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At the start of August, I confirmed that Duncan Greenwood would retain the captaincy. Big Dunc was now finally back in training, though it was highly unlikely that he would be in any sort of condition to return before the league campaign got started.

The new vice-captain would be our newest arrival - Portuguese playmaker Fabio Saraiva. He got to wear the armband from the start in our penultimate friendly at Waltham Abbey. The Abbotts have been ever-present in the Isthmian North for nearly a decade, though they came close to being relegated earlier this year.

1 August 2018: Waltham Abbey vs Romford

Fabio Saraiva quickly made an impact in the early stages of his first Romford start. Fabio's well-executed sliding challenge on Charlie Harper in the 5th minute started off a Boro counter-attack, and he set up our opening goal seconds later. His first-time pass across goal was volleyed in by Tom O'Reilly, and we led 1-0. That would only be the case for four minutes, though, as some lax defending from a Waltham Abbey corner cost us dear. Hunter got to Simon Rofe's headed clearance and crossed the ball back into the area, where an unmarked Noel Brady put it home at the far post. We were knocked off our stride, and we wouldn't get chance to retake the lead until the 21st minute. A delicate effort from the impressive O'Reilly went just wide. Four minutes later, Abbotts winger Craig Watkins headed Hunter's throw-in narrowly over the Boro bar. Three minutes after that, young Romford midfielder Johnny Embleton had a volley saved by Waltham Abbey keeper Bradley Carr. Kenny Pollard skimmed the bar in the 36th minute, five minutes before creating the goal that put us back in the driving seat. Kenny centred the ball from the byline to left-winger Dan Purches, who tapped into a clear target for 2-1! Waltham Abbey would soon equalise again... and they responded in even quicker fashion than after we scored our first goal! Less than a minute and a half after Purches punished some poor defending from the Abbotts, Louis Hughes did the same to us. Frank Parkinson knocked the ball away from Rofe's reach and towards centre-forward Hughes, whose shot squirmed between Kyle Thomas and his near post. The underdogs were on level terms once more at 2-2.

Waltham Abbey had the first attempt after the break, but Romaine Walker's shot on 49 minutes was from too far out to seriously threaten Thomas. Carr was given a more strenuous test four minutes later, when O'Reilly cracked a laser that the Abbotts keeper had to tip out of play. Our other goalscorer Purches skimmed the crossbar in the 55th minute. Waltham Abbey showed more ambition from around the hour mark, and only a crucial block from Keston James stopped Abbotts skipper Danny May from putting the hosts ahead. On 63 minutes, May's touchline cross found William Myers just outside the six-yard box. I was preparing myself for the cheers of the home fans... but Myers couldn't get a clean connection and scuffed the sitter! That was the first of three shots that Myers fired wide of the target, and his failure to put Abbey in the ascendancy would be very costly. With five minutes remaining, Boro striker Gareth Stamp sprinted past defender Kieran Everiss and slipped in a low finish from the 'D'! For the third time in the match, we were leading by a single goal - and this time, Waltham Abbey could not find a reply! We had scraped a 3-2 win after a surprisingly close encounter!

Waltham Abbey - 2 (Brady 9, Hughes 42)

Romford - 3 (O'Reilly 5, Purches 41, Stamp 85)

Friendly, Attendance 35

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas (Patterson), Peters (Clark), Lyskov (Georgiou), Rofe (James), Embleton (Gray), Dunn (McGrath), Morrison (Eaton), Saraiva (McCrae), Purches (Montgomery), Pollard (Stamp), O'Reilly (Morath-Gibbs). BOOKED: Morrison.

Despite scoring our second goal against Waltham Abbey, Dan Purches would not be staying at Romford permanently. The winger's trial came to an end before our final friendly, and I chose not to take up the option to give him a contract.

That last friendly was also on the road, as we travelled to Sutton United exactly a week before things would start getting serious against Canvey Island in the league. Had things gone differently back in May, we could actually have been preparing to face Sutton in the Conference South... but they agonisingly lost the Isthmian Premier Play-Off Final to an 83rd-minute penalty from Lowestoft Town.

4 August 2018: Sutton United vs Romford

Sutton striker Alex Jakubiak missed the target from a half-volley after just 14 seconds. Exactly a minute later, we were rueing a squandered opportunity of our own. Gareth Stamp tried to stroke the ball into the corner of Nick Jupp's net, but Jupp got down to make a comfortable catch. It wouldn't get any better for Gareth on the shooting front, because a poorly-directed header from him went wide on 10 minutes. Eight minutes later, Stamp played the ball to the feet of his strike partner Vasilis Koutinis, and Vas lobbed it to Graeme Montgomery. Showing the coolness that Gareth wished he possessed earlier, Monty slotted the ball well beyond Jupp's reach! We were at last a goal to the good! Koutinis had an opportunity to volley us 2-0 ahead on 28 minutes, but he missed the target by millimetres. Less than a minute later, Sutton midfielder Pa Modou-Jobe gave Moses Millen his first major test, which Moses passed with flying colours by making a solid catch. The two men faced one another again three minutes from time. Jordan Peters' poor clearance was headed into the Romford area by Modou-Jobe, and Millen needed to turn the ball onto the roof of his net before Jakubiak could find the back of it. Moses was making a strong case for the number 1 jersey, and at half-time, one goal was all that separated us from the U's.

Dean O'Halloran came on during the break, and I wanted the out-of-form Irishman to convince me that he deserved a place in our starting line-up against Canvey Island. After three minutes, Dean played a stunning cross to Garry Morath-Gibbs, who flicked it out right for Koutinis to volley home from a tight angle! 2-0 to the Boro! Sutton now had to attack, and they kept Millen really busy in the second half. Our young custodian turned behind a dangerous Aiden Savory header in the 54th minute before catching another from Ronnel Dennis in the 62nd. Seven minutes later, though, Dennis got the better of Moses with a fine strike. The U's were back in with a sniff, and the home fans at Gander Green Lane were becoming optimistic. But in the 77th minute, Dennis came off worse in a touchline collision with Romone McCrae, and Sutton's scorer was too badly hurt to carry on. United's momentum had gone in an instant. We clinched victory four minutes from the end with our third goal of the afternoon - and Kenny Pollard's third of pre-season. Kenny powered home from another Morath-Gibbs assist, and we could go into the league season high on confidence after our fifth victory in seven attempts.

Sutton United - 1 (Dennis 69)

Romford - 3 (Montgomery 18, Koutinis 48, Pollard 86)

Friendly, Attendance 84

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Millen, Peters (Dunn), Gray (Georgiou), James (Lyskov), Bradley (Rofe), Scott (O'Halloran), Eaton (Morrison), McCrae (Saraiva), Montgomery (McGrath), Koutinis (Pollard), Stamp (Morath-Gibbs). BOOKED: Gray.

Pre-season was now over, but we weren't quite finished on the transfer front. Two defenders would leave Romford in the week leading up to our Conference South opener. 18-year-old Liam Georgiou was sent on loan to Great Wakering Rovers - newly promoted to the Isthmian League Division 1 North - in order to build up some first-team experience.

Simon Rofe's exit from Romford, however, was permanent. Simon was offered the chance to join Isthmian Premier outfit Brentwood Town, but he wanted to talk to me about a possible new contract at Romford first. When Rofe told me that he wanted £250 a week to stay at Ship Lane, I said that his recent performances didn't justify such high wages. Contract talks broke down rather quickly, so I gave Simon my blessing to join Brentwood, and he did...

