With the project I’ve set out for being an academy challenge, the first season won’t be the most important one when it comes to involving youth in the first team.
Therefore, I decided to play through it without going into too much debt on the blog. However, many things happen during the season, and I will give you an update.
When the season started in August, we won our first-ever games in the National League by beating Chesterfield 2-1 and Oldham 2-0. The first one after a brace from Alfie Rutherford and a goal each for Rutherford and Ryan Seager against Oldham, an excellent start for the striking aces!
We then lost two of the following three games before we drew the last game in August after conceding a 90+2 goal against Boreham Wood. Tree wins, two defeats, and a draw is a magnificent start for a team predicted at 19th before we kicked off.
September was another great month for the lads with three wins out of five, even if we got lucky with two deciding penalty kicks converted by Ryan Seager – we take with us another month with great results and form.
When league leaders Yeovil visited early in October, we got a reality check when they beat us 2-0 at Meadowbank without us getting a single shot on goal. That match was a blessing in disguise, though, because after that catastrophic performance, we went on a five-game winning run and a 13-game unbeaten run. The next game we lost in the league was against Eastleigh on January 11th.
Alfie Rutherford found immense form in that period, and in those 13 matches, + the game against Eastleigh, he scored 24 goals. Three hattricks and five braces for the fantastic striker! That’s insane numbers and almost singlehandedly why we climbed to the top of the table and stayed there when we were halfway through the season.
Another great thing to happen was when Matt Briggs made his comeback against Chesterfield at. It only took him 14 minutes to set up Rutherford with a beautiful assist.
After the loss to Eastleigh, Rutherford spearheaded the attack with great help from Seager and James McShane to another eight unbeaten. Unfortunately, half of the games were draws this time, so even if we didn’t lose, we started to drop points.
After those fantastic months, my expectations slowly started to change, and before the season, I would’ve taken a play-off spot without blinking. But instead, I began to play with the idea of going straight up to League Two.
That ambitious idea got a big hit when our draws turned to defeats in march, and we grabbed only four out of 15 possible points. After losing three games to teams fighting alongside us for promotion, we fell out of the top spot for the first time since before Christmas. Luckily we managed to win the last game of the month after a brace from Josh Taylor and another goal from, guess who, Alfie Rutherford.
With six games to play, we were two points behind Yeovil.
We went into April, knowing that month would make or break our season. If we did well and had some luck with other results, we could go back to the top and direct promotion. However, after overachieving for a whole season and leading for so long, if we missed out on direct promotion, the mentality and spirit in the team would take such a big hit that a play-off would be over before it even started.
The remaining six games started with a 2-0 win against Dag & Red after Seager stepped up and Dan Quick scored his first senior goal from a corner. What a time to do it! One down, five to go.
The second game of the month was the Surrey Derby against Woking, home at Meadowbank. Trailing by one goal at half-time and 2-0 down after 47 minutes, a goal from Rutherford and a free-kick from Bobby-Joe Taylor tied the game before Woking tricked our back three to score the winner five minutes before full-time. That makes it tied with Yeovil and Notts County with four games to play.
Ironically that third game was away to Yeovil, and it took 13 minutes before Dan Quick scored the second senior goal of his career. What a time to do that as well! McShane doubled the lead swiftly after the break. Yeovil scored a screamer after 58 minutes, and just three minutes later, Ed Harris won a header as only Ed Harris can! Game, set and match. 3-1, and three matches to go. It was still tied with Notts County.
In the next two matches, there was no question about who was taking the points. Back-to-back 4-1 win against Altrincham and Wealdstone. Four more goals from Rutherford and three more from Seager. Too bad Notts County also won their games.
The Final Day
Scunthorpe came to visit on the last day, and everything was up to us. If we won, we would’ve won the league on goal difference. However, only 2.332 people came to Meadowbank to watch the biggest game in the club’s history. Were people that nervous?!
In a game where one team can win the league, and the other has to win to avoid relegation, I’d imagine a more significant turnup than that.
