Cambridge City suffer relegation despite beating St Neots
Fine form not enough to save Lilywhites
Five wins out of six in April, and six clean sheets to boot, is the type of end-of-season form that you would normally associate with a title-winning or promotion-chasing side.
It is definitely not a sequence of results that you would imagine would lead to relegation, but that is exactly what has happened to Cambridge City.
A 3-0 win over St Neots Town on the final day of the Evo-Stik League Southern, Premier Division season was not enough to preserve City’s status, and, without wanting to sound patronising, you cannot help but have some sympathy for the club.
It does feel like someone involved with the Lilywhites has run over a black cat, or maybe a couple, in the last few months.
They suffered a setback earlier this year in the High Court in their bid to build a new ground at Sawston, but they went back to the drawing board and have now re-submitted their planning application.
After a battle to build a squad last summer, and then an awful autumn, it has always felt they were up against it in their battle to stay in the Premier Division.
But they have shown great spirit, resilience and character to hang on in there, and then produce a superb run of form to finish the campaign.
In any other year, their record of 16 points out of a possible 18 would surely have been good enough. Yet, it has not been, and the reason for that is down to luck – or getting a break if you prefer – with results from other clubs.
The saying goes that you create your own luck, but this run City have been on has not been about luck, it has been down to well-structured, disciplined performances.
They needed just one other result to fall in their favour – an odd goal in a whole host of fixtures involving some of their relegation rivals – and it has not happened.
However, ifs, buts and maybes – together with a disappointing March to add to their autumn angst - will not help them now.
So what they need to do is take the positives of April and carry them forward to next season, and this last month, where they have been the form team in the division, has seen so many.
And they were all on show again against St Neots.
They compact the game so well and make the midfield congested so it is almost impossible for teams to go through them, and with the wide players working so hard, it is just as tough to go around them.
St Neots had a lot of possession in the first half, but with star striker Jevani Brown carrying an injury and starting on the bench, they seldom looked like breaching the City lines.
Those lines were also content to sit deep and absorb pressure after getting the vital boost of an early goal after six minutes.
Lee Stevenson’s quick free kick reached Norman Wabo in the area, and while the striker did not get the cleanest connection on the ball, that did not matter as his effort beat St Neots keeper Alex Archer.
The creator of that goal was busy in his own area almost immediately from the restart, making a vital block on a shot to help the effort over the ball.
Keeping Stevenson next season could be a key bit of business for City as he has made a huge impact since his arrival – exuding confidence, experience and authority.
He was the architect of the second goal on the hour, delivering a delicate chip to the far post where Jordan Gent finished superbly with an uncompromising shot.
Gent is another who should help form the backbone of a side that suggests it would be would more than capable of challenging for an immediate return next season.
So while there is the immediate low of suffering relegation, there should be plenty of cause for optimism if manager Robbie Nightingale can keep the nucleus of this squad together.
Whether Southend will loan back Norman Wabo is another question, but he got the third goal after seizing on a couple of hashed clearances to finish past Archer on 74 minutes.
Wabo was denied a hat-trick when Archer saved his penalty, awarded after an elbow on Dan Walker in the area, and the rebound.
City had wrapped up the game by that point though. However, their win was not enough as Kings Langley defeated Cirencester Town and Dorchester drew with Stratford, leaving the Lilywhites in the fourth and final relegation place.
“We can only worry about what we’ve done and we’ve done that throughout April,” said Nightingale. “We’ve kept six clean sheets on the bounce and we’ve won five out of six.
“Any other year, you might be lucky and stay up. We didn’t have a hope in hell a month ago and to take it to the last day – we were six, seven points adrift – the lads deserve credit because they’ve done everything that we’ve asked and we’ve nearly got there, it just wasn’t meant to be.
“Credit to Kings Langley and Dorchester, they’ve done well and got the points they needed. So over 46 games, we’ve not been good enough and the table doesn’t lie.
“We’ve tried our hardest and we’ve got to within a whisker of staying up so we can take massive positives as we move forward.
“Today is a bad day but we will get over it, we’ll dust ourselves down and we will make sure we are competitive next season and we’ll be ready to go.”
Cambridge City: Snedker, Robinson, Cooper, Paterson, Gent, Williams, Snaith, Stevenson, Walker, Wabo, Relizani.
Substitutes: Foxley (Snaith, 74), Sharman (Paterson, 82), Foy (Wabo, 88).
St Neots: Archer, Norman, Herd, Butler, Wood, Parr, Nurettin, Bell-Toxtle, Wilson, Tricks, Williams.
Substitutes: Clarke (Williams, 74), Partridge (Tricks, 88).
Referee: Dean Appleby.