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The Adam Doyle column: The road to the Conference National - A title-winning season in review

After ten months of toil the end of the season is almost upon us. For Woking it’s been an extremely enjoyable and successful one.

With Saturday’s somewhat laborious victory over Maidenhead we clinched the title with two games to spare and saw off a valiant challenge from Dartford. After three seasons away from non-league’s top flight Woking are back in the non-league big-time.

I imagine it has been a rather painful few seasons for Woking supporters and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to play my part in their restoration back to the Blue Square Bet Premier.

The sickening defeat in last season’s playoff semi-final to local rivals Farnborough was hard to take.

I think the general consensus was that if the gaffer could keep the core of the team together whilst making a few quality additions then the season ahead could be taken on with a sizeable amount of confidence.

As one of the only players on a two-year contract I could see out the summer with ease and watch as the new signings were announced.

It was great to see some of the previous season’s players re-sign; the experience of players such as Mark Ricketts and our resident head-on-a-stick, Alan Inns, both being great additions.

Extensive contact list

Garry Hill also opened his extensive contact list and brought in some excellent players who had either played at a higher level or had won leagues. As summer wore on the expectation around the club seemed to rise in parallel with the summer heat, and by the start of the season we were many people’s favourites for promotion.

If anyone imagined we would be weighed down by the expectation on our shoulders they were rudely awakened on the opening day of the season.

90 minutes and 5 goals later we had dispatched newcomers Sutton with ease and so set the tone for what would be a dominant season at the top of the league. 

Of course, it wasn’t all plain sailing and in the first month we drew consecutive matches with Boreham Wood and Eastleigh.

We first tasted defeat in September against fellow promotion rivals Welling, going down 3-2 at Park View Road.

They blew us away in the first half and dominated us at set-pieces but our second-half attacking display was fantastic and, despite only scoring two goals to Welling’s three, showed what our front six players could achieve throughout the season.

The way Welling conducted themselves post-match was a little disappointing but, as the gaffer was quick to remind us, it’s no good banging on the changing room walls in September – leagues are won in the spring, not autumn. It wouldn’t be long before we overhauled Welling’s five-point lead at the top.

What was to be a feature of the entire season was the way we reacted after a defeat. Whenever we lost we always followed up with a win and showed the rest of the division that any defeat would only ever be a minor blip.

This consistency has been a trademark of the gaffer’s tenure at Woking; I think I’m right in saying that he has never suffered back-to-back defeats. This impressive resilience must have been dispiriting for the teams chasing us.

Impressive results

After the Welling game we put together some very impressive results including a superb performance away at Truro who had recently notched up back-to-back wins against Dartford and Farnborough, scoring ten goals in the process.

This game will stick in my memory for one reason: Alan Inns, in an outrageous piece of selfish goal poaching, using his best Superman impression to bundle my already goal-bound header over the line. That’s why he has four goals this season and why I only have two.

Around this time the gaffer shuffled his back line and moved me out to left back. What followed was – depending on your point of view – a lesson in the art of the skilful and marauding left back or a lesson in how to be a headless chicken.

What certainly featured was some decidedly suspect one-on-one defending. Despite this, our lead at the top of the league was maintained and even extended.

Our next big test came against Dartford at their aesthetically pleasing, but altogether lifeless Stadium, Princes Park. We stormed ahead in the first half with two headers from Alan Inns and I, only to completely lose our momentum in the second half.

We survived what can only be called an onslaught and Dartford would have no doubt felt themselves unlucky not to have won. It was also in this game that we lost our influential Skipper, Mark Ricketts, to a badly broken leg.

At the time I remember telling the referee that it was a horrendous tackle and that I believed Mark’s leg to be broken. Unfortunately for Mark and the team this turned out to be true and coincided with an extremely tricky December period.

Glory (and vomit)

By the time of the player’s Christmas party we had picked up a few loan players. One of whom was none other than my fellow totalfootballmag columnist, Ben Smith, who covered himself in glory (and vomit) on a cold winter’s evening in Windsor town centre. (Sorry Smudger!)

A derby double over the Christmas period in front of some excellent attendances saw us maintain our lead going into the New Year.

However, January was to be our worst month of the season so far as we suffered two defeats: one a particularly lifeless display at home to Staines and the other a horrendous defeat away to Salisbury after our keeper, Aaron Howe, had been sent off. More dropped points in February – this time a draw against Hampton – was most untimely.

I was confronted by a fan at the train station on my way home who told me we should start to buck our ideas up. I gently pointed out that we had only lost three league games in seven months and were still 12 points clear, but I suppose you can’t please everybody all of the time.

As the games remaining slowly ebbed away you could feel the tension of the fans filter throughout the club. Starved of any form of success for well over a decade, their restlessness and nervous energy was certainly understandable. Fortunately this never really affected the players or management.

Quality

There wasn’t a sense that we deserved to win the title or had a divine right to do so; we just knew that we had the quality in the squad to see us over the line.

Setbacks at home to Maidenhead and away to Eastbourne gave Dartford a glimmer of hope but luckily we held our nerve and, with a little help from our Italian goal machine Giuseppe Sole, we managed to cruise over the line.

So the story of the season has been one of overriding success and elation. The fans have once again something to cheer about and a club to be proud of and I’m sure they’ll be itching to start afresh in non-league’s national division.

On a personal level it is my third league title in five years and despite not playing in Saturday’s title clincher due to suspension, it was a very satisfactory end to a tough season.

I don’t know what the summer will hold and I can’t say for certain whether I’ll still be with the club, although I would like a crack at the national league. As a player who has only ever graced non-league it’ll be a great occasion for me to play against ex-league clubs like Luton.

Additionally, being in a family from the blue half of Manchester, I think my old man would like to make like David Pleat and jig his way across the Kenilworth Road turf!

Whatever happens to me next season, I am certain that Garry Hill and Steve Thompson are the perfect team to lead Woking’s challenge in the Premier Division. I imagine the gaffer will have his address book out already lining up potential players to help complement the talented squad we have in place.

For now I’m going to savour the last two games whether I play or not and have a well-earned drink with the fans. I’ve got a few relaxing holidays lined up in the summer, which I intend to enjoy, but I know before long it’ll be time to dust off the Copa Mundials and get started all over again.

By Adam Doyle

If you like what you have read then follow me on Twitter: @adamhdoyle


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