05:00PM, Thursday 19 May 2022
Maidenhead United were in the relegation zone on Christmas Day, with no real form to speak of and a raft of key players on the treatment table.
They’d just lost six of their last seven matches, drawing the other, conceding 24 goals in the process and there was a very real fear that this time, they wouldn't have enough quality to bounce back in the second half of the campaign.
However, when the curtain finally came down on a season with Sunday's 1-0 defeat to promotion hopefuls Notts County, the Magpies were 17 points clear of the relegation zone having been mathematically certain of their place in the division with six matches to go. And in truth they were all but sure of their National League status several weeks before Weymouth were beaten 2-0 at York Road on Good Friday.
It's no wonder then that chairman Peter Griffin looks back on the season with real pride in the club's accomplishments and with genuine hope for the future in an increasingly competitive division. He and manager Alan Devonshire relish the challenge of getting one over former league sides and, although they didn't quite manage that against Ian Burchnall's Notts County, they ran them pretty damn close.
“When you look at where we were, in the relegation zone on Christmas Day, we've had a very strong second half of the season, and in fact two thirds of our games came after Christmas,” he said. “Our form since Christmas has been that of an upper mid-table side.
“We escaped relegation with six games to go and it’s been a very relaxed four or five weeks.
“A draw would have been fair today. We had several good chances. The team have been playing very well and we have very high hopes going forward.”
For once, Griffin is also confident the Magpies can retain a solid core of the squad from this season and he's hoping to retain its depth, something that helped the club's cause when they were hampered by injury and COVID-related illness before Christmas.
Devonshire has claimed the sheer scale of those injuries has made this his most challenging season as a manager, yet aside from the 2020/21 season - when the Magpies finished 13th and were pushing for a play-off spot until late in the campaign - it's difficult to recall a more relaxed finish to a National League season. Not that the Magpies have had their Havaianas on, they've finished the season with real consistency, equalling a National League record of seven matches unbeaten ahead of Sunday's narrow defeat.
Looking ahead, Griffin said: “A lot of the squad have re-signed for next season and there will be announcements in the weeks to come.
“We’re very happy that we’ve got a very strong basis going forward when in the past we’ve lost a lot of our progressive, more talented players. This year we think we’re going to keep most on our terms which is fantastic.”
Next season the first goal will be survival once again, it always must be for a club of Maidenhead's size in a division that's increasingly looking like an extension of League 2, however, with a stadium move potentially on the horizon there is the prospect of the club becoming more financially robust and able to challenge National League rivals on a more even keel.
“There will be four teams going down again next year so survival is our first priority, completely,” added Griffin. “The first goal is to avoid relegation, but the other goal is always to finish up as high as we can.
“It’s always very tough in this division but for two thirds of this season we’ve been the eighth or ninth best club, if you take it since Christmas.
“We know we can do it over a prolonged time. The first half of the season we had awful injuries and COVID problems, we really did suffer, but when we haven’t had that we’ve shown what we can do. We’ve got to go forward with optimism but staying up in the first goal every year.
“We’ve got some good emerging players. We have had a deeper squad this year, there were times when we had six or seven players out for a game and were still competitive most of the time.
“It is hard but we’re always looking for the emerging talent and up and coming players, together with some experience to bind it together.
“We’ll have some time off as a club, but Dev and Lee Devonshire will be out there the whole time, they’ve already been doing it. The activities will ramp up over the next month to try and secure players.”
Closures are planned on the M4 between Langley and the M25 this weekend for smart motorway works.