As the team prepares for the final fixture of the year at home to Trafford on Boxing Day, it’s a good time to take a look back on the whole year and evaluate those twelve months from a Ramsbottom United perspective.
How do we sum up 2022?
Disappointing, under-achieving, frustrating….probably all three would correctly reflect the views of both the supporters and the playing side.
Without a doubt, everyone at the Harry Williams Riverside Stadium will look back on 2022 with very little enthusiasm, for as the team prepares for the Boxing Day match, they find themselves bottom of the table and with the real threat of a return to the North West Counties League if current form were to continue in the early months of 2023.
So how is it possible to explain the dour state of affairs?
Having had the previous two campaigns, which saw the Rams chasing promotion, halted by the covid pandemic, the beginning of the 21-22 season hardly began in the best of fashions.
Lee Donafee, after three years in the assistant manager’s chair was elevated to the top job just days before the campaign began with a number of players defecting.
The prospect of another promotion challenge took a mighty hit, but after an inconsistent first half, the team entered 2022 in a relatively safe mid-table position.
Hopes were high that, although a play-off place looked unlikely, at least the team would continue to improve and show the sort of potential that could have the supporters looking towards a summer of optimism for a new start in August.
The second half of the 2021-22 season failed to confirm any such optimism.
A New Year’s Day home defeat by Mossley proved disappointing. Further home losses to Bootle and Runcorn Linnets followed as the slide down the table began, and worried supporters began to look over their shoulders as the relegation places came into view.
A draw at Newcastle Town stopped the rot but an undeserved 1-0 reverse at Widnes followed. Then an unexpected but convincing 3-0 home victory over Clitheroe temporarily lifted the gloom.
The next two home games also saw victories over 1874 Northwich and Prescot Cables, but sandwiched between were two more defeats on the road at Glossop North End and Leek Town.
A 1-0 reverse at Colne continued our travelling woes before two controversial 1-0 defeats at home against the league’s top two, Workington and Warrington Rylands, seemed to sum up the fortunes of the team as those relegation fears became even more of a concern. Just five matches remained and unless a reversal in form could be found, a dreaded drop looked the likely outcome.
Fortunately, two away draws at Kidsgrove and Market Drayton, along with a much-relieved three pointer at home to relegated Kendal Town proved sufficient to take the pressure off our final game away at Clitheroe.
As we had failed to win away since August, perhaps the team could play with a little more freedom and clinch a victory to at least send the supporters into the closed season with a certain amount of optimism.
In line with how much of the season had gone, no such luck. A goal in the final minute of the final game of the season saw the team return home empty-handed 2-3.
So the first half of 2022 ended with a record of 18 games played, but just 4 wins, and 4 draws, and a disappointing 10 defeats.
A final league placing of 15th, although disappointing, at least ensured that we came through manger Lee Donafee’s first season still in the NPL, which at one time had looked under some threat.
Along came a well-earned break and a chance to regroup.
As usual, the summer months saw a departure of a number of players, including the retirement of club captain Tom Kennedy, and after numerous pre-season friendlies, a new-look squad was assembled, basically looking at bringing through younger, more home-grown players, giving them the opportunity of progressing at a high level with their local club.
An admirable strategy by the manager in the hope that the youngsters could commence their careers as a closely-knit bunch with a sense of camaraderie in the dressing room.
Along with a handful of more experienced players, the hope was that the blend of youthful enthusiasm aligned with the more level-headed approach of those who had seen it all before, would breed a successful Ramsbottom United team for the foreseeable future.
Alas the season did not kick-off as envisaged. A home defeat by newly-promoted Hanley Town, and another loss at Clitheroe saw the Rams pointless after the first two games.
In the FA competitions, the club exited both at the second attempt. After a replay victory over Thackley in the FA Cup, a boring home 0-0 against City of Liverpool was followed by a terrific game over on Merseyside, where a last-minute equaliser for the visitors was cancelled out seconds later and the home side progressed 4-3.
The FA Trophy in September followed suit. A win at home against Glossop saw yet another defeat at Clitheroe in the next round by a convincing margin of 1-4.
Meanwhile league results were proving inconsistent.
Five points were gained from three games, with draws at Leek Town and 1874 Northwich, sandwiched by an excellent home three-pointer against Mossley.
Unfortunately, three defeats followed in quick succession, two of them heavily on home soil as Workington made their long journey home on a Tuesday night buoyed by a 3-0 win, and worse was to follow as title-favourites Macclesfield arrived the following Tuesday, and despite holding them for 44 minutes, a penalty and red card swung the game in their favour, and the second half proved to be one way traffic, with the Rams licking their wounds on the back of a 0-5 reverse.
A disappointing 1-2 loss at Glossop preceded a short upturn in fortunes as Prescot were despatched from the HWRS 2-1 and a trip to Merseyside four days later saw the Rams finally end the away bogey with a win at Bootle, their first on opposition soil for over thirteen months.
Any idea that green shoots were starting to appear, however, was well and truly dismissed with a woeful run of performances and results that followed.
A disappointing 3-5 home reverse to Skelmersdale saw a trip to Northwich to meet Witton Albion. The defence again caved in and another five goals were conceded in what was arguably the worst offering so far, and a home defeat to Kidsgrove did little to help, nor did the trip to Widnes resulting in 16 goals having been conceded in just four games.
Realising that the reliance on youngsters was not working, the manager brought in some older heads to steady a sinking ship and a home draw against Colne alongside a much-needed win at Newcastle Town, saw two clean sheets, again bringing hope that the tide was about to turn.
But yet again, this appeared to be a false dawn.
Two home defeats to Runcorn Linnets and City of Liverpool, the latter of which saw the three points snatched away as a result of two injury time goals, had the Rams no doubt trembling as they faced the slaughter away at Macclesfield.
It did look as though the weather could delay the trip, but over sixty volunteers cleared the snowbound pitch to reveal a perfectly playable artificial surface and it was game on in front of the highest crowd, 3517, that the club had ever played before.
The game went the way of the bookies, this time by four goals to nil, but at least that was an improvement on the home result.
That defeat sent the Rams to the bottom of the table, a worrying position as there is the possibility that four teams could be relegated this season.
The first half of the current campaign has seen nineteen games played – exactly half the season – but results have been slightly worse than the end of the previous campaign. Just four victories, and three draws, but a disappointing twelve defeats.
There is no doubt that this record, if repeated during the second half will result in relegation, so the task for Donafee and the players is quite simple. Performances and results MUST improve.
Already the club has seen support beginning to dwindle, and that backing from the supporters is vital in an attempt to reverse the fortunes.
2022 has been a year to forget. For the record, of 37 league games played, just 8 have been won, and 7 drawn, meaning that defeat has been suffered on 22 occasions.
Supporters, officials, management and players all need 2023 to show a massive improvement on 2022 otherwise the unthinkable will become a reality.