Lowestoft Town’s rollercoaster campaign could still have happy ending in Ryman League play-off semi-final
- Credit: James Bass
One of the most turbulent seasons in Lowestoft Town's recent history could still have a happy ending.
Budgetary constraints had threatened to cast the Trawlerboys from one of the leading lights in the Ryman League Premier Division to an also-ran.
The Blues' mid-table position at the turn of the year certainly was not what fans had become accustomed to having finished fourth, third and second respectively in the last three seasons at Step Three.
But the club couldn't continue to operate on the sole goodwill of chairman Gary Keyzor, who had helped bankroll the Blues' ascent through the non-league pyramid. This, understandably, couldn't go on forever and efforts to put the club on a sounder financial footing that looks for other revenue streams via a new commmittee has produced a clarity of thought both on and off the pitch.
Since this move in February the management team of Craig Fleming, Micky Chapman and Ady Gallagher, knew where they were and had to manage their small squad accordingly. It was after successive defeats to Bognor Regis (4-1) and Bury Town (3-1) that the Blues' season started clicking into place. Suddenly the play-offs, Lowestoft's nemesis over the last three seasons, were looked upon as the club's potential salvation.
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They had to produce a run of results that saw them lose just twice in 19 matches but Saturday's 3-0 win over Harrow Borough confirmed a fourth-placed finish and another shot at making their Conference dreams come true.
Director of football, Fleming, admitted this had been the most difficult, yet satisfying, season of his time at Crown Meadow since coming to the club in 2009.
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'First and foremost I think it's incredible that we've managed to get in the play-offs,' said the former Norwich City defender. 'It's been well publicised that we've had to go through a number of changes on and off the pitch at the club but the lads have been tremendous.
'We've had to use the same 12 or 13 players week in, week out, as we've had a smaller squad and we've come through it.
'I'd have to say it's been the hardest, but also the most enjoyable, season since I've been here. There have been a lot of things away from the football side that we've had to deal with but we've come through it together.'
Fleming insisted even in the club's darkest hour during this campaign that he never lost confidence his squad could gatecrash the top five. However, having got there, he also knows from personal experience what a cruel mistress the play-offs can be.
'When you look back at the games we've lost in the play-offs before it makes you realise what a lottery they are,' said Fleming, whose side have fallen at the final hurdle against Tonbridge Angels, AFC Hornchurch and Concord Rangers in the last three years. 'Were the teams we lost to better than us? Probably not. It's just little phases in games where something might drop for you or you don't get the right call from the referee.
'I think we are going into these play-offs in a different frame of mind. Certainly in the last two we had become a club obsessed at the thought of promotion and it proved counter productive.
'It was a millstone around the necks of the lads because every time we went out there we were favourites and people expected us to see off teams easily.
'We aren't the favourites this time around and we've got a different mindset as a result. We just have to concentrate on the values that got us here in the first place.'