Altrincham FC manager Lee Sinnott will be giving us the inside track on the Robins’ return to the Conference. Here’s his latest column for Altrincham Today.
It’s clear that in our last three performances we have been below-par, but there are understandable reasons for that. You don’t want it to happen, but sometimes maybe it is part of the price you pay for all you have put into previous games.
You have goals for the season and all credit to the players when they are attained. But the downside is what happened against Telford and it is frustrating to watch. They are a good, honest bunch of lads, but Saturday’s game was flat, and that is not what we are about.
The first 20 minutes is key to any game. It starts your engine running, and if you are off and running and sharp, you can build from that. But if you are playing catch-up after 20 minutes, it’s hard.
You have to say neither keeper had a great deal to do. We scored a goal and hit both posts with a free-kick in a spell late on where they didn’t have a single opportunity, but we still ended up losing 2-1, which was disappointing.
Below: Damian Reeves jostles with a defender in the box
You have to look at the picture in its entirety, though. I don’t like to say it, really, but you have to be honest and ask: would we have accepted the position we are in, going in to the last game of the season? Yes, of course we would.
What would our thoughts have been about having a productive season but three out of four games near the end might be a bit disappointing? I think everyone would have gone for that.
So, though there is a general feeling of disappointment at how our final home game of the season has gone, the players have been magnificent.
It is a small squad, and there are only so many times you can go to the well. But, to be honest, it could be a 25-man squad, and there’s nothing to say this wouldn’t still have happened.
It’s that time of year for performances like this. You don’t get them at the beginning of the season. There may be a bit of rustiness and players not up to speed in the opening weeks of a campaign, but that’s different.
These performances you see at the end of every season in every division. I thought we showed glimpses at times, but really that just mirrors the previous two games.
If we had 25 players, it would be 25 players who knew we were safe and perhaps subconsciously allowed that to affect them. You can always tell that is happening from the tempo, and the tempo was always lacking against Telford.
We did not move either ourselves or the ball as we can. When that’s the case, you are easier to play against. There are no killer balls being played. There is a lack of momentum, whereas the better performances we’ve had this season have come when we’ve played on the front foot.
It was another really good goal by Nicky Clee to add to the collection. We haven’t been bobbling them in or knocking them over the line off someone’s backside this season.
Below: Watch Nicky Clee’s consolation goal
Mind you, that might not be a bad idea every now and then. We could probably do with adding a few scruffy goals to our repertoire, because are we going to score wonder strikes all the time?
You can never guarantee the outcome in any game, but I like to sit there and be entertained, and if we had moved the ball round a bit quicker, I can’t help feeling it might have made a difference.
We do create opportunities, and have attempts at goal, but the percentage of them on target needs to improve. That has been a criticism of us and is something we need to address.
I sent Joel Swift on for his debut because I wanted to have a look at him, and there’s no doubt he did well. What he did was inject energy into the game in the last 15-20 minutes, and, to be fair, that was probably our best spell.
We started to exert a bit more pressure, and Joel was very much to the fore. We wanted to have a look at him and see how he handled a first-team appearance, and he was enthusiastic and lively.
We are on 56 points, but I feel we could have had more, though I dare say everyone in the division will be saying that. We are the epitome of a part-time team operating in the company of full-time ex-League clubs, and I have to say the players have been first-class in the way they have taken on the challenge.
Below: After a stunning run through midfield, Nicky Clee’s shot is off target
Now, as the summer break approaches, we will have a look at things and have a think about the direction we will go in for next season.
I don’t like to lose. It makes you miserable. I said to the players at half-time: ‘Come on, it looks like you are playing with a bit of a burden on your shoulders. You’ve not been relegated. You have survived on your own merits – go and express yourselves.’
That was the message, but sometimes that impetus you need can be a bit elusive. I have been in the game long enough to recognise that once it is in their minds that they are safe, it is human nature to respond to no longer having a fear factor stalking you.
Fear can work both ways. For as long as it is there, perched on your shoulder, telling you points are still needed, it drives you on. But once you look round and see it has gone, what do you do? You try to keep going, of course, but it is human nature that you let out a sigh of relief. That’s when flatness creeps into your game.
But if that’s the price you have to pay for safeguarding our Conference status early, I’m sure we would have accepted that at the start of the season. And I say that through gritted teeth, because I don’t like standing on the touchline and not enjoying what I’m seeing from my team.
But then I go in the dressing room at the end, have a look around and think to myself: ‘They are not doing it deliberately – they are probably goosed.’
They have been running on vapours, to a degree, because it is a small squad, and suddenly it’s ‘phew, we’ve done it’. It’s not just one or two, either. There were probably nine or so who looked jaded at Torquay, and it wasn’t much different against Telford.
Now we have to go again one more time and do our utmost to make it 59 points at Braintree on Saturday. There are a few walking wounded we need to monitor as the week unfolds, but at least Peter Cavanagh and Jake Moult are available again after suspension.
Images: Michael Ripley