FOOTBALL: We enter the month of May tomorrow and the final month of our first season of National League football, writes Mark Hearle.
It has, hopefully, been a one-off, as the route back to something approaching normality continues.
For the Linnets it has, as it turns out, been a free hit of sorts, with confirmation from the Football Association that there will be no relegation from the National League this season.
If we had continued with a squad similar to the one we began the season with in October, I think that we would have been in a much more comfortable league position than we are at the moment.
What Ian Culverhouse and his coaching staff have achieved with a squad that has been taken apart and rebuilt isn’t far from being a miracle in a league where every mistake is punished continually.
It has also given the likes of Tai Fleming and Michael Gyasi the chance to experience more exposure of National League life than they may have seen in more normal circumstances.
Youngster Joe Gascoigne has also been in and around the first team squad, something that will only benefit his development both on and off the pitch (see feature on Page 69).
Knowing the backroom staff as I do, I’m 100 per cent sure that reinforcements for next season have already been identified with others on the radar.
A close season is always busy but the one that will be with us in four weeks time could well eclipse any we have seen at The Walks for a few seasons.
Reinforcement is certainly needed with the confirmation that Grimsby Town will be playing at The Walks next season, along with possibly Southend United, who are in terrible trouble at the wrong end of the Football League.
So much for next season, but the top of the National League is looking very interesting right now with a host of big hitters jostling for the right to play League football.
For several weeks it looked likely that Sutton United, a surprise package for many, were going to have a comfortable passage to the title, holding a good advantage over their closest opposition with games in hand.
A few weeks later though, their form has dipped and the games in hand have been played, leaving the door slightly open for Torquay United, whose own form has picked up recently.
I wasn’t overly impressed when we played Torquay, both at home and in Devon. We should have beaten them here in December but had to settle for a point and lost by a single goal in the return fixture.
However, as many often say, the league table doesn’t lie. Hartlepool United and FC Halifax are good sides and Chesterfield have done ever so well after switching managers midway through the season.
Eastleigh are another surprise package, aided now by the goals of a certain Adam Marriott, and look set for the play-offs after a good 1-0 win over morning leaders Sutton last weekend.
I have to mention Stockport County, who we lost to 4-0 on Tuesday, for the second time in two weeks. They are a great side, who are now unbeaten in 12 games and on a good run of form at just the right time.
In the two games against us they have been sharp and at it from minute one, playing some free flowing and expansive football that has been pleasing to watch.
If I were a betting man, my money would be on Torquay to gain automatic promotion, with Stockport also going up to see both rejoin the Football League.
Now just sit back and watch these predictions blow up totally over the next month!
Last Saturday ahead of the Dagenham fixture, the club paid tribute to Lee Calton and Paul Johnson, two staunch supporters, who sadly passed away in the last two weeks.
Both teams and a few friends of the men joined in a round of applause ahead of kick-off in a moving gesture that saw a wreath placed on the centre circle by a relation of Lee’s.
The club has received many nice calls and messages from families and friends thanking us for the tribute that took place.
To all of them, I speak on behalf of the club when I say it was no problem and the very least we could have done in the circumstances.
The families and friends of both men continue to be in our thoughts.