On Tuesday League Two clubs voted to curtail the 2019-20 season, after accepting the EFL’s framework for ending an incomplete season.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had professional football in England on standby since Friday 13th March, the day before The Ammies were due to travel to Exeter City.
League Two clubs indicated a preference to end the season at a meeting in May, with the EFL’s framework proposing that should a season be incomplete, the table should be decided on a points per game basis with promotion, relegation and play-offs taking place.
As a result of the vote, our final position in our debut EFL season is 11th while the status of the Leasing.com Trophy Final remains ‘postponed’.
It’s a decision that has been a long time coming, and not a completely pleasing one for manager Graham Alexander, but he is content to have an outcome.
“I think sometimes the not knowing is the worst thing. I wouldn’t say it’s a satisfactory outcome to be honest from my perspective, from my team’s, but at least we know where we stand now.
“To be fair to the players, as soon as we sent them home on the day that the Exeter game was called off we gave them a week programme for that week just to tick over, then it turned into a three week programme, and it’s just been extended all the time so they haven’t actually had any time off from their training programme, and I must say for 12 weeks the players have been fantastic in how they’ve gone about that.
“The dedication they’ve got and shown has been absolutely first class and I’m proud to be associated with that group of players because of the way they’ve dealt with this situation.
“We’ve sort of got a date in our head when we think the league might start again, next season so to speak, then we’ve worked back on a date to pre-season then an off-season date, so we’re still going to continue our training programme for a couple of weeks yet.
“I think it’s important that we look after these players and prepare for when we return to play, no matter how long that is. Of course they will have a holiday period and time to completely rest, but we don’t think now is the best time for that.”
After becoming the first team to win back-to-back promotions into the Football League from the National League North, there was a level of expectation which was enhanced after the opening day win against Stevenage.
Defeat the following week at Crawley Town was a reality check, but gradually we found our feet in League Two and at the time the season was suspended we were on our best run of form in the league after five wins and three draws in 10.
With eyes on a late play-off charge and the Leasing.com Trophy Final to look forward to, there’s no doubt the end of the season would have been exciting and it’s unfortunate to end in this manner.
“It’s been a real challenging season I think coming into the Football League for the first time, and where we are right now in the league we’re probably two or three wins behind the play-offs with nine games to go.
“We know from the stats that we’re one of the form teams over the last 10-12 games, and we know the changes and improvements we made to the squad over the course of January were starting to bear fruit.
“Even though it’s been a momentous season for us, being the first one in the Football League, it’s ended with frustration because we haven’t been given the opportunity – like other clubs in our position – to complete this season.
“We know we have a history with our teams of finishing strong and winning lots of games, and we would have been putting pressure on those teams at the bottom end of the play-offs.
“Getting to the Leasing.com Trophy Final I think is a fantastic achievement, beating two League One clubs along the way, using the full strength of our squad over those games. We had a great belief in changing the team and using the lads who trained so hard and were just out of the first team picture at that particular time and point, but I think for them all to get to the Final against Portsmouth was great credit to the way they trained and competed with each other, and looked after themselves.
“I would like to think we haven’t missed the opportunity to do it because you don’t get the opportunity to get to Wembley every season, or even in people’s careers – sometimes you don’t get the chance to go there at all – so to miss out on that opportunity after working so hard to get there and win so many games, it’s just a feeling of disappointment and frustration at the moment for me.
“Over the course we’ve learned what we need to do as a club to improve and to compete against these seasoned Football League clubs that are around us. We’ve learned a lot this season about what we’ve already got at the club, but also about what we need to improve and do better next season to make sure we’re at the top end all season.”
One of the disappointments is that some of the players who played significant roles in us making a Wembley date for the second time in two seasons look set to miss out. While we wait for a date to be confirmed for the Final, and indeed next season, there are some limited preparations that the Gaffer says can be made ahead of a return to playing.