...for £150 per week. Er, okay, Simon, goodbye...

I met a number of die-hard Romford fans on the eve of the Canvey Island game, and I'll admit that some of them weren't too happy that we'd lost Rofe. Speaking of our fans, we sold 158 season tickets this season. Last term, we flogged 160. I'd like to know who those odd two supporters out are...

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(All ages correct as of 1 August 2018)

GOALKEEPERS

Moses Millen (age 17, English)

Moses has good reflexes, and we'll find out over the first few weeks whether he's ready for league action.

Conor Patterson (age 15, English)

Conor is not a particularly tall goalkeeper and is a long way from breaking into the senior side.

Kyle Thomas (age 21, English)

Kyle doesn't have too many weaknesses in his game and looks like a good contender for the number 1 jersey.

DEFENDERS

Russell Bradley (age 20, English)

Russell, who is starting his first full season here, is an adept attacking full-back with a good work ethic.

Ashley Clark (age 16, English)

Tall and ambitious centre-half Ashley is also capable of filling in as a full-back or an anchor man.

Trevor Dunn (age 20, English)

After a poor start to his Romford career, speedy Trevor is starting to blossom as a right-back.

Liam Georgiou (age 18, English)

Liam did well in pre-season and will now be getting three months of experience at Great Wakering Rovers.

Kieron Gray (age 20, English)

Kieron's got a never-say-die attitude and is perhaps our best defender, though he's prone to the odd bad day.

Keston James (age 17, English)

6ft 6in Keston is not exactly a gentle giant, as the young centre-back throws everything into his tackles.

Nicholas Lyskov (age 25, Danish)

With his acceleration, Nicholas is a good choice whenever we need a covering defender in our line-up.

Jordan Peters (age 19, English)

Youth product Jordan is currently our first-choice right-back, but his positioning can be poor sometimes.

MIDFIELDERS

Elliot Eaton (age 17, English)

Elliot struggled with his passing during pre-season, but I'll give the new midfielder time to settle.

Johnny Embleton (age 16, English)

Defensive midfielder Johnny is mature beyond his years and will captain the Under-18s this season.

Romone McCrae (age 28, English)

Romone has proven himself to be a fine team player who can also chip in with a goal every now and then.

Dave McGrath (age 17, English)

Dave's pace was a real help in pre-season, and the winger could soon make a real mark on the first-team.

Graeme Montgomery (age 30, English)

With 18 assists to his name last season, Graeme has bags of creative talent and is a key man for us.

Daniel Morrison (age 18, English)

I'm hoping that Daniel can become more than just a good ball-winning midfielder this term.

Dean O'Halloran (age 22, Irish)

Now our longest-serving player, Dean continues to delight and frustrate me in equal measure.

Fabio Saraiva (age 25, Portuguese)

Left-footed playmaker Fabio could make our season if he carries his form at Merstham over to Romford.

Jimmy Scott (age 18, English)

It's been a difficult start for Jimmy, as the right-winger has only shown glimpses of his talent.

Johnnie Spong (age 16, English)

Johnnie is another young speed merchant, but will he ever develop into a rounded wide player?

FORWARDS

Duncan Greenwood (age 22, English)

Big target man and captain Duncan is desperate to return to his best form after two serious injuries.

Vasilis Koutinis (age 18, Greek)

I might loan out Vasilis in the near future, because he's not quite ready to be a regular starter.

Garry Morath-Gibbs (age 17, English)

Expect prolific poacher Garry to build on what was a fantastic 16-goal debut season.

Tom O'Reilly (age 17, English)

Tom is a useful and versatile youngster who plays best as a 'trequartista' or an inside-forward.

Kenny Pollard (age 18, English)

Last season saw Kenny make a breakthrough, but the target man may struggle to keep Greenwood out.

Gareth Stamp (age 18, English)

I think I've unearthed a rough diamond in Gareth, who is quite similar to the great Nicky Reynolds.

BACKROOM STAFF

Manager: Christopher Fuller

Assistant Manager: Wayne Daniel

Coaches: Mitch Fellows, Simon Glover, Sammy Winston

Head of Youth Development: Ricki Mackin

Physio: John Kelly

Scout: Dean Standen

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If we wanted to start the Conference South season on a high note, we couldn't do much better than get a win at Canvey Island. The Gulls have lost two Play-Off Semi Finals in the last three seasons, and there are some people (including yours truly) who reckon Canvey will go at least one step further this term. Beating them would not be an easy task by any means.

11 August 2018: Canvey Island vs Romford

Romford captain Fabio Saraiva made an important goal-line clearance from Tom Kennedy's corner in the third minute. Moments later, he made his first attacking contribution with a pass to Garry Morath-Gibbs, who hit a shot that Canvey's 18-year-old keeper Darol Kendall pushed away. In the 6th minute, our even younger goalie Moses Millen made a difficult save from Jacob Hazel's effort, and Boro defender Nicholas Lyskov had to clear the loose ball away from a lurking Louie Swain. The teenaged custodians continued to keep the deadlock intact as the first half wore on. Kendall turned Graeme Montgomery's free-kick for Romford behind after 23 minutes, and Millen caught Hazel's header ten minutes later. The Gulls then suffered a setback on 36 minutes, when a challenge from Lyskov left Swain too badly hurt to play on. Another risky Lyskov tackle led to a free-kick for Canvey Island in the 39th minute, and captain Jordan Roberts put it just over. We also had a free-kick in a dangerous position in injury time. Monty lofted the ball into the six-yard box, and Dean O'Halloran threw himself at it to head past Kendall! Dean was about to celebrate when he saw the linesman's flag, and his delight turned to despair! We should have taken a 1-0 lead into the dressing room, but instead, we felt hard done by.

We became even more frustrated after ten second-half minutes, when Canvey finally breached our defence. Kyle Storer won an aerial challenge with Romone McCrae and headed to Thomas Lock, who then found Hazel in space. Hazel moved forward a few yards before striking a crisp half-volley beyond Moses' reach. Some of us in the Romford dugout were fearing another goal, and after 63 minutes, another pass from Gulls striker Lock led to goal number 2. Lock overhit a pass back to midfielder Cameron Norman, and instead found Boro forward Kenny Pollard! Kenny played in Morath-Gibbs, who ran at defender Ramil Sheriff and hit an unstoppable strike from the edge of Canvey's penalty area! It was even stevens again at 1-1! We were now looking the stronger side, and Morath-Gibbs had another effort saved by Kendall shortly after the restart. We took the game to Canvey Island later on, pumping the ball into the box as much as we could. Romone and Nicholas - who excelled defensively along with fellow centre-back Kieron Gray - each missed chances in the 80th and 86th minutes. In between their attempts, I took off Garry to give near-namesake Gareth Stamp a run-out. In the first minute of added-on time, Stamp's through-ball presented a massive opportunity for Pollard, but Kenny dragged it wide. After a high-tempo game that saw the foul count finish 16-16, the final score was also level at one goal apiece.

Canvey Island - 1 (Hazel 55)

Romford - 1 (Morath-Gibbs 63)

Conference South, Attendance 584 - POSITIONS: Canvey Island 11th, Romford 13th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Millen, Dunn, Gray, Lyskov, Bradley, O'Halloran (Peters), McCrae, Saraiva (Morrison), Montgomery, Pollard, Morath-Gibbs (Stamp).

