Craig Priest looks ahead to the final game of the season at Kidderminster Harriers before the play-off battle commences...
I must admit that at this stage of the season, I usually sit penning various articles with a frown on my face and a sigh, knowing that only 90 minutes of football stand between weekends of adventure and weekends of climbing the ways like a dangerously over active 3 year old and a box of crayons. This season however I write with spring to my step, with a smile on my face and in all honesty, a lump developing in my throat as it’s not 90 minutes away from the end, but 90 minutes of football away from one of the greatest adventures there is to be witnessed – the promotion chase via the play-offs.
I’m reserving my thoughts on Wednesday’s trip to either York or Luton, hopefully the former, until Tuesday when I write the match preview and various other pieces – even though our place is sealed football is football, those who say they don’t really care about the fixture are lying – everyone wants to win, everyone wants to finish as strongly as possible. The same principle applies from all those months ago, as Paul Cox said – concentrate on today before thinking about tomorrow!
The gaffers no idiot and I expect changes tomorrow and a slight caution to how we play in some areas, but I don’t think the changes will be spontaneous and wild, they’ll be well planned, well rehearsed and strong to ensure our core keeps burning in the afternoon sky brighter than the sun. I won’t hazard a guess to the side we’ll put out as this time around I genuinely have no clue, what I can practically assure you though, is that the side we put out will be ready for the challenge that Kidderminster pose – that challenge with them needing a win to secure their own place in the play-offs, will be mightily tough.
Steve Burr in my opinion is one of the best managers at conference level and in his second season as Harriers boss has put together a strong side who you should not underestimate, on the last six games form guide, the Aggborough based outfit are first scoring 16 conceding seven, I’m sure you can guess who’s in second right? ... It’s us only on goal difference encase you didn’t know, both have won five and lost one of their last six outings, only defeat at Luton last Saturday prevented Burr’s men from six straight victories and a place in the play-offs.
For those interested in the permutations for tomorrow’s fixture both for our hosts and ourselves in terms of Wednesday’s semi-final they are as follows. Currently it’s Luton who sit in 5th place having failed to take advantage of their game in hand and seal their fate with a midweek draw at Gateshead, Paul Buckle’s men sit just two points above Kidderminster and travel to champions Fleetwood tomorrow, who will be looking to end their blue square adventure with a win following a shock defeat at Cambridge last weekend. Kidderminster will be heavily relying on Micky Mellons title winners to win once more to stand a chance of leap frogging Luton, a defeat for Luton will leave Kidderminster needing to beat us, should Steve Burr’s men prevent us from six consecutive wins at the third attempt this season and take all the points, and should Luton grab a point at Fleetwood, goal difference will come into play, and without being horrible to our hosts tomorrow of whom I have a fondness for, they’d need to smash us to stand a chance of reducing that goal difference. A draw between ourselves and Kidderminster and a defeat for Luton would not be enough for the Harriers to take 5th, they’d miss out by an agonising point – put simply, Kidderminster must win and hope – a dangerous combination to face in honesty!
In terms of where we travel on Wednesday for the first leg of the play-offs, it all depends on the final day’s results, it looks likely it will be York over two legs as they currently sit in fourth. A draw for BOTH sides would see us travel to York as things remain the same, a win for Luton plus a draw for York (at home to Forest Green) would see goal difference come into play, at the moment there’s just ONE goal in it, York on +35, Luton on +34 – as far as I’m aware, should goal difference be level (IE Luton win 1-0 and York draw) then goals SCORED will come into play, currently York have scored 80 to Luton’s 76, if this comes into play then I think it goes down to the rating of the half time tea and biscuits for press... (NOT TRUE!), either way, it’ll be tight and make for gripping viewing, well listening which is what we pride ourselves on here at Mansfield Matters.
Tomorrow’s game, permutations aside, will be tough considering Kidderminster’s strong home record, ranked 5th out of all the sides on home soil, the Harriers score an average of two goals per game, shipping 1.32 goals per game with a 45% home win rate. We can match this however, boasting the best away form in the division over the past six games with five wins and one defeat at Champions Fleetwood, our away attack is ranked 7th over the course of the season netting 34 on the road so far with an average of 1.55 goals per game, leaving 1.05 goals per game on the road.
Kidderminster will have added determination considering they’ve come close to a play-off slot twice since relegation back into the conference in the 2004/05 campaign. After a 15th, 10th and 13th placed finish in their first three seasons back in non-league the harriers missed out on a play-off space by two points back in the 2008/09 campaign, drawing one and losing two of their final three, another 13th placed finish the following season followed before Kidderminster ended last season in 6th, this time missing out by six points, with a final three games reading won-lost-drawn.
We may not have anything to play for in terms of where we finish etc, but we can play for personal achievements and of course, pride. Having notched up 10 away wins for the first time since 1991/92, we are on the hunt for 11 away wins, now I maybe wrong but so far as I can see, 11 away wins has only been achieved twice before, the 1976/77 division three (old) title winning campaign and the 1974/75 division four (old) title winning season – what an achievement that would be, to reach 11 away wins for the first time in somewhat, 24 years? Alan Marriott’s unbelievable goal at the One Call Stadium last Friday night was the 50th home goal of the season, something last achieved in the 1976/77 campaign, whilst our away goals isn’t as high as our home goals, it’s still at the highest it’s been for a number of years. Netting 34 so far, one more than last season’s 33, we are one behind our highest away goals scored total in over ten seasons, maybe more. Netting 35 in the 2008/09 season, we conceded a disappointing 38, setting an away goal difference of -3. It’s because of this goal difference which makes me think about this season and what we could achieve tomorrow , having only shipped 23 away from home this season we have a current away goal difference of +11, the first time since the 1994-95 play-off season, finishing with an away goal difference of +7 netting 39 conceding 32.
So even with nothing to play for in terms of the final position, this season keeps on giving an keeps on presenting challenges, I say we go and win those challenges! If you can’t get to Kidderminster tomorrow for the 1pm kick off, join myself, youth team player of the season Scott Rogers and all round nice guy Wayne Briggs for full match commentary plus unrivalled build up, getting underway on MM-LIVE and 106.9FM from 12noon! We’ll be revealing the winner of the MM-AWARDS, thanks for voting on those guys, the response has been unbelievable: voting by the way is now CLOSED!
Also whilst you’re hanging about waiting for the football to arrive, check out our play-off preview video, more stuff coming soon – Mansfield Matters is the place to be for the play-off adventure!
Last Time We Met:
Down the years these sides have only met 15 times in a relationship than began on Boxing Day 2000, tomorrow’s hosts Kidderminster are the latest of the two sides to be victorious, grabbing a 3-0 win at Field Mill back in September, our first home defeat of the campaign. At Aggborough the two have met just seven times with Kidderminster grabbing four wins, Stags grabbing two wins and the other game ending level. Between the two sides both home and way, 47 goals have been netted, 23 by Stags and 24 by the Harriers, on Kidderminster soil 20 of the 47 have been scored, with Stags grabbing nine to Kidderminster’s eleven.
Kyle Storer, Callum Gittings got two of the three from open play before skipper Lee Vaugn rounded things off from the spot with just 23 minutes on the clock as Mansfield put in a really poor performance ending the impressive eight game unbeaten run.
Stags 0-0 Kidderminster 24.9.11 Line Up: [4-4-2] Marriott, O'Neill, Futcher, Sutton, Kendrick, Briscoe [SO], Murray (C), Howell (Worthington), Meikle (Bolland), Dyer, Green SNU Redmond, Naylor, Connor
Commentary Podcast: Commentary from Craig Priest.
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