Welcome back to the second half of season two with Dorking Wanderers. Even though we were predicted to finish last in the league, we were top of the table going into the new year.
That changed quickly in January when the players looked like they still were on vacation. The first game of the new year started great, with a goal from Ryan Seager giving us the lead against Bradford City after three minutes of play. In the second half, we tasted our own medicine when Bradford equalised four minutes into injury time. A horrible feeling to give the win away so late in the game, but I guess you win some and you lose some.
However, we brought that feeling with us into the next games when we lost the next seven games and spiralled down the table and found ourselves in 8th place. We lost four of the games with one goal, so with a bit of luck, we could’ve taken points in those games. We had some catastrophic performances along the way as well, especially two games that come to mind. A 0-3 loss to 16th-placed Newport without producing a single shot on goal was our low point in January. The other was the first game in February when we lost 1-4 to 20th-placed Doncaster after leading 1-0 at halftime. I mean, how can you drop your levels that much and lose a game 1-4 after leading halfway through it?
After the seventh loss in a row, I changed the formation. This was a result of desperation, suspensions and injuries.
We got an immediate reward for it when we took the lead against Crewe. That was only the third time in 2024 we have led a game so far. The positive vibe lasted two minutes before Josh Taylor got sent off. Two minutes in heaven is more than some other teams get, isn’t it?!
Crewe equalised before Briggs sent us into the lead for the second time in the first half. Crewe equalised again in the second half, and the game ended 2-2. With ten men and seven consecutive wins, I would’ve taken the draw if you had asked me before the game, so all in all, it’s a positive, and we avoided breaking the club record for most games lost in a row.
Against Carlisle, in the last match in February, we won a game again. The first win in two months. Briggs scored after just 13 seconds and broke the club record. McShane and Seager also scored in the first half and made the score 3-1 at halftime. Carlisle got one back before Rutherford scored 4-2 and secured the win. All four of our new attacking four on the scoresheet were terrific to watch.
The rest of the season was also a bumpy ride for us. We won again against Stevenage after another goal from Seager and a Rutherford brace. We also kept a clean sheet for the first time in forever. The back-to-back wins ensured we climbed back into a playoff spot, and the aim now was to secure a place there.
We lost the next match against Bristol Rovers after a heroic effort and playing with ten men for 83 minutes. The only player over 7 in rating was Dan Lincoln, and that says it all about the match.
The lads then tried to make us forget the game against Doncaster a month ago when they were outclassed and lost 0-4 to Salford at home. AT HOME! The only consistency in results we found so far is a run of losses, and it’s frustrating to watch.
I guess it’s part of the project when you try to play youth and develop your players, but it’s still highly frustrating to watch. We also lost McShane for the rest of the season with a hip injury. With eight goals and seven assists in the league, he’s been very productive again this season and will be missed.
We finally found some consistency when we won three and drew one in the next four games. Six goals from Rutherford contributed significantly to that. After that run of games, we only needed three points to secure a place in the playoffs. I thought that would go smoothly when the next game was against already relegated Harrogate. They took the lead after three minutes and made it 2-0 after fourteen. Of course, they did, they’re already relegated, and I should’ve seen that coming…
Seager pulled one back and gave us hope before the second half. I decided to attack all-out, as we have done so many times before, with great success. High-risk, high reward, I thought.
Or no reward… Briggs got sent off after in the 74th minute to make it so much harder for us. With ten men, magical Alfie Rutherford equalised in the 82nd minute, and I was sure we could get something from the game.
17-year-old Brodi Reager then lunged in from behind and got his second yellow card in his first start and got sent off. With no substitutes left, we had to hold on to the draw and try to see the game out. And we did until 90+3 when Harrogate scored the winner… So close to making it.
We lost again in the next match against title winners Tranmere, and that’s alright. They’re a much better team, and any points in that would’ve been considered a bonus.
One point ahead of Bristol Rovers for the last playoff spot with two games to go we needed to win the next game. It was make or break for us against Northampton, which was already relegated. Luckily for us, Alex Chudy scored after three minutes to relieve the stress, and we saw the game out with that one goal. Bristol City lost their game, and we were ready for the playoffs! In the last match of League Two, we hosted Leyton Orient at Meadowbank and had a record attendance of 4,618 people at Meadowbank. The game itself was a big yawn and ended 0-0.
Two more games against Leyton Orient awaited in the semi-final of the playoffs.
The first semi-final leg was played at Meadowbank, and again it was a record attendance. This time it was sold out, and 5,250 people had found their way to the ground this day.
This time around, the game was everything else than boring. Orient took the lead after seven minutes and increased to a two-goal lead twenty minutes later. At half time I was furious, we have one chance, and we throw it away in front of a sold-out Meadowbank?! That’s not acceptable!
The response was 0-3 two minutes into the second half. Come on, guys, at least try to compete… With nothing to lose, I changed the formation from the 3-5-2 to a 4-2-4, which worked great when we faced this scenario earlier in the season.
Just go for it and gives us a chance in the second leg.
Jack Jebb had come on to run the midfield and found Rutherford with a pass over the defence after 68 minutes. Rutherford rarely makes mistakes in situations like that and didn’t this time, either. 1-3!
Two minutes later, we got a corner which Jebb curled in and found Alfie Procter in front of the goal. His first season goal made it 2-3 with twenty minutes to go. We can actually do this!
Both teams came close to scoring the next goal, and Procter cleared a ball off the line. Five minutes into injury time, we got a free kick in the middle of the Orients’ half and sent everyone, including Dan Lincoln, forward. The ball found Chudy, who flicked the ball to the far post where Procter was alone and made no mistake! 3-3 and back from the dead!
What a time to score his first two goals of the second. Alfie Procter, ladies and gentlemen!
Before the second leg, I figured we could continue with the formation that gave us a blast of a second half in the first leg. Matt Briggs opened the score after 36 seconds before Cameron Black made it 2-0 with 2:26 on the clock. Humble as I am, I call that world-class management.
The score stood out in the first half, and we were 45 minutes away from Wembley! Ruel Sotiriou scored for Orient in the 49th minute to make it a nervous and exciting end to the game. When he scored again in the 78th minute, he scored his fourth goal in two games against us. He’s been at the club for eight years and has scored 10% of his league goals against us. Come on.
Going into extra time, the players were hammered, and I had to bring on 16-year-old Siguroli Gunthorsson and 17-year-old Brodi Rieger to see the game out. Both teams looked out of energy and exhausted. Rutherford came close with a header that hit the post in the first half, but it was inevitable with a penalty shootout.
We went first with Bobby-Joe Taylor, who made no mistake and got us 1-0 up.
Sotiriou stepped up for Orient, but Dan Lincoln had done his homework and saved it.
Alfie Egan converted his penalty, and we were 2-0 up.
Aaron Drinan scored the next one for Orient to make it 2-1 before Alfie Rutherford silenced the Orient fans with his penalty, and we were again two goals up.
Craig Clay scored Orients’ third penalty, and Alfie Procter smashed home our fourth.
Shadrach Ogie stepped up for Orients’ fourth penalty, but again Dan Lincoln went the right way and saved it. It took a second before anyone reacted, but then everyone burst out into pure joy, happiness, and relief. We made it to Wembley!
Dan Lincoln is undoubtedly the hero of the day with his two penalty saves, but we wouldn’t have been here without Alfie Procters two goals in the first leg.
Never underestimate the Wanderers!
Stay tuned in the next post to read about the Play-Off Final!
/ FM Veteran