We could have won all three points there, but at least we managed to hit one point right off the bat. That made a positive change from our previous two campaigns in the Conference South, when we lost on the opening Saturday on each occasion.

Three days later, we faced another Essex rival in our first home league game. We wanted to exact sweet revenge on Grays Athletic, who beat us twice last season and finished above us in the standings for the first time since 2012.

14 August 2018: Romford vs Grays Athletic

Grays Athletic won their opening fixture, but they made a very slow start here. Graeme Montgomery played a low ball into the box for Garry Morath-Gibbs, who turned past Ollie Lawrence's challenge and drilled into the far corner of the net! That was after just 45 seconds! Grays couldn't believe what had happened, and conceding at such an early stage really fired them up. James Jennings' long-range free-kick forced Kyle Thomas into a save just four minutes into his Romford league debut. Kyle then got his fingers to an effort from Jake Woolley in the 10th minute. I thought Vasilis Koutinis would make it 2-0 to us four minutes later, when he ran onto Russell Bradley's cross, but Grays keeper Paul Parkinson grabbed the ball from his feet at the critical moment. When Fabio Saraiva picked up a knock soon afterwards, I could sense the tide turning towards the Gravelmen. Their Welsh striker Andrew Jenkins broke through our defence on 21 minutes, and Thomas had to tip his low shot away. Jenkins was through again after 33 minutes, when Woolley knocked the ball past Kieron Gray and towards his team-mate. This time, the former Fulham trainee's finishing was clinical. Grays were level at 1-1, which was how the score remained at half-time.

A tactical switch to 3-5-2 seemed to do us some good in the second half. Defensively, our three centre-backs did a fine job of stifling Grays' front two, and the Gravelmen were reduced to a solitary shot on target in the 66th minute. Woolley could only shoot straight at Thomas after coming under severe pressure from our backline. On the attacking side of things, we enjoyed little success. Garry had a header saved by Parkinson in the 53rd minute, and his next attempt in the 73rd was blasted well off target. Elliot Eaton and Gareth Stamp also missed the target within the final 15 minutes. After two more poor efforts from Morath-Gibbs, we resigned ourselves to a tenth league game without victory. On balance, a draw was perhaps the fairest result.

Romford - 1 (Morath-Gibbs 1)

Grays Athletic - 1 (Jenkins 34)

Conference South, Attendance 410 - POSITIONS: Grays 8th, Romford 14th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Peters, Gray, Lyskov, Bradley (Morrison), O'Halloran (Dunn), Eaton, Saraiva, Montgomery, Koutinis (Stamp), Morath-Gibbs. BOOKED: O'Halloran, Eaton.

This was the first time since I took charge that we avoided defeat in our opening two games of a league season. Another positive to take from our promising start was our defence, which was looking much tighter, especially in a 3-5-2 formation. I think I'd be onto a winner with that if we could find a way to create better scoring opportunities.

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Not a bad start, lets hope for a steady improvement

Can't disagree with that. We haven't lost a league game yet, which is very encouraging at this early stage.

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Before our next game, I added further depth to our defensive options with the signing of 17-year-old former Watford youth player Brett Reid. Brett is a centre-back by trade, and he can also be used as a makeshift full-back.

Next up was a trip to Woking, who lost their first two matches and had former Boro man Roscoe Fryatt in goal. Reid was on the bench, as was someone who felt like a new signing, even if he most certainly wasn't. After five-and-a-half months out with a broken leg, Duncan Greenwood was at last fit enough to be named in our matchday squad!

18 August 2018: Woking vs Romford

Woking had their first chance after four minutes, when Adrian Bloomfield smashed his free-kick against the Romford wall. Five minutes later, we turned our first scoring opportunity into the opening goal. A couple of first-time passes from Jimmy Scott and Romone McCrae were followed up by an incisive finish from Vasilis Koutinis, and we were 1-0 to the good! However, we soon put our lead in jeopardy by giving away plenty of poor passes and several free-kicks to our hosts. Woking were initially unable to take advantage, as Marvin Williams pulled a shot wide in the 15th minute. A minute and a half later, Cards captain Jack Parkinson put a long ball deep into our area. It bounced nicely into the penalty area for Williams to head past Kyle Thomas, and the 17-year-old wheeled away to celebrate... only to be greeted by the offside flag. We were mightily relieved. Shortly after that, Woking midfielder Ellis Muitt picked up an injury in a challenge from Kenny Pollard. Muitt played on, but Romford left-back Russell Bradley wasn't so lucky after he collided with Colin Joyce on 22 minutes. Russell came off clutching his ribs to be replaced by debutant Brett Reid. After that setback, we continued to ride our luck defensively. In the 25th minute, Kyle skewed a horrible goal kick to Williams, who came forward and put his shot well beyond the target. Centre-back Kieron Gray then had to save our skins in the 38th minute. A diving header from Woking defender Jamie Grimes deflected off his team-mate Anthony Eames' chest and was heading towards the goal until Kieron hoofed it into touch! We were somehow still leading 1-0 at half-time, even though Woking had far more chances than us!

Our incredible luck, and Woking's lack thereof, continued into the second period. Williams missed four out of four attempts in the first half, and just 14 seconds after the restart, he spurned his fifth. In the 51st minute, Williams set up a chance for Parkinson. The Cards defender's shot hit the inside of the post and deflected to Jamal Lowe on the far side of the penalty area. Lowe put the ball back into the centre for Ben Williamson, who finally broke through ater needing two attempts to beat Thomas. Our lucky spell was over... or was it? Lowe was actually Woking's third and final substitute, and when Jack Truelove was forced off hurt in the 56th minute, manager David Byrne had no Cards left to play. His team were down to ten men! Five minutes later, a stunning McCrae half-volley was tipped out by our old mate Roscoe Fryatt for a Boro corner. Pollard took it, and Grimes' headed clearance looped back over Fryatt and into the Woking net! An own goal had put us back in front at 2-1! I looked to try and build on our lead by bringing on our returning hero Duncan Greenwood. Duncan's first shot showed signs of rustiness, as he put a free-kick well wide on 68 minutes. Three minutes later, Williamson made an excellent run at goal before knocking the ball to Bloomfield, who blasted it beyond Thomas for Woking's second equaliser! Back on the attack we went...

I thought Gareth Stamp was going to put us 3-2 ahead after 74 minutes, when Trevor Dunn sent him clean through on goal. Gareth was eventually forced by the hosts to retreat and play the ball back to Romone, whose cracking half-volley went inches over. Then, in the 77th minute, our big man up front stole the headlines once more. Elliot Eaton's pass to Greenwood in the 'D' was brilliantly controlled by Duncan, who evaded Grimes' tackle and fired a lightning bolt past Fryatt! The delighted Boro players mobbed Big Dunc, whose first goal in over ten injury-hit months made it 3-2 to Romford! Duncan's long torment was over, and so was our ten-match winless run, because Woking couldn't muster a third goal before full-time! The Cards had 20 shots at goal to our eight, but we had come up trumps!

