The key reasons behind King’s Lynn Town’s winter slump
- Credit: Matthew Usher
Sports reporter GAVIN CANEY takes an in-depth look at why King's Lynn Town are enduring what boss Gary Setchell admits are testing times during their second season in the Evo-Stik (Northern League) Premier Division.
Sitting comfortably in a mid-table position is far from a crisis. But King's Lynn Town, by their own high standards, are in the midst of a winter slump that they seem unable to shake. At the start of November the Linnets sat fifth in the table and a serious play-off push looked to be just around the corner.
However, just a couple of months later the men in blue and gold are 12th having won only two of their last 12 league matches. Things have got worse in the last seven days with top-scorer George Thomson and winger Jake Jones departing for pastures new.
It might not be a cause for all out panic yet but few could argue that it hasn't been a disappointing spell for Norfolk's biggest non-league outfit.
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Although Lynn are far better off than the ridiculously placed Lowestoft Town in Conference North, they suffer similar consequences for being out on a limb so to speak.
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Lynn's derby, Stamford, is more than an hour away and matches outside of Norfolk involve horrible travelling distances. While that doesn't help with preparation, it causes a much more serious problem.
With less money being thrown about now than in the ill-fated 2000s, players are less likely to travel long distances to represent the Linnets. That makes it even harder to attract fresh blood to a squad that desperately needs it.
Plenty of away fans also don't fancy making the long journey to The Walks when their side visit. So that in turn affects revenue being generated too.
Linnets fans are perhaps the most demanding of any part-time footballing establishment in the county. They crave success, which they have got used to since Town were reformed in 2010. It wasn't long before the club went bust that they were playing in Conference North.
Dreams of a Step Two return were increased when Gary Setchell's troops won their first three matches. The form of recently-departed George Thomson, inset, and fine FA Cup and Trophy runs further lifted hopes. But that added belief is itself perhaps the main reason slipping down the table has been so badly received by some.
If you are going to operate with less bodies than usual one thing you need is a near full quota to be available most weeks. But an inability to stay out of trouble with referees has caused all sorts of problems for such a thin squad. An astonishing 79 bookings have been handed out to those wearing Lynn's colours with Gregg Smith, inset, picking up 10 – and he didn't even start the season at The Walks. That figure does not include the seven red cards collected, some of which were for two yellows. Lynn 's ill discipline has left them short of options far too often and they've paid for it.
A 3-2 opening day victory at Ramsbottom United set the tone for a few supporters to believe it was going to be a campaign to remember. Yet on the road it's been everything but.
Since that day in August those who have followed the Linnets away from home have have endured nothing short of a nightmare. Eleven matches have followed since in the league and not one solitary victory has been enjoyed.
To make matters worse leads have been blown, like a 2-0 advantage at Grantham on Saturday which ended in a 3-3 draw, and goals have been scored as freely as they have been shipped at the other end. That is not a recipe for success. Non-stop misery on their travels have also put more pressure on home matches and sadly that has started to tell in performances.
The gamble of going for a squad based on quality rather than quantity appears to have backfired at times.
While the amount of suspensions hasn't helped, neither has a lack of competition for places in key areas of the pitch. When that has been improved, by the addition of Gregg Smith and Henry Eze, players have had to make way to balance the books.
With Jake Jones' departure leaving Town down to 15 senior players, a back-up keeper and a loan striker, that lack of depth is being felt more than ever.
The powers that be need to bring in bodies – or get the best out of even more talented reserve-team youngsters.
There is little doubt that 21 other Evo-Stik Premier Division clubs would like the support that Lynn have.
An average attendance of more than 500 sees the club sitting third in the league's turnstile standings. But the harsh reality is that gates at the club are on their way down.
While the days of almost 1,000 regularly packing The Walks seem over, when the club was reborn at least 800 often flocked to watch Step Five football. While a rise on the pitch has followed, a increase on the terraces hasn't.
With Buster Chapman sensibly refusing to go down the path that saw Lynn go bust, by living beyond the club's means, much of Gary Setchell's budget is down to the revenue created by ticket sales. Less money in equals reduced chance of extra funds for him to mould a promotion-chasing squad.