IT has been an unbelievable week of celebrations for us down in Exeter after we achieved the aim we set out to do at the beginning of the season, confirmed automatic promotion to League One with two games to spare. We did it the hard way too as we had to come from behind to beat Barrow at St James Park in front of a sell-out home crowd last Tuesday evening.
We didn’t start the game great, and we fell behind early on which only added to the nerves around the ground. Just before half time we equalised, and that was crucial for us as it settled the place down a little bit. In saying that, we couldn’t find the second goal for quite a bit of the second half, and it just felt like it was going to be one of those horrible nights when things don’t go as almost everyone in the ground expects it to. Thankfully that all changed with ten minutes left in the game when our captain and academy graduate Matt Jay popped up to score the winning goal to send our fans into dreamland.
That moment was almost taken away from MJ as he was about to be subbed for myself in search of the winner and the ball went out for a throw in for us in the attacking third. Our manager then made one of the best decisions of his managerial career so far as he said wait for the next break in play and ten seconds later MJ had scored and wrote his name into the history books. Because of the way the club is run and the way they bring all the academy graduates through to the first team (we had six on the pitch Tuesday night) it was fitting that the goal that clinched promotion for us was scored by one of those players in fact it the three players involved in the move for the winning goal were all academy players.
The scenes afterwards were something that I had never experienced before. The crowd rushed the pitch and as we all celebrated it was just crazy. It was hard to find your teammates but eventually we all made our way to by the tunnel where they had cornered off an area for the players and staff to celebrate in and we made the most of it.
Once we all got back inside the dressing rooms it was brilliant to be able to share the joy with just the squad of players and staff. A lot of players in the dressing room had been involved in heartbreak over the last five years with some of the players losing three play off finals in that time (in the other two years I lost the play off final with Newport) and now you can see the reason we weren’t keen for the play-offs this year!
We celebrated well into the hours of the next morning and it was just a great feeling. Waking up the next day with a massive headache was well worth it all. Results on Tuesday night were very kind to us as Forest Green Rovers had lost so we now had an outside chance of the league title, so it was back to training as normal on Thursday as we set out our new aim for the season.
On Saturday, we got a brilliant result away at third placed Northampton Town and amazingly results went our way once again and as we head into this weekend final fixtures, we are top of the league for the first time this season. It is in our hands now and we have given ourselves a great opportunity. At one stage this season we were eighteen points behind Forest Green Rovers so to the lads deserve a lot of credit for clawing that back.
Whatever happens on Saturday it will be a day of celebrations for the club as the plan for League One next season. Of course, we are hoping that it ends in glory for us if we can add the title to top off the season for ourselves. It won’t be easy for either ourselves or Forest Green as we both play teams still fighting for the third automatic promotion spot. We are at home to third placed Port Vale and Forest Green play fourth placed Mansfield town at Mansfield.
It is going to be an exciting finish to the season, but we are hoping that one last little bit of luck can be on our side once the final whistle goes and we can recreate the on-pitch scenes from the promotion night – but only this time we can have the league trophy to celebrate with.
Pádraig Amond’s column appears every Tuesday in The Nationalist