Woking - 2 (Williamson 51, Bloomfield 71)

Romford - 3 (Koutinis 9, Grimes og61, Greenwood 77)

Conference South, Attendance 638 - POSITIONS: Woking 21st, Romford 9th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Dunn, Gray, Lyskov, Bradley (Reid), Pollard (Eaton), Morrison, Scott, McCrae, Koutinis (Greenwood), Stamp. BOOKED: Lyskov.

The only bad news to come out of our dramatic win was Russell Bradley's injury, which was worse than I first feared. Russell would be out for two months with fractured ribs, so we'd have to get by without a natural left-back for the time being. I wasn't too worried about that, because Brett Reid and our two right-backs were all capable of filling in that position whenever we next fielded a back four.

We didn't need a left-back for our next game, as we played 3-5-2 from the start at Weston-super-Mare. The Seagulls won two of their first three matches, losing the other at home to in-form Eastbourne Borough.

25 August 2018: Weston-super-Mare vs Romford

The match got off to a pretty even start. Romford's Daniel Morrison crashed a long-range drive wide in the second minute, while Boro keeper Moses Millen got his hands to Ross Davis's header four minutes later. Shortly after that save, we crafted together an excellent attacking move. Fabio Saraiva supplied the killer pass for Garry Morath-Gibbs, whose fiercely-struck third goal in as many games broke the deadlock after seven minutes! In the 13th minute, Weston-super-Mare complained that they should've had a chance to equalise from the penalty spot. Fortunately for us, the referee ruled that Nicholas Lyskov's challenge on home striker Courtney Baker-Richardson was fair. The Seagulls' other frontman, Elliot Benyon, had a crack at goal after half an hour, and Millen brilliantly tipped it away. We solidified our lead three minutes later, when Saraiva's free-kick from the byline was ferociously fired in by full debutant Brett Reid! It was 2-0 to Romford, and had Morrison got lucky with a 44th-minute driver that hit the crossbar, we would have been even further clear.

After the half-time break, I did not want to see Weston find the net early in the second half. Two-and-a-half minutes after the restart, my fears came true as Benyon beat Millen to head home from Aaron Callaghan's cross. However, the referee's whistle had already blown, as he'd spotted Benyon unfairly barging into Moses. The Seagulls would not have many more chances to get back in the game. In the 52nd minute, Danny Crow put wide a woeful long-range shot that Sheryl Crow could've done better with. To be fair, very few strikers would've beaten Lyskov or Kieron Gray on this Saturday, as they were once again in inspiring form at the back. Kieron in particular made goodness knows how many interceptions, and one of his best came when he cleared Dan Western's diving header off the line in the 61st minute. At the other end, we struggled to retain possession, but when we did, we created several chances to get goal number three. Two of our free-kicks went particularly close to beating Weston keeper Billy Baker for a third time. Jimmy Scott hit the woodwork in the 74th minute, and in the 88th, Saraiva came within inches of following up his two assists with his first Romford goal. The third goal didn't come, but I was happy with a 2-0 away win, which repeated the scoreline from our last trip to the Woodspring Stadium back in January.

Weston-super-Mare - 0

Romford - 2 (Morath-Gibbs 7, Reid 33)

Conference South, Attendance 333 - POSITIONS: Weston-super-Mare 9th, Romford 4th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Millen, Gray, Lyskov, Reid, McCrae, O'Halloran (Scott), Morrison, Saraiva, Montgomery, Greenwood (Koutinis (Eaton)), Morath-Gibbs.

One other bit of news from that match was that substitute Vasilis Koutinis gashed his leg in the closing stages. He wouldn't be back in action for another two or three weeks.

Vas's injury didn't dampen our spirits after what was a great start to the Conference South season. With four games played, we are up to the giddy heights of the top five - only Boreham Wood, Eastbourne Borough and Grays Athletic have accrued more points! Let's hope we don't suffer from vertigo in September...

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The first day of September was, in our minds, the perfect day to play Salisbury City at home. We were high in spirits after a good start to the campaign, while Salisbury were in freefall.

When the Whites last came to Ship Lane for an FA Trophy tie late last year, we whitewashed them 6-0. Since then, they've been relegated from the Conference Premier, gone into administration, lost most of their senior squad, and after the first four games of this season, they were bottom of the Conference South with -8 points. Basically, 2018 has been Salisbury City's annus horribilis.

1 September 2018: Romford vs Salisbury City

We were the favourites heading into this match, and we showed why after 11 minutes. Jimmy Scott played a low pass to Duncan Greenwood on the edge of the Salisbury area. Big Dunc then laid the ball off for Fabio Saraiva to smash it into the bottom corner from 25 yards out! That was Fabio's first goal for Romford, and for a man of his undoubted talent, it had to be a special one! Greenwood isn't a bad player, either, though his 13th-minute effort on goal wasn't the best of his career, and Dan Hanford easily picked it up. The Salisbury stopper also kept out a 29th-minute header from Garry Morath-Gibbs. Four minutes later, 16-year-old midfielder Matt Grimshaw had Salisbury's first chance of the game, and he grimly fired it over. That would turn out to be the Whites' only scoring opportunity in the first half. We were well on top, and Graeme Montgomery almost made it 2-0 Romford after 39 minutes. Monty made a fabulous run down the left flank and entered the penalty area before unluckily hitting the bar.

Salisbury put up more of a fight after the break. Romford goalkeeper Moses Millen did well to save a 49th-minute thunderbolt from Ainsworth Riley - another 16-year-old midfielder in the Salisbury side. Two minutes later, yet another of City's very young players came close to equalising, but Jason Fraser's free-kick came back off the woodwork. We lost Morath-Gibbs soon after that, as a last-ditch tackle from right-back Jeremy Cox left Garry with a twisted ankle. We survived two more poor efforts from Grimshaw before going back on the attack in the closing stages. Greenwood failed to hit the target from 30 yards out in the 75th minute, but he had better luck from a closer range three minutes later. The move started when Saraiva hoofed Michael Barker's cross out of the Boro area and into Salisbury territory. GMG's replacement Gareth Stamp took it further forward and found the space to play in Duncan, whose cool finish from just outside the six-yard box made it 2-0. Salisbury's cries for offside went unheeded, and their spirit was broken. We went 3-0 ahead with six minutes to go, as Saraiva provided the assist for another close-range finish from Big Dunc! City again protested in vain for an offside decision, and Duncan's double had given us a third consecutive win! Last season, we never won more than two on the trot, so this was quite something!

Romford - 3 (Saraiva 11, Greenwood 78,84)

Salisbury City - 0

Conference South, Attendance 530 - POSITIONS: Romford 3rd, Salisbury 24th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Millen, Peters, Gray, Lyskov, Reid, Scott (O'Halloran), McCrae (Eaton), Saraiva, Montgomery, Greenwood, Morath-Gibbs (Stamp). BOOKED: Scott.

Just like with our previous two wins, we didn't come out of this one totally unscathed. A twisted ankle resulted in Garry Morath-Gibbs missing the next five to six weeks of action. No injury can ever really be considered timely, and Garry's was even less so because he had started the season with three goals from four games.

On a more positive note, we were up to 3rd place - our highest ever position in the Conference South! Indeed, it was possible that we could move one step further if we won our next fixture and other results went our way!

After cash-strapped Salisbury were brushed aside, the next visitors to Ship Lane were a Bromley team who had their own financial crisis two seasons ago. The Lilywhites were saved from oblivion by Italian-born businessman Daniele Selvaggi last year, and they were hoping to enjoy a renaissance this term. With three wins to their name already, Bromley seemed to be back on the right track.

