Wow. In the cold light of day we can regroup. Let’s start with the stats, because some of them are revealing (IMHO). For the first time since the end of 2020 we are in a play-off spot on merit, ie actual and on a points-per-game basis. This has come curtesy of our run of form since the end of February – which has lifted our PPG from 1.419 (projected total of 65) to 1.610 (projected 74) – and three defeats and a draw in the last four for Portsmouth. Didn’t see that coming. I’d been assuming that Lincoln would be our main target, especially if they came back from an enforced Covid-19 break off the pace. But they’ve delivered three straight wins to move if not out of sight for us then close to it, only by virtue of our having to play them. Fair play to them.
Just what’s happened to Portsmouth I’ve no idea. But their loss of form has cut the current projected points total for making sixth to below 72. The benchmark has always been 75, and that may still prove the requirement, but as things stand 72 would get you in. All will change again for sure, but right now we’re looking at facing Lincoln and then beating either Sunderland or Blackpool at Wembley.
I remember writing a post in February suggesting we needed to win every other game until the end of the season to make the play-offs. Despite four points thrown away (the penalty against Oxford, the draw against Wimbledon), which I admit I thought at the time had scuppered us, this is pretty much what we’ve done, plus a bit. Since the start of March our record reads: P10, W6, D4, L0, F18, A7, Pts 22 (ie 2.2 per game). But just as important has been a team in the top six falling away, in this case Portsmouth (Ipswich, Doncaster and others have just about disappeared and Oxford losing last night was reassuring).
However it ends up, we are going to look back on this as a very curious season. Our results in March and April carry echoes of the October/November period. Our record for those months reads: P10, W7, D2, L1, F16, A7, Pts 23 points (2.3 ppg). In other words, in two 10-game spells we’ve generated 45 points. The other side of the coin is that in the 23 games outside of these periods our record is: P21, W5, D6, L10, F29, A37, Pts 21 (1.0 ppg). In other words, we have now had two title-winning spells (which if extended over 46 games would have seen us amass 103/104 points) amid relegation form for the rest of the season (46 points).
The reasons for the swings in fortune are many and some do stand out (most obviously that in the poor spell we have conceded an average of 1.76 goals per game against 0.7 for the two good spells). But I don’t think I can remember a season where the divide between the good and the bad has been so acute. We just have to ensure that in the final five games we continue with the good – but a material change last night, although academic, is that we could now afford to win only four of our last five and still be guaranteed a play-off spot.
That of course doesn’t give any real margin for error and we have the momentum at the right time that we have craved since January. Suddenly we have real competition for almost all places – the main exceptions being goalkeeper (no reflection on Maynard-Brewer’s ability and potential but I hope he is not called upon) and centre-forward (we have Stockley and Aneke but assuming they are to be interchangeable in the current formation it would only take an injury to one to leave us short; Washington will still play a role when fit but alongside one of the other two, while Schwartz has to wait and see if he gets a chance).
Saturday will no doubt be a good test of our progression, but come on, it’s Peterborough for crying out loud. Congratulations to them on their prospective promotion but we’re not exactly talking European Super League contenders. After all, after last night we do have in common with them that we’ve both been beaten at home by Gillingham.