Linnets overcome a season full of challenges
- Credit: Archant
King's Lynn Town like to do different sometimes – and their promotion campaign of season 2018-19 fitted the bill to a tee.
A change of manager last summer (which failed), the shock return of Ian Culverhouse (which succeeded), a climb up the table, the march through a play-off minefield sullied by officialdom out of their hands and then the most dramatic of 'super' final wins in the unlikely surroundings of Cantilever Park, Warrington.
If you aspire to be the best you have to overcome the toughest of challenges - and Lynn did that. With bells on.
The season will be remembered for days like Saturday, when Lynn overcame the odds to move through the Southern Premier Central exit door and through the one marked 'National League clubs only'.
The game itself was a thriller from start to finish: Lynn got off to a cracking start when Jordan Richards shot them ahead on 15 minutes, only for Ben Garrity to square it two minutes later, and then put Warrington 2-1 up on 59 minutes with his second headed goal. Adam Marriott won and converted a penalty with five minutes remaining before Michael Gash fired home a glorious winner with five minutes of extra-time remaining.
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That's the nuts and bolts of the game, the final chapter in the story of Lynn's promotion season.
In short, Lynn learned from the mistake of appointing Simon Clark as Culverhouse's replacement. Culverhouse and owner Stephen Cleeve kissed and made up and the former boss was back at the helm, inheriting a team which had been given a lift by interim managers Robbie Back and Neil Fryatt. It also now contained a certain Adam Marriott, who was to play an integral role as the season unfolded.
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From the start of November, Lynn were on an upward trajectory and ambitions changed from making a challenge for the play-offs to actually winning them.
Warrington was the final hurdle put in the way by some FA-inspired tinkering with league numbers here, there and everywhere. But little stands in Lynn's way nowadays, and on the day, they were just a little too good for a very good Warrington side.
As Culverhouse sat in the dug-out trying to digest what had happened, while his players celebrated all around, he looked exhausted... but delighted. Sentences tended to peter out because even he struggled for the superlatives.
He isn't a man who picks out individuals, but on the day it was hard to look past Marriott and his strike-partner Gash. There's a reason successful strikers get all the glory - as they proved. It takes ice cold veins to step up and convert a penalty to keep your team in the game, and it takes huge self-belief to take a shot on goal through a crowded area in a pressure situation which you know could etch your name in the club's history books. That's why Marriott and Gash are so special.
"He was so cool taking the penalty," said Culverhouse. "He's ridiculous isn't he? He knew what was on the game and he knew he had to do it. Gash's finish - that's a goal scorer isn't it? To caress it into the far corner like he did. When he cut inside I think there were a few of them saying 'no, no, no' but he caught it perfectly, and what a finish.
"They have done it all season, they have led the line and got us up field in every game and we knew it was going to be a really psychical battle here because they have had a hell of a season. We knew what we were going to come into, but having those two up front gives you a chance, a massive, massive chance, and they stood up today and led the team and carried team there."
The difference may have been between the ears, as they say: word before the game from inside the dressing room was that the players had rarely looked more focused - it served them well and echoed the manner a couple of English teams higher up football's food chain performed just days earlier.
"I think if you look at those European games that was about two teams wanting it more than the other team and today you could say that about the boys," said Culverhouse. "They just never gave in, they kept going and going and going and to pull something out like that is magnificent really."
Culverhouse paid tribute to Back and Fryatt for turning the ship around between managers, and to Cleeve.
"I'm pleased for Steve as well because he has backed us massively. We came up and stayed over last night and the preparation was spot on," he said. "It doesn't guarantee anything and it costs money to do what he has done, but I am pleased for him because he has always backed us and he has got his rewards."