5 September 2018: Romford vs Bromley

A very early first attack from Bromley fizzled out after winger Seb Forster-Caskey messed up a cross into the area and Dean O'Halloran made a simple clearance. In the third minute, Graeme Montgomery launched a fantastic corner into Bromley's six-yard box, and Nicholas Lyskov put it away! To the delight of the home fans, we were a goal up! It wouldn't be too long before we were in an even better position. After 10 minutes, O'Halloran's low cross was moved on by Romone McCrae to Duncan Greenwood, who chested the ball and half-volleyed in our second goal from close range! Bromley were in a right old mess defensively, and also up front, as we discovered later on. Their frontmen Jake Reed and Daniel Griffiths both missed long-distance efforts within moments of one another just before the 20-minute mark. The Lilywhites also looked very pale in midfield, as Max Silk hit a far from silky pass out of bounds in the 21st minute. Moses Millen booted the resulting goal kick up into the Bromley half, where Silk inexplicably stuck out his hand to stop the ball from finding Fabio Saraiva! Referee Richard Martin called the former Southampton midfielder over, and then issued him with a red card and his marching orders! Bromley went a man down, but in the 28th minute, they almost got back to being just a single goal down! We were counting our blessings when Solomon Taiwo's 30-yard drive hit the corner of Millen's goal frame. We also withstood several Bromley corners later in the half to stay 2-0 up at the break.

Four minutes after the restart, we made really good use of the extra man in midfield. Saraiva made a run forward and buried a deadly low strike into Daniel Stapleton's left-hand corner. We were now cruising to victory against Tony Burman's charges, but our shooting started to get sloppy following that third goal. Young poacher Gareth Stamp looked as anxious as a kid taking a big exam, and his nerves hadn't settled by the 51st minute, when he pulled a great chance wide of the far post. Most of our subsequent efforts were blocked by Bromley's defenders, who were desperate to stop the scoreline from becoming embarrassing. At the other end, Lilywhites substitute Jonté Smith looked to get at least one consolation goal against his former club. Fortunately, our old loanee was not at his best. Smith missed from just outside the area on 69 minutes, and though the Bermudian did slightly better with an effort that Millen had to push aside on 86 minutes, Moses' clean sheet was never really under threat. This was by far the worst I had ever seen Bromley play against us. A 3-0 victory was our fourth in successive games, and with Grays Athletic falling to a 1-0 defeat at Kingstonian, we replaced our local rivals in second place!

Romford - 3 (Lyskov 3, Greenwood 10, Saraiva 49)

Bromley - 0

Conference South, Attendance 502 - POSITIONS: Romford 2nd, Bromley 8th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Millen, Dunn, Gray, Lyskov, Peters (Reid), O'Halloran (Scott), McCrae, Saraiva, Montgomery, Greenwood, Stamp (Pollard).

We were now one of only two teams in the Conference South who still had unbeaten records. The other team was Boreham Wood, who were way ahead of the others with a 100% record after six games. The following Saturday, their perfect start continued with a seventh consecutive win.

We had to wait until Sunday for our next match at Oxford City, and the previous afternoon's results meant that we would remain in 2nd place unless we suffered a heavy defeat. City are consistently slow when it comes to starting a league campaign, but their early-season form this summer had been... well, inconsistent.

9 September 2018: Oxford City vs Romford

Oxford City went into this game with 1-1-1 records home and away, so I had absolutely no idea what they'd be like during our visit to Court Place Farm. The answer was not what I hoped for. The Blues' attacking players - especially their midfielder Jonathan Lynch - looked lively at the start. Former Wigan Athletic man Lynch didn't trouble Moses Millen with his first attempt in the 8th minute, but he forced our young keeper into a difficult save two minutes later. Moses' opposite number Andy Hitchen did marvellously well in the 25th minute to tip Romford striker Kenny Pollard's effort behind his goal. Millen rescued us again a minute later, as he came forward to push away Andre Johnson's half-volley after Dymon Labonne had sent the ex-Derby County youngster through. Another Boro chance came and went on 32 minutes, with Nicholas Lyskov heading against the outside of the post. Six minutes after that, the Danish defender was slow to react to Labonne's cross into the Boro area, and Johnson tucked it away for Oxford City. An offside flag against Johnson kept the scoreline at 0-0, but in truth, it was just a stay of execution. By the 40th minute, Oxford were definitely 1-0 up through Ryan Donaldson's fantastic strike into Millen's top-right corner. City then took a 2-0 lead in the last minute of injury time. Trevor Dunn tripped up Ben Greenhalgh on the edge of our area, and he paid the price as Lynch lofted a delicious free-kick into the other top corner.

We switched to Plan B in the second half, and though I'd like to say that our long-ball game turned the match on its head, it didn't. Kenny Pollard headed woefully wide in the 52nd minute, and Gareth Stamp half-volleyed over the bar seven minutes later. Kenny was later brought off, while Gareth was lucky not to be sent off in the 65th minute, when he elbowed City full-back Chimdi Akubuine in the face! Stampy only got a booking for that offence, so I decided to play the referee - and substituted him before he could pick up another yellow card. Five minutes later, Jamie Bosley looked a near cert to head Oxford City into a 3-0 lead, but Millen caught the substitute's effort right on the line. With 15 minutes to go, Dean O'Halloran squandered a fantastic opportunity to put us back in the game when he went for power over accuracy. Nothing was going our way, and when Duncan Greenwood missed a sitter two minutes later, I admitted that we weren't going to get a goal, let alone a point. Game number seven in the 2018/2019 Conference South season was not a lucky one for us.

Oxford City - 2 (Donaldson 40, Lynch 45)

Romford - 0

Conference South, Attendance 350 - POSITIONS: Oxford City 8th, Romford 2nd

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Millen, Dunn, Gray, Lyskov, Reid, O'Halloran, Morrison (McCrae), Saraiva, Montgomery, Pollard (Greenwood), Stamp (Scott). BOOKED: Stamp.

Losing our unbeaten run was a disappointing inevitability, and I tried to convince myself that it might actually be a good thing for us in the long term. It was perhaps the reality check we needed - we couldn't just try and pass our way into the Conference Premier.

How we bounced back from defeat in Oxford over the next few weeks would surely be crucial in the outcome of our season. Were we serious about challenging for promotion, or were we still some way from being contenders?

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Our first league game since our unbeaten record went up in smoke was against Welling United at Ship Lane. Welling were 16th in the table, and Kevin Davies had never beaten me as a manager.

15 September 2018: Romford vs Welling United

A high-tempo start to the game saw us register our first shot on target after five minutes. Duncan Greenwood tried to find the top corner of the net, only to be thwarted by a stunning save from Peter Parker. Five minutes later, Welling new boy Chike Kandi - who once scored five goals in a single match against us - was booked for a foul on Graeme Montgomery. Two other recent United signings then linked up to create the opening goal on 14 minutes. Montell Moore lobbed the ball to former Braintree Town winger Josh Dawkin, who took it past Jordan Peters and whacked a shot into the bottom corner. The Wings were off to a flyer, and we were struggling to get off the ground. Fabio Saraiva had a particularly bad time, putting two shots wide of the target within five minutes of Welling's opener. Then, in the 34th minute, we came tantalisingly close to slipping further behind. A Reece Jones corner found Joseph Dawson, who flicked it towards Kandi at the near post. The Welshman's header hit the bar, and Jordan had to boot the ball off the line, though Welling swiftly won another corner off Nicholas Lyskov. This time, Dawson headed directly at goal from Dawkin's delivery. Kyle Thomas turned the ball over his bar to concede yet another corner, from which Lyskov finally got us out of danger. Both of our full-backs - Brett Reid and Peters - picked up knocks either side of that particular drama, and at half-time, we were facing another defeat.

