Time for a change of pace. Up until now I’ve given a fairly blow-by-blow account of the season, and that’s ballooning this diary considerably. In the interests of not boring everyone to death, we’ll be addressing proceedings in a slightly sweeping fashion from now on.
March began with the Aldershot board once again declaring they were, overall, pleased. The FA Trophy exit and the throwing-away of a 2-0 lead against Yeovil were negatives, but they weren’t enough to give the board serious concern. I retained their confidence. All was well.
Performance-wise, wins kept coming in, and the form was enough for the board to offer a new contract, upping the wages to £925 a week until the end of June 2022. I enjoyed a good sequence of results but old nemesis Notts County inflicted a bitter home defeat upon my Aldershot side, who had lost first-choice ‘keeper Walker to long-term injury. Form became a little patchy, with drops being dropped more regularly than I’d like. A couple of good wins over Dover and Wealdstone put things back on the right track, and with the games running out, Aldershot were firmly entrenched in the playoff places.
In fact, we secured a playoff place with four games to spare, allowing me to focus the team on trying to win automatic promotion to League Two and the giddy world of professional football. Aldershot were hungry but also keen to make life hard on themselves – a thrilling 4-3 away win over Hartlepool summed up the potency in attack but also the complacency in defence that seemed to define the team.
Still, the results were enough to leave us two points behind league leaders Notts County, and level on points with 2nd-placed Stockport going into the final round of fixtures. I would need to defeat Boreham Wood and hope for Notts County to lose and Stockport to draw at best, owing to goal difference.
In the end it wasn’t to be, despite a thumping 4-0 win over Boreham Wood. Stockport took top spot on goal difference from both Aldershot and Notts County, who snatched a draw from the jaws of victory at home against Hartlepool. The playoffs beckoned. A second ‘Manager of the Month’ award came my way. Yeovil, who had dealt me a blow before, stood in my way.
For a while it seemed they would stand in my way again. Despite dominating possession my Aldershot side would go 1-0 down, then 2-1 down, then 3-2 down in extra-time. However, two late, late goals rescued my determined team and we booked a ticket to the playoff final!
Yeovil’s manager, Darren Sarll, felt my team’s victory was undeserved. I suggested he was wrong, and he called me bitter. Well, I got to the final and he didn’t, so nerr!
So on to the final, and Wrexham. And no first-choice ‘keeper, after Hall got injured right before the game. Sometimes Football Manager can leave you feeling cursed, and this was one of those times. Well, in the end Hall would start, as his injury was minor, but still, to have a weakened ‘keeper going into a do-or-die promotion battle was hardly the sort of preparation I wanted!
How did it go? Did I conquer Wrexham at Wembley of all places, and secure Aldershot’s place in the Football League? Going a goal down after 11 minutes left me anxious, but a wonderful goal from right-back Fowler brought us level, and striker Bettamer scored either side of the break to secure a 3-1 win, alongside a commanding team performance. Aldershot were going up!
There will be a lot of work to do in preparation for the 21/22 season. My team has a bloated squad and I will need to weed out the chaff from the wheat. All of that can wait, because for now I plan to enjoy this unexpected but well-earned promotion.