AFC Sudbury - season review 2011/12

FOOTBALL - Needham Market FC v Sudbury AFC''Pictured: Lewis Pemberton (N) tackling James Baker (S)
FOOTBALL - Needham Market FC v Sudbury AFC''Pictured: Lewis Pemberton (N) tackling James Baker (S)

A DISASTROUS start, not enough firepower in front of goal and a home record that left too much to do on their travels be serious promotion contenders.

That was manager Chris Tracey’s telling assessment of the 2011/12 campaign, which saw the Yellows go from relegation contenders to play-off candidates before tailing off with three successive defeats.

But in truth, one win from their first seven league matches with then manager Nicky Smith on holiday during the start of that period, had always left a top-five finish looking a long shot.

AFC ended the term in eighth position and eight points adrift of fifth place. But after a run of six straight wins heading towards December, it was only after a 2-1 home defeat to fellow contenders Grays Athletic, six games from the end, that their play-off bubble looked to have realistically been burst.

And Tracey is quick to credit his players with their ability to recover the situation after Smith parted company with the club ahead of the impressive Leiston FA Cup win (1-0 away) on September 17, when he took up the reins.

“Nobody gave us a chance and we put in a real gritty performance, which seemed to be a bit of a springboard to kick on,” he said. “I think we over-achieved really, from where we started. Expectation levels rose dramatically and it was a hard slog.

“We went on that run to get away from the bottom and we seemed to have a little bit of a sigh of a relief around Christmas time that we had achieved our number one goal, to not go down.

“We were not helped by the suspensions over Christmas of James Baker and Robbie Martin and Sam Clarke was not able to play at Soham (3-1 defeat on Boxing Day).

“We had been on such a good run and then went on a poor one and to get that going again took some time.”

He added: “I cannot fault any of the lads for their attitude and application.

“We were pretty much having to win every game to have a chance (of promotion), we were playing catch up and I was trying to bring in fresh legs.”

But AFC did not just have one Achilles Heel over the last campaign, they had two. And Tracey is now planning to address both to prevent the same sorry ending in 2012/13.

“Up to the last couple of weeks of the season we had the second best away record and our home results have been a problem not just going back to Nicky Smith, but also as far back as Mark Morsley and they have hindered us,” he said. “Teams come to Sudbury with our fantastic facilities and it makes them raise their game.

“We have to get our fans on board early in the game or it becomes a struggle.

“Against Redbridge (1-1 draw March 17) we absolutely dominated them and they scored to draw when we had 17 attempts against their two, and Waltham Forest (2-1 defeat January 28) — and you look back at these and wonder ‘what if’.

“Lets be honest, if our home results were as good as our away we would have finished in the top two and that is something we need to address.”

He added: “We have not scored enough goals and James Baker needs help. We played 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 a lot of last season and if you look at other teams that set-up like that, Needham Market have scored 104 goals and we have only scored 65 – and that is something that needs to be addressed.”

The cups were one area Tracey was content with his side, having given one of the performances of the season at Conference South side Eastbourne Borough (1-0 defeat) to gallantly bow out of the FA Cup in the third qualifying round, while only penalties halted their progress into the Ryman League Cup semi-final.

But in 12 months from now, one thing is sure: Tracey will not be wanting to reflect on more ‘what ifs’.