We had another very close scrape four minutes after the restart. Thomas displayed cat-like reflexes to turn Kandi's shot away, and Lyskov then made a brilliant challenge on Dawkin to concede just a corner rather than a second goal to the Welsh winger. With the score staying at 1-0 Welling, we started to believe that we could battle back from behind. However, our efforts would prove futile. Parker caught Greenwood's header in the 64th minute and then saved from a frustrated Fabio nine minutes later. With just six minutes remaining, Big Dunc was denied yet again by a third save from Parker. Saraiva's struggles when it came to creating chances for our front two were perhaps the main reason why we slumped to a second consecutive defeat. On a more positive note, we were thankful to man of the match Lyskov for keeping the losing margin down to just one goal.

Romford - 0

Welling United - 1 (Dawkin 14)

Conference South, Attendance 534 - POSITIONS: Romford 4th, Welling 14th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Peters (Eaton), Gray, Lyskov, Reid, O'Halloran (Dunn), McCrae, Saraiva, Montgomery, Greenwood, Koutinis (O'Reilly). BOOKED: Saraiva.

Defeat saw us drop out of the top three, but we could get straight back up there with a big home win against struggling Bath City - the only team yet to win a Conference South match this season. After eight rounds, Bath were in second-to-last place with just three points and three goals.

19 September 2018: Romford vs Bath City

Bath City headed into this game bereft of confidence, but so did our poacher Gareth Stamp. The 18-year-old rookie looked nervous at the start, despite me giving him some reassuring words before kick-off, and he pulled a shot wide after 12 minutes. His next shot, in the 28th minute, was slightly better. The attack started after a terrible clearance from Bath captain Samuel Pressman. It ended with Romone McCrae laying the ball forward to Stampy, who evaded a sliding challenge from Harry Paice and dinked the ball over City keeper Jason Byrne. That gave us the opening goal, which Bath could've cancelled out just two minutes later. Nicholas Lyskov could only head Stephen Wainwright's cross as far as Jamie McGuire, whose half-volley was superbly tipped over by Boro goalie Kyle Thomas! Bath were having their best spell of the match, but after Carl Goodwin missed the target in the 34th minute, they went back into their shell. Three minutes later, a firmly-struck effort from Stamp hit the far post and bounced clear. Graeme Montgomery picked up the deflection and crossed it back into the area, only to see Kenny Pollard head wide. Despite our dominance, we still only led by one goal at the break.

I noticed that McCrae was looking rather overconfident at half-time, so to try and eradicate any second-half complacency, I replaced him with Fabio Saraiva. Half a minute after the restart, that substitution was looking like a stroke of genius. Fabio fed a through-ball to Elliot Eaton in the Bath penalty area, and Elliot cut it back for Pollard to lob into the top corner of the target! After going 2-0 down, Bath's game fell to pieces! In the 50th minute, Eaton played the ball up to Saraiva, who then found Pollard about 25 yards from the target. Kenny waited for Elliot to make a run at goal, and Eaton duly ate up his through-ball to score our third goal! We were overpowering City in midfield, where Darren Carter - who failed to block Eaton's shot - was having a particularly bad day. In the 54th minute, the visitors' day lurched from bad to even worse. Saraiva's sublime corner was headed in by 17-year-old Romford defender Keston James, who made it 4-0 with his first ever senior goal! Bath's nerves were completely shredded, and that was evident when Byrne fumbled a long-range shot from Stamp five minutes later. Fortunately for the City keeper, there weren't any Boro players near him who could pounce on his mistake. Incredibly, just moments later, Bath got themselves on the scoresheet courtesy of a bizarre goal from Wainwright, whose deep cross looped over Thomas and found the corner of the net! That brought smiles to some West Country faces, but there was no chance of that goal kicking off an almighty revival from Bath. We played sensibly for the last half-hour, reducing the visitors to a bare minimum of chances. The closest we got to a cake-icing fifth goal was in the 78th minute, when Vasilis Koutinis blasted Eaton's long ball high and wide. It didn't really matter, because I was more than satisfied with a 4-1 win that put us back in second place.

Romford - 4 (Stamp 28, Pollard 46, Eaton 50, James 55)

Bath City - 1 (Wainwright 59)

Conference South, Attendance 411 - POSITIONS: Romford 2nd, Bath 21st

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Gray, Lyskov (Peters), James, Morrison (Koutinis), Dunn, Eaton, McCrae (Saraiva), Montgomery, Pollard, Stamp.

That was one of the most comfortable wins we've ever had in the Conference South. Bath returned to Somerset with their tails between their legs, and three days later, we headed there for the start of our FA Cup campaign.

The Qualifying Round 2 draw gave us a potential banana-skin tie away to Bridgwater Town. The Robins were top of the Southern League Division 1 South & West and still unbeaten in all competitions this season.

It took us a good three hours to drive to their Fairfax Park ground, and the return trip would feel even longer if we didn't win.

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Duncan Greenwood tried to find the top corner of the net, only to be thwarted by a stunning save from Peter Parker.

How could you possibly win with Spiderman in net???

Just got caught up and am really enjoying this story so far!

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How could you possibly win with Spiderman in net???

Just got caught up and am really enjoying this story so far!

:lol:

I first came across Peter Parker last season, when he was at Grays, and I remember making a Spiderman reference back then. I've played against him three times so far and only scored once!

The game must have had a wicked sense of humour when it came to creating that newgen. I can only thank my lucky stars that I haven't encountered any opposition centre-backs called Tony Stark or any big target men called Bruce Banner yet!

I'm sure I've spotted you browsing this thread before, so it's nice to hear from you.

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yes, I keep the story open at work and when I have a minute or two I read a bit. Problem is that we've been so busy that 3 more posts appear in the time it takes me to read 1.

Anyway, this story inspired me to purchase a copy of FM 2015 and start a game with Gainsborough. Had a great start to the season, (2nd after 5 games) but I'm about 1/3 through and sitting in the lower end of the mid-table (still not horrible given my boards expectation of finishing dead-last...)

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yes, I keep the story open at work and when I have a minute or two I read a bit. Problem is that we've been so busy that 3 more posts appear in the time it takes me to read 1.

Anyway, this story inspired me to purchase a copy of FM 2015 and start a game with Gainsborough. Had a great start to the season, (2nd after 5 games) but I'm about 1/3 through and sitting in the lower end of the mid-table (still not horrible given my boards expectation of finishing dead-last...)

