46 Game Quarter Final

One of our fellow travellers at Cambridge admitted to me before the game he hadn’t seen the Dons win away from home since Staines… that’s right, Staines… in the playoff final, nearly THREE years ago. I have to pass on my personal congratulations that his curse has finally been broken, if only as this now means we won’t have to kidnap him on the morning of our away play-off semi final and lock him in a cupboard until kick-off.

I have a fairly scientific outlook on life – I’ve explored all the major religions and found they weren’t for me, and the supernatural only interests me for purely skeptical reasons, partly because my wife is one of those ‘I want to believe’ types. Yet beyond threatening a fellow supporter with the sort of offence that the justice system normally rewards with a spell in the slammer, I’m finding myself getting more and more superstitious as the playoffs loom ever closer. Almost subconsciously superstitious. I don’t mean I’ve got a pair of lucky pants or anything, although undoubtedly there will be at least one person out there reading this thinking ‘I actually do have a lucky pair of pants…’.

I mean I’m trying to repeat my behaviour prior to victory, visiting the same shops, catching the same train, that sort of thing. I walked into the Kingston Road to avoid a tree before the Barrow game and nearly got mown down by a bus, just because I remembered doing the same thing before the Rushden game. And I’m growing my beard out, as we seem to do a whole lot better when its bushy… I’m currently skirting the fine line between ‘fashion statement’ and ‘might be a tramp’, I’m not entirely sure what its going to look like if we make it to Manchester, but I’m glad I only noticed the trend in March or I’ll be in full-on hermit mode by now…

With Crawley having won this division, for the rest of us the regular season has just boiled down to a 46-game Quarter Final, and as we are effectively 3-0 up heading into stoppage time as far as that is concerned it’s probably time to turn our attentions to the two or three games that will decide our fate.

First off, some simple facts, which should already be common enough knowledge… This is the first time the Dons have taken part in what most people would consider is a ‘proper’ Football League style play-off, with two-legged semi-finals followed by a final at a neutral venue.

The final itself would normally take place at Wembley, but due to a clause in the contract between the stadium and UEFA, the venue cannot be used for a certain number of days before the Champions League final scheduled to be played at Wembley the Saturday after. So for one year only, the final will be staged at the 47.726 capacity City of Manchester Stadium, also known as Eastlands, the home of Manchester City FC. Presumably even an organisation as occasionally chaotic as The Conference managed to get it together in order to exchange contracts with the venue, meaning it’s hugely unlikely the venue will be changed now even if Luton and The Dons make it through… then again I’ve probably annoyed the Football Gods enough already with all this talk of finals (the only deity I have no trouble believing in).

The reason I have been banging on about a top three finish for the past few weeks is it gives home advantage in the second leg of the play-off semi-final, which is pretty much the only advantage the higher ranked side gets. I’m sure there would be fairer ways of organising things (for example, the higher ranked side goes through if the scores are level…?), but lets face it, I’m only mentioning it now as we would benefit from it – one day, maybe long into the future we will sneak the final place in some division somewhere, and I’ll have changed my tune…

In terms of who I think is going to make it, to be honest I can’t see York making up a three-point gap whilst beating both Luton and Crawley, but if anyone can do it. Kidderminster and Fleetwood have similar run-ins, with their meeting on Easter Friday looking vital. Kidderminster have home advantage for that, and I just think they have that little bit more to them than Fleetwood, so I’m going to predict Kiddy to take the final playoff place at the expense of the Cod Army.

Wrexham should have enough about them to take fourth, and Lutons recent wobbles aside the fact they still have to play Histon and Eastbourne alone suggests they will be top three minimum. Terry Browns statement that he is looking to rotate the squad a bit over the last couple of games could see Luton pip the Dons to second, so I’m not confident enough to predict who the Dons will face in the semis just yet…

Having said that, as far as I’m concerned a late York charge will present the worst possible opponents for us. We never get on too well up there and could end up having it all to do in the home leg if things go wrong… maybe we can let them take care of Luton instead?… Kidderminster did the double over us, but don’t have that real fear factor… they’ll do well to avoid defeat to us four times in a season, and that’s what they will have to do to knock us out unless they run up the score in their home leg, which I just can’t see happening.

Fleetwood and Wrexham present their own challenges, both very tough to beat, our home defeat to Wrexham has left me having nightmares that sort of performance could be repeated in our home play-off game… as for Luton, if they end up outside the top three from this position we will probably have less to fear than any possible opponent, but I can’t see that happening. If we face Luton at all we can be sure it’s because we have progressed beyond the semis, and that possibility is a discussion best left for another day…

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