What a difference a year makes for high-flying Linnets
- Credit: Archant
The big games are coming thick and fast for King's Lynn Town – Chris Lakey looks ahead to Saturday's home game against Chester.
A year ago this weekend, King's Lynn Town were enjoying something of a resurgence.
The goalless draw at home to Stratford Town made it three games unbeaten for caretakers Robbie Back and Neil Fryatt following the axing of Simon Clark.
More pertinent was that the game saw the debuts of Adam Marriott and Chris Henderson. Marriott would go on to score 24 league goals before the season was out and prove to be one of the major catalysts behind a turnaround of epic proportions.
It was a couple of weeks later that the final piece in the jigsaw arrived, when Ian Culverhouse made a surprise return as manager. Since then the former Norwich City player and assistant manager has carved out a path of almost relentless success, which ended with the Linnets earning promotion to the National League North and continues with them earning the right to remain there.
Culverhouse hasn't lost at home since his return: 24 teams have attempted it and none has succeeded, with only five going away with a share of the spoils.
Even this season, when Lynn have had to up their game to cope with the leap in quality, Lynn have won five of their six home games, drawing only against a very good Gloucester City side.
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"Let's make this place a fortress" is one of football's most over-used cliches, but The Walks has pretty much become that. And it needs to be: Culverhouse has been at pains to point out that life in the National League North is a very different beast and that survival may hinge on points that can be picked up at home.
The Linnets have confounded their critics so far: they have lost just twice, on the opening day at Guiseley and then a fortnight ago at leaders York. Both 3-0 scorelines, both chastening experiences. Guiseley proved to be a learning experience - Lynn went on a 10-game unbeaten run in the league - and Culverhouse will be hoping the defeat at York will prove the same.
The fact that it's third against second, when Chester come to town today stretches the examination and means the theory will be put to a most stringent of test, with the stars of education and home advantage needed to align perfectly.
The obvious thought is that Chester - a phoenix club trying to work their way back into the Football League - present a similarly difficult challenge as York.
Paul Bastock, Lynn's assistant manager, believes Culverhouse is the man to tackle the question of how to cope with them. Speaking after last weekend's 2-0 FA Cup win at Leek, Bastock acknowledged it was Culverhouse's half-time hair dryer and a changes of tactics that produced the result.
"He's just tactically spot on again - second half was much better than the first half," said Bastock, who was just as delighted at the clean sheet, which suggested the back four had taken notice of some wise words after the York defeat.
"We had them in Thursday night about the goals," he added. "We pulled the back four in, we said, 'we are not accepting this any more, this is not good enough by our standards, the way we are gifting goals'. That desire to get back in, stop crosses, put your body on the line, and I thought Smudger (Chris Smith) and Rory (McAuley) today were colossal. Smudger is coming on in leaps and bounds."
Culverhouse and Bastock will enjoy preparing the tactics for Chester.
"We don't fear anyone at home," said Bastock. "We have a massive game against Chester, the gaffer has already touched on it. We have got them in again this week and we will be working on phases of play and so forth so that is the next big thing.
"The FA Cup has now gone... Saturday is now more important to maintain the way we have started off this season."
The FA Cup trek to Nantwich in seven days' time is a nice little earner but Bastock knows the priority this season.
"First and foremost to stay in this league was the priority and that is still our priority and we have had a great start, to say that we are staying in this league for next season and then we can build and build and build," he said. "We don't want to get carried away because we are over-achieving, but he who dares...
"We have just got to maintain the standards the gaffer sets - our belief in our football. We have already surprised everybody this year and I am pretty sure we can continue.
"If the boys can stand up to long balls and the physical side and are brave in their passing and movement I think they (Chester) will have more to fear than us."