I hope things go well for you with Gainsborough. They're still in the Conference North in my story, but be sure to keep reading, because they might crop up in the future... ;)

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22 September 2018: Bridgwater Town vs Romford

Vasilis Koutinis was presented with a golden opportunity to give us the lead after just ten seconds! Bridgwater defender Jonathan Crawford failed to head Duncan Greenwood's flick-on out of danger, and Koutinis was left with just the keeper to beat - but he shot directly at Carl Mack. We wasted another early chance less than a minute later, when Fabio Saraiva put the ball over the bar. In the 13th minute, Bridgwater struggled to clear Saraiva's cross, and Graeme Montgomery hit a shot that Mack had to push away. The lower-league side were proving tougher to crack than I expected, and they also showed plenty of desire to attack. A mini-scramble in the Romford area resulted in winger Lewis Morgan narrowly missing the target on 18 minutes. Their next opportunity came after 36 minutes. Jonathan Paul Morgan (no relation to Lewis) fed the ball through to Stephen Arndale, whose shot was parried by Kyle Thomas. Five minutes later, Arndale hurled himself at a cross from Anthony Hamer, but he failed to keep his diving header on target. Nicholas Lyskov headed wide for Romford in injury time, so the deadlock remained intact after the first 45 minutes.

Bridgwater were unfortunate not to score seven minutes after the restart, when an excellent free-kick from Louie Coombe was kept out by an arguably better save from Thomas! The Robins would later suffer terrible luck on the injury front. Within ten minutes of that free-kick, they lost both of their Morgans. JP, who had been injured in a first-half challenge from Lyskov, was substituted on 56 minutes, and Lewis came off hurt three minutes later following a collision with Romone McCrae. Things got even worse for the hosts after 64 minutes. Rhys Leaver - who replaced Arndale early in the second period - had to leave the game early after Dean O'Halloran went in hard on him. Bridgwater were reduced to ten men, but if we thought that would make life any easier for us, we would be proved very wrong. Koutinis wasted another chance with a poor header from Greenwood's cross in the 70th minute, and the out-of-form teenager was later subbed. His replacement Gareth Stamp made little impact on the game, though another substitute - Jordan Peters - would provide a greater threat to the hosts. The full-back went close with an 80th-minute header from a Monty corner that missed the target by inches. Then, in literally the last few seconds of normal time, Jordan hit a first-time cross that floated over Mack and landed in the net! Unfortunately, it didn't count as a goal because Greenwood had unfairly pushed Mack to stop him from reaching Peters' cross. With the score remaining goalless at full-time, we would have to play Bridgwater again.

Bridgwater Town - 0

Romford - 0

FA Cup Qualifying Round 2, Attendance 675

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Dunn, Gray, Lyskov, Reid (Peters), O'Halloran, McCrae (Morrison), Saraiva, Montgomery, Greenwood, Koutinis (Stamp). BOOKED: Reid, Lyskov.

Four days later, the tie was finally settled at Ship Lane, where the winner would book a Qualifying Round 3 trip to either Yaxley or Boston United. Over 800 people turned up for the replay, resulting in our biggest home attendance for over two years.

26 September 2018: Romford vs Bridgwater Town

I felt we snatched at too many chances in Somerset, so I decided to go with a slower, more conservative approach. Bridgwater went down the same route, and the result was one of the worst matches I had ever seen. The Robins had the game's first shot in the sixth minute, when Matthew Brunt's effort was frantically parried by Kyle Thomas and headed behind by Jordan Peters. Kieron Gray easily headed the resulting corner away, and the next chance for either team to score didn't come until a full 20 minutes later. Fabio Saraiva's attempted pass to Kenny Pollard was intercepted by Bridgwater's Louie Coombe, but the Robins failed to clear their lines and Kenny applied the finish. After nearly two hours of football, we had finally ended the stalemate! I hoped we'd move up the gears from there, but aside from winning a few corners, we didn't trouble Bridgwater again before half-time.

The standard of play didn't improve much after the break. Bridgwater were truly shocking, giving away errant passes like they were leaflets and conceding too many fouls. We weren't much better, as we could only create a handful of scoring opportunities. Saraiva put one of them over the bar in the 60th minute. In the 74th, Robins defender Harry Medway dawdled on the ball in his own area for too long, and Gareth Stamp easily nicked it off him. Gareth then centred the ball for Pollard to tap it into the corner and put us 2-0 ahead. Bridgwater's spirit was broken, and we could at last get ready for Qualifying Round 3. A couple of late saves from Carl Mack to deny Pollard and Elliot Eaton stopped us from winning by more than 2-0, but the win was all that mattered to me.

Romford - 2 (Pollard 26,74)

Bridgwater Town - 0

FA Cup Qualifying Round 2 Replay, Attendance 871

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Dunn, Gray, Lyskov (Reid), Peters, O'Halloran, Eaton, Saraiva (McCrae), Scott (Montgomery), Pollard, Stamp. BOOKED: O'Halloran.

Our opponents in Qualifying Round 3 would be Conference North side Boston United, who won their replay against Yaxley 3-1 despite conceding the first goal.

On the morning after our win against Bridgwater, I discovered just how valuable that result was to us. Chairman Leo Jones was delighted to tell me that we earned close to £20,000 just from that game alone! We were awarded nearly £5,000 in prize money... and we made club-record gate receipts of £14,120!

That's right, folks. We recorded higher gate receipts than when we hosted Portsmouth in the FA Cup three seasons ago - and that was in Round 1 proper! Imagine how much we'd make if we reached that stage again!

We would need to get through two more rounds before even contemplating that, and there were also a couple more away matches in other competitions before we headed for Boston. The first of them was back in the Conference South at 17th-placed Dorchester Town.

Duncan Greenwood returned to the starting line-up at Dorchester after sitting out the Bridgwater replay, but Nicholas Lyskov was rested from the team for the first time this season. The great Dane had been one of the main reasons for our much-improved defensive record, so would we suffer in his absence?

29 September 2018: Dorchester Town vs Romford

Dorchester's shooting in the early stages suggested that we didn't have much to worry about. The Magpies' Welsh midfielder Miles John put a free-kick over the bar after just three minutes. In the 12th minute, Joe May brushed past Boro full-back Trevor Dunn before cracking a shot high and wide. Trevor struggled early doors, and three minutes later, he needed treatment on the sidelines after an awkward fall. John then went close with another free-kick in the 29th minute as Dorchester continued to make and waste chances. The best of them came after a silky passing move in the 36th minute, but May's first-time driver from just outside the area missed by inches. We finally got our first chance to attack two minutes later, when Duncan Greenwood's shot deflected off a Magpies defender and went out for a corner. Sadly, Graeme Montgomery's delivery was weak, as was Romone McCrae's long-distance volley in the closing seconds of normal time.

We set about using our aerial superiority to try and break the deadlock in the second half. Just over a minute after the kick-off, Jimmy Scott lobbed a lovely ball for Gareth Stamp to head at goal, but the shot was comfortably saved by Dorchester keeper Leigh Bedwell. Scott created a chance for McCrae shortly afterwards, only to see Romone drag it wide. Meanwhile, we continued to live dangerously at the back. Dorchester substitute Kane Hope hit a hopeless half-volley in the 53rd minute. A minute later, Hope set up an opportunity for captain Tony Garrod. Keston James got in the way of Garrod's header, and Kieron Gray flicked it on for Brett Reid to hoof clear. That was followed by an extraordinary spell of play just after the hour mark, in which Dorchester won five corners in the space of four minutes! After surviving the deluge of corners, we patiently waited for a chance to really hurt the Magpies. Our chance came in the 73rd minute, when the hosts were temporarily down to ten men while right-back Thomas Bryan was receiving treatment on an injury. Bedwell's goal kick was headed back into Dorchester territory by James, and McCrae then played a wonderful pass to Greenwood. Big Dunc moved into the penalty area and shrugged off three defenders before firing his shot in off Bedwell's right thigh! We'd pinched the lead, but three minutes later, the Magpies almost stole an equaliser. Adam O'Reilly found Greg Tempest in plenty of space, but Boro sub Dave McGrath forced Tempest into a tight angle, and the Dorchester man curled his shot wide. We were now all set to secure a 1-0 victory, though our winning margin could've been increased four minutes from time. A wayward clearance by Bedwell from well outside his area almost produced a stunning second Boro goal, but Montgomery's 50-yarder narrowly missed an empty target.