“We did have to make some real tough decisions a few weeks ago, I spoke to each player individually about it all and I feel for those boys more than anything because you make decisions but it’s not on a completed season; we could have put pressure and even nicked into the play-offs, won the EFL Trophy, and it’s a different perspective on the squad and the individuals. Some of those won’t have the chance to play in the Final if it’s played next season and that’s something that’s hard to swallow.
“We understand there’s a lot of things that are going on in the world that are bigger than that, but if we’re talking from a football perspective, I know how chuffed they were after that Newport game to get to the Final and how much everyone was looking forward to it, but some players who did brilliantly to help us get there won’t have the opportunity to play in the Final and that’s a great shame.
“I can’t speak highly enough of some of the players who are leaving the club in the summer because they have been absolutely fantastic pros for this club and for me personally as a manger. I’ve leaned on them a lot, those senior players, and they’ve been an absolute joy to work with and helped me and my staff that I’ve worked with to do their job in managing the whole group.
“I know they will go on to good things and have good careers going forward, but it’s just a shame we couldn’t play at least in that Final to allow them the opportunity, that’s unfortunately out of our control.
“Our work continues all year round, I don’t think we get to a certain point then start planning for the future, it’s a continual programme that’s going on and we do talk about recruitment, what we might possibly need and what we might need to improve on.
“We have to just do the work while we can to prepare for any decisions, we can’t charge down one road and it goes off the other, so you have to be adaptable as you have to be in football anyway, but certainly we’re having discussions about who we can possibly try to recruit and what we need to recruit in terms of positions.”
Despite all, there is reason to celebrate and be cheerful in surviving our first season in the Football League from winning on the opening day in front of the Sky Sports cameras, welcoming Leeds United to The Peninsula Stadium, and putting in a performance of the season away at Oldham Athletic, to reaching the Final and beating Bradford City in our most recent game, with some excellent goals along the way.
The consistent factor has of course been another season of continued growing support both at home and away, and the Gaffer had the following to say:
“There was so much excitement going into the season and to be fair we have had our ups and downs. We can’t say it was a perfect season but we can’t say it was a disaster either; I think we’ve more than held our own, we think we’ve had some fantastic victories along the way, the run in the Cup has been great as well, and we’ve competed against Leeds United at Moor Lane earlier in the season which was a fantastic challenge.
“The supporters have been brilliant this season, and I think about the Forest Green game away, when we’re down to nine men, we win the game, everyone’s soaking wet and we’re celebrating with the supporters; Newport away for the semi-final; all these things, those moments during the season, I know it’s a frustration at the end but those moments and those memories still live on, and I’m sure that the season for all the Salford supporters will live on going forward because it’s their first memories in the Football League.
“They’ve been to grounds they’ve not been to before, we’ve won at those grounds, you know we’ve got a fantastic away record – I think the best in the division – so certainly they’ve played their part in that and we just need to, when we do return, get that home form back for them because obviously that’s where the majority of our numbers turn up to see us.
“We felt that, with the game at the end when we beat Bradford, our first home win for a while, that’s when the momentum was building and just as we were it was curtailed, but I think there’s a lot of good things to look forward to.
“It’s been a brilliant atmosphere at Moor Lane to be honest; a lot of away supporters have turned up in good numbers, our crowd has responded in the right way and I think it’s been a venue where people have enjoyed to come and have that experience. Hopefully we can send them home in the future with less points and that’s the challenge for us all.
“It’s a shame that we haven’t got the opportunity to finish the season with the supporters, it just ended abruptly without us actually knowing that was the end, that’s a shame as well because I think it’s always good to appreciate the supporters at the end of the season but I suppose if it has to be done through this then hopefully they’ll understand how much we do appreciate their support all season through.”
With the league season now officially ended, we are aware that some tickets may need to be refunded. This will of course be communicated via social media, but you can also check the Latest Ticket Information web article for the most up to date news on this.
Details about next season and what will happen next will be shared as soon as possible when we know, but in the meantime take care, thank you for your excellent continued support, and we look forward to welcoming you back to The Peninsula Stadium when it is safe to do so.