Anyway, both the coaching staff and players were nervous before the game. And it didn’t take more than eight minutes before Scunthorpe scored after keeping the pressure up after a free-kick we didn’t manage to clear out.
I immediately decided to go all-out attack. We have nothing to lose and everything to win. Rutherford came through on goal after twenty minutes. In a situation, he has scored around 30 times this season, but this time the nerves got to him, and he blew it over. Could this be one of those days?
After attack after attack, without getting to those chances we desperately needed, Seager was brought down about 20 metres. Bobby-Joe Taylor lined up to take the free-kick, curled it around the wall and straight into the top corner. What a way to equalize! It was like time stood still when that ball flew into the net. It was like Marcus Dewhurst, the Scunthorpe goalkeeper, also stood still. No keeper in the world would’ve saved that free-kick!
When the ref blew for half time, it was status quo on the table, but it had cost us a lot of energy to do it.
The second half started at a slightly lower tempo than in the first half, and we decided to keep control of the game. Scunthorpe was desperate for a goal, and we would get room and chances if we were patient. Suddenly, York took the lead against Notts County, and we were one point ahead. In our game, it only happened a little. We controlled the possession and made Scunthorpe run.
Seventy-five minutes played, and the news about Notts County scoring reached us (I recommend Push notifications from SofaScore). Fast forward three minutes, and McShane was brought down recklessly and won a penalty. Ryan Seager stepped up to take his seventh penalty for the season, and like the first six times, he made no mistake! 2-1!
Notts County now needed to score 17 goals in 10 minutes to win the league – no chance of that ever happening.
The rest of the game was just us controlling the ball and waiting for the ref to blow. Unfortunately, Scunthorpe capitulated after that 2-1 goal.
When the ref finally blew the whistle, players, fans, and everyone at Meadowbank could say that WE MADE THE IMPOSSIBLE COME THROUGH! DORKING WANDERERS ARE GOING TO THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE!
For the record, I do feel sorry for Scunthorpe, who got relegated on goal difference in the end. By one goal…
With the great success in the League, other successes were also worth mentioning. For the first time in the club’s history, we managed to qualify for the first round of the FA Cup after beating Taunton 3-1 in the fourth qualifying round. That match will also be remembered for James Dickson’s goal – the first-ever goal in a competitive game from an academy graduate!
In the first round League One outfit Accrington Stanley came to visit, and we held them to a tie for 83 minutes before they scored the decider. Even if we lost the game, we lost it by one goal and proved that we could compete with a League One side for 90 minutes.
In the FA Trophy Cup, we lost in the fourth round and were knocked out by Blyth Spartans. I used the cup to rotate the squad and give some desperately needed minutes to the fringe players in the team. However, this didn’t go down well with the board, and they were all other than happy with us getting knocked out. The League was the most important for me, and in retrospect, I did the right thing.
Alfie Rutherford, Ryan Seager and James McShane have contributed highly, with 86 goals combined and 27 assists. The latter two had both excellent seasons. In a normal year, Ryan Seager would’ve had a fantastic season, but every achievement fades compared to what Alfie Rutherford did this season. Forty-seven goals in the League is incredible! A new club record and league record – a record that will probably stand for as long as this save lasts. Unsurprisingly, he was also voted the National League Player of the Year and won the golden boot with a 14-goal margin to the runner-up and 22 goal margin to number three. I am trying to figure out what superlatives to use to describe him. I can’t remember having a striker scoring like that many. Who’s Haaland?!
In-game, the Westhumble Playing Field is listed as the club’s training ground, so I decided to name the academy after that. It’s also an excellent way to honour the clubs’ roots.
As formerly mentioned, James Dickson scored the first-ever academy goal for the first team in the FA Cup against Taunton. Jude Salmon got his debut against Woking in the FA Trophy, and Cameron Black became the second debutant this season when he got a chance from the bench against Boreham Wood in the League. The number of graduates has risen to four, which means that the minimum requirement is met for the first season.
Thank you for reading. I hope you had a good time reading!
/ FM Veteran