ON 2 February Newport County were convincingly beaten 3-0 away from home against Grimsby Town which left us in 14th position in the league table and looking miles away from promotion.
After the game in the dressing room, I remember the manager saying to us that if we weren’t careful, we could get dragged into a relegation battle rather than the battle for the play-offs and we needed to raise our performance levels massively.
The same thing happened to me at Hartlepool United. We were relegated when it looked like there was no chance it could happen, and some players got complacent which led to mistakes and bad results. Then the unthinkable happened. It was actually Newport who caught us that season and we were relegated on the final day of the season.
The reason I have mentioned this is because you need leaders, characters and a great team spirit in a dressing room to drag you out of tough positions and that is just what we have done over the past three months.
After that Grimsby game, nobody outside of our dressing room would have given us a hope in hell of making the play-offs and, to be honest, you couldn’t blame them as it looked like it was out of our reach. But on Saturday, we did just that. We have gone 10 games unbeaten to make it possible and every player has contributed both on and off the pitch in that period to make sure we did it.
On Saturday we were struggling away to Morecambe and it was beginning to look like we wouldn’t score. Morecambe were leading 1-0 through a goal from one of our former team-mates from last season, Aaron Collins, and time was running out for us.
We were going for broke and the manager made three of the most attacking changes I have ever seen anyone make. In the end, it worked. For the last 15 minutes we had four strikers on the pitch, three attacking midfielders, a winger and two defenders playing outfield. Formations went out the window because we knew that score lines elsewhere meant we only needed a draw and, as it stood, one goal to make the play-offs.
The magical goal came in the 86th minute and it took an eternity to go in, but the relief was there for everyone to see. As we celebrated the goal with our fans, I remember thinking we need to sort out this formation now because we have something to hold on to, so I cut short my celebrations to go and find out from the manager and assistant what we were going to do. He got the information to me and the next minute was spent trying to reorganise the side without disrupting things too much at the same time.
The last couple of minutes were very weird because Exeter and Forest Green were level. We knew a point would do us but as the same time we knew one goal from Exeter would mean we needed to win. It was an unusual situation because we had a couple of chances from free kicks and long throws where we would normally send our defenders forward to attack, but we only had two on the pitch, so we needed them at the back to hold on instead.
When the referee blew his final whistle, the ground went silent because they were still playing in the Forest Green and Exeter game, so we didn’t know where we stood yet. We waited and waited for what felt like forever and then the magical news came in that we had clinched the play-off spot and the feeling was unbelievable.
There is no time to rest now though as we are straight into a two-legged semi-final against Mansfield who agonisingly missed out on automatic promotion on the final day of the season too so they will be hurting and looking for redemption.
We are at home on Thursday evening and then away on Sunday. Both games are live on Sky Sports for a place in Wembley and the chance of promotion to League One.
Whatever happens, we have done ourselves proud this season with the brilliant FA Cup run and now making the play-offs. But we are desperate to be successful so hopefully the best is yet to come from us and we will have three games left to play to cap off an amazing year for the club.