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2011-2012 As Seen By Eric Hitchmo - Part Three
Up and down. By: Eric Hitchmo 26/05/2012

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"With optimism renewed in November, there was apt reason to be excited ahead of a second round FA Cup tie with Franchise, of course shrouded in history owing to The Magician's connection with the club that Milton Keynes acquired and ripped the heart from. There was to be no upset as a strong, promotion chasing side from the league above arrived and flexed their considerable muscles in order to progress to the third round. It was our first home cup tie of the season, having already been handed six away trips. A youthful line-up laced with fringe first-teamers aimed to begin the defence of the Herts Senior Cup at Hemel Hempstead and they did so with a 2-1 win.

The more serious business was back on the agenda the following evening as Brentford came to town in the semi-final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy. A low crowd, which was more or less a 50/50 split watched on as neither side was able to break the deadlock over the ninety minutes, though the Red and White Bees (!) came closest on several occasions. The rules of the competition ordained that a drawn game be decided immediately by penalties, something which we don't have a fond history of, and indeed had been the means of being knocked out of this very competition by the same opponent before. Five successful penalties later, and we were able to lay that particular ghost to rest following a solitary Brentford miss which threatened the structural integrity of the North Terrace fence. One Bee(s) in London indeed.

The Torquay trip was up next, where of course travelling fans had been messed around with their arrangements weeks prior, and those that still bothered to go (only 77) were treated to yet another harsh last minute defeat, with the winning goal coming from about half a mile out. There still didn't seem to be much reason to panic as the performances were still holding up nicely. However, the next couple of games would ensure that the rumbles of dissatisfaction would again pop up and become prevalent. With the Underhill situation remaining fragile and in the forefront of many minds, we scraped a draw against Cheltenham Town, thankful once more for the goals of Izale McLeod as his brace earned us a point. It seemed that he was going to be the individual who would keep our season afloat and with the January transfer window creeping up on nervous noses, there was concern as to whether we would be able to keep our star man.

Things were to turn awry on Boxing Day with a local trip to Dagenham & Redbridge, with a healthy crowd treated to a dreadful performance and a 3-0 defeat. We had conspired to lose to the side bottom of the league who had not won a game in ten, and the volume of discontent was to be ramped up further once again with the impending trip to high-flying, high-spending Crawley Town. A single goal early in the game would be enough to see us off. They say in football that it only takes a second to score a goal. We could have played all night in this one and not looked close to equalising. The team looked dreadfully demotivated and so did the crowd, ""where were you when we were good!"" was one chant directed at the home fans but similarly taking a swipe at a club who some felt was continually letting them down. Tempers were once again beginning to fray. Happy new year indeed.

In January though, things were again to take an upturn. Down on their luck Bristol Rovers were the first opponents of 2012 and in an abject game of football, they provided us with our first points of the year also as goals from Izale McLeod and the heroic Clovis Kamdjo in the second half gave us the win, and sent opposing manager Paul Buckle to the Job Centre. Unfortunately for different reasons, Daniel Leach suffered the same fate as injury ruled that he would retire from the game. We were already at a stage of not worrying how we got the points, we just needed them out of necessity. We were afforded a rather welcome distraction of Wembley in the JPT, and with the prospect of a first appearance in 40 years just 180 minutes away, you could allow us a little excitement as we tackled Swindon Town in the Southern Area Final. It was a battle we looked like we could lose but our captain Mark Hughes stood tall once again and levelled up the scores in the second half after we trailed in the first. The hopes and dreams were most certainly still alive as the return leg at the County Ground beckoned, though that would be put on the back burner for several weeks as the league took precedence once more.

It was to be a contender for performance as the season for the long venture to Accrington yielded a nearly unfathomable result as goals from Holmes, Hughes again and Sam Deering saw us come home with three points on what both managers described as an unplayable pitch gripped by the cold. Still, we profited and returned with a lovely win. Talking of lovely wins, the next week away at Northampton was to be another one of those. Full backs Jordan Mustoe and Sead Hajrovic had been drafted in on loan after Jordan Parkes had been shipped out on loan and the more than unfortunate season-ending injury to Danny Senda during the Swindon game, but it was to be our midfield boys who would make the difference as an excellent second half showing turned the game on its head after going in behind at half time once more. In a game that the home side couldn't lose, they visibly wilted before our eyes as Mark Byrne curled in a beautfiul equalised before Ricky Holmes drove in a left footer to leave us all very excited behind the goal and the home fans clearly disheartened. Northampton had led in their previous six games and not won once and this was to be payback for the travesty that was the game at Underhill. The win left us eight points clear of our vanquished opponents having played a game less. They languished at the bottom of the Football League, which led our triumphant leader to proclaim that the gap now was too big and he'd like to think that there's one side who'd be finishing below us at the season's end. Well, words to that effect at least. Keep talking Mr. Magician, we all know how this one turns out...

We were given a bit of a gimmie the next week in truth, but still, we were to grab our fourth win on the bounce. With no disrespect meant to Crewe, the fact they were reduced to nine men before half time made things a tad easier for us, though we certainly made hard work of it. Crewe demonstrated the sort of ability that would propel them to the playoffs but the two red cards meant that in the end, goals from Izale McLeod and a first for Michael Hector would be enough to see them off. It also saw the debut of ANOTHER loanee in Jordan Obita, who showed bags of potential in his short spell on field.

So with four league wins in a row recorded for the first time since 2009, the mood had suddenly changed in January. We had dragged ourselves clear of danger, ten points now separated us from the drop zone, and people were even beginning to utter the phrase ""Playoffs?"". We were eleven points away from that zone. With the prospect of Wembley also on the horizon it seemed that just maybe, this topsy-turvy season was going to deliver after all.

In the next part, we'll have a good look at why that wasn't the case."

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