Reality bites for Ryman League North Dereham Town
Dereham Town's Ryman League North play-off hopes appear to be all but over after their excellent 12-game unbeaten run finally came to an end, writes Rene Kendal.
While it was only one defeat, and a narrow 1-0 one at that, Saturday's loss at Cheshunt leaves the Magpies, 11th, 12 points off the top five – having played more games than most of their rivals – with 15 matches to go.
However, manager Matt Henman was quick to point out that reaching the end-of-season shoot-out for promotion was not a priority for the club at the moment.
Henman said: 'This season was all about concentrating on setting objectives and reaching the play-offs was not one of our main objectives.
'Yes, we obviously want to finish as high as we can but this season was all about bedding in a new group of players and building a new team for next season.'
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Several of Henman's squad left during the summer to join higher-league clubs, hence a rebuilding exercise was necessary. After an inconsistent start, an outstanding spell had lifted hopes of a third straight push for promotion.
But while the Magpies still have a chance, the odds are starting to looked stacked against them as consolidation continues to remain key.
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The long-serving Magpies boss added: 'We are still in a good place but we will not be looking to challenge for the play-offs and promotion for another couple of years.
'The tough game on Saturday highlighted the difference between the league's top and middle sides.
'The clubs sitting in the top five are the ones with the biggest resources and with the most experienced squads which is what you need to get out of this tough league.'
Henman remains full of praise for his young side that has performed so well in the league and reached the Norfolk Senior Cup semi-final, where they will travel to King's Lynn Town Reserves after they edged Dereham's struggling Ryman North rivals Wroxham – who recently saw their manager Stewart Larter quit after a torrid campaign left them embroiled in a full-blown relegation battle.
'We have done brilliantly with a young group of players and this bodes well for the future,' added Henman.At Cheshunt, Dereham came closest to scoring in the first half when Jake Anema glanced Luke Tuttle's free kick onto a post. The tight game was won when prolific Cheshunt striker Jason Hallett drilled home a superb 25-yard drive in the 67th minute.
Saturday presents another good challenge for Dereham with high-flying Tilbury, sixth, visiting Aldiss Park (3pm). Skipper Sam Borrer should be fit to return to Henman's squad, although striker Luke Winter is a doubt with a knee injury. Also back from last week's county duty will be Robbie Linford and Seb Bialasik. Matt Cook, who was training with the country's national schools squad, will also return.
After Saturday the Magpies head to Waltham Abbey on Tuesday night for another league game (7.45pm).