediate relegation?

A promotion needs to be built on more than a single strong season. We have had a decade outside of the top two tiers of English football and many of those were truly shocking. Now both on and off the pitch are Town beginning to look up, including the announcement this week that we have had the CVA that has hung over our heads for many years formally lifted.

When Fitton & Co.took over back in January 2008 they set out a five year plan for Championship football at The County Ground. This was a realistic and sensible assessment by a prudent group of succesful businessmen, who’s only failure to date has been the appointment of Maurice “Interviewed Well” Malpas. I’ve no doubt that the Board could have supported the club at a higher level, although I’m far from convinced that one season of relative success is enough.

Statistics have shown that teams promoted through the League One Play-Offs have faired well, avoiding relegation the next season in all but 4 occasions. As much as I would have like to have relied on this statistic, this alone isn’t enough. I believe our best opportunity to succeed at a higher level can only be after sustained winning and solid performances in League One.  This is now even more important given the current and future financial gap emerging between the Championship and leagues below. Our average attendance has improved from 7,499 in 2008/09 to 8,389 and the 8th best in 2009/10. However, given our high league position for most of the campaign, clearly the club is still failing to regularly attract the supporters, who are needed to financially support the club at a higher level as only 3 Championship teams average below the 10,000 mark this season.

Moving onto the players, Charlie Austin is a revelation. He has a natural talent and his game is not simply fine finishing, except at Wembley. Any player new to the Football League, especially coming from that low in the pyramid, needs time, so his second season is so important and will reveal everything. For that reason Championship football could well have been too early for Charlie. Then there is Billy Paynter. Even if we’d won, I think he would have been off. The lure of £7,000 + per week and a big club move would be hard to resist. So taking the forward line as the example, two new and expensive forwards would have been required to hit it off from the start and get the goals to keep us up. That’s a tough ask.

So, whilst I don’t really want to be pessimistic and admit it… perhaps the Wembley defeat was a blessing in disguise. Our unlikely promotion would have been a year or two early. We need to build on this season and push for at least a repeat next year with public expectations raised.

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