Dorchester Town - 0

Romford - 1 (Greenwood 73)

Conference South, Attendance 396 - POSITIONS: Dorchester 19th, Romford 3rd

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Dunn (James), Gray, Reid, Peters, Scott (McGrath), Morrison (Eaton), McCrae, Montgomery, Greenwood, Stamp.

Just like against Bridgwater, we got the job done despite not being at our best. The result of our latest victory was that we reached the 20-point mark after just 10 games, and we remain firmly in the top three heading into October.

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                                   P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Boreham Wood           9     8     0     1     19    5     +14   24
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2.          Eastbourne Boro        10    7     2     1     15    3     +12   23
[color="#0000FF"]3.          Romford                10    6     2     2     18    8     +10   20[/color]
4.          Brackley               9     5     2     2     17    12    +5    17
5.          Bromley                10    5     1     4     14    12    +2    16
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
6.          Ebbsfleet              10    5     1     4     12    10    +2    16
7.          Havant                 10    4     4     2     12    10    +2    16
8.          Oxford City            9     4     3     2     13    6     +7    15
9.          Canvey Island          10    4     3     3     12    9     +3    15
10.         Weston-super-Mare      9     4     2     3     16    11    +5    14
11.         Kingstonian            10    4     2     4     9     11    -2    14
12.         Hayes & Yeading        9     4     1     4     15    14    +1    13
13.         Grays                  9     4     1     4     8     11    -3    13
14.         Enfield Town           10    4     0     6     13    16    -3    12
15.         Slough                 10    4     0     6     13    24    -11   12
16.         Woking                 10    3     2     5     15    15    0     11
17.         Welling                10    3     1     6     12    16    -4    10
18.         Worcester              10    2     4     4     6     11    -5    10
19.         Dorchester             10    2     4     4     4     9     -5    10
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
20.         Hampton & Richmond     9     2     0     7     11    20    -9    6
21.         Bath                   10    0     3     7     5     18    -13   3
22.         Salisbury              9     2     2     5     5     13    -8    -2 * 

* Salisbury deducted 10 points for entering administration

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I was pleasantly surprised by how well we had played in the first 10 matches of the Conference South season. With the cups taking centre stage in early October, I hoped we could carry our league form over into the knockout competitions.

First off, we travelled to Canvey Island for an Essex Senior Cup Round 2 clash against Concord Rangers, which would've been played a week earlier had Bridgwater Town not HELD us to a replay in the FA Cup. Concord were 3rd in Isthmian League Division 1 North and were now being managed by ex-Doncaster Rovers striker James Coppinger.

3 October 2018: Concord Rangers vs Romford

From the start, it was plain to see just how much Concord Rangers wanted to win this game. Right-winger Jack Page hit a cracking drive at goal after six minutes, and he put it narrowly over the bar. Three minutes later, former Southend United striker Danny Read presented Page with a better opportunity after lobbing over the Boro defence. Page controlled the lob with his chest and then tapped past Moses Millen for Concord's opening goal. Read could have scored after 12 minutes, but Millen did well to tip Kevan Flynn's cross away from the 18-year-old. Another Millen save two minutes later kept Read at bay once more. Rangers were building up more momentum and testing our defence to its limits. Unfortunately, one of our key defenders was pushed too far just after the half-hour mark. In-form Nicholas Lyskov was forced to come off when Read stretched his leg out and twisted the Dane's ankle. Losing Lyskov was another low point in a first half in which we registered just one shot at goal - a Jimmy Scott free-kick that missed the target shortly after Page found his.

In the 52nd minute, goalscorer Page turned provider for Ollie Souter, who volleyed wide a chance to put the Beach Boys further ahead. Three minutes later, a 20-yard shot from Romford midfielder Elliot Eaton was caught by Concord captain Mark Adamu. I hoped that the tide was about to turn, although it didn't quite turn out that way. Soon afterwards, it was the hosts who went back on the attack. Concord had a number of opportunities to go 2-0 up, but aside from a 67th-minute Read shot that Moses plucked out of the air, they never really got close. Page bruised a rib in injury-time, during which we had one last chance to save ourselves and force extra-time. Fabio Saraiva slotted the ball through the Rangers defence to Gareth Stamp, who just needed to pick his spot in the Rangers net. Alas, his shot was too close to Adamu, who parried it away and consigned us to defeat. Concord Rangers soared through to a Round 3 meeting with Ilford, and our long wait to lift the Essex Senior Cup would continue into the next decade.

Concord Rangers - 1 (Page 9)

Romford - 0

Essex Senior Cup Round 2, Attendance 66

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Millen, Dunn, James, Lyskov (Clark), Peters, McGrath, Eaton, Saraiva, Scott (O'Halloran), Pollard, Koutinis (Stamp).

I wasn't overly downhearted with going out of the Essex Senior Cup, because I considered the league and the other cups to be more important. However, I was rather gutted to hear that Nicholas Lyskov would be out for around six weeks with a twisted knee. That meant we would have to negotiate our big FA Cup tie without a key centre-back.

The following Saturday, we drove up to Lincolnshire for a Qualifying Round 3 clash with Boston United. The former Football League members were 13th in the Conference North, and there was one particular reason why I wanted to batter Boston.

I had a soft spot for Dagenham & Redbridge in my younger years, so I was disappointed when Boston pipped up to the Conference title (and promotion to the old Division 3) by goal difference in 2002. Disappointment turned to anger when it emerged that Boston had made illegal payments to their players, but they kept their place in the Football League despite the uproar that followed. Dagenham did have the last laugh, though, because they finally got into the League in 2007... and then watched the Pilgrims drop back down a year later!

6 October 2018: Boston United vs Romford

Over 1,500 fans were at York Street for this match, and the large crowd seemed to faze us early on. Duncan Greenwood's header at goal in the fourth minute was caught by Boston keeper Gerard Doherty, but after that, it was all Pilgrims. Former Scunthorpe United winger Martyn Woolford put a couple of shots wide for the hosts in the 8th and 9th minutes. On 25 minutes, Conner Robinson's through-ball opened up a chance for ex-Norwich City midfielder Cameron McGeehan, but he too failed to trouble the target. Even though Boston were enjoying bags of possession and having plenty of shots at goal, most of them were from outside the penalty area. Their finishing was so poor at times that I was surprised a couple of balls didn't fly out of the ground and drop into the North Sea! Boston's worst culprit was Woolford, who fired a third long-ranger wide in the 43rd minute. By half-time, something needed to change if a replay wasn't to become an inevitability. Boston had to be much more patient when attacking, and we needed to keep hold of possession if we didn't want to be overwhelmed.

Our direct approach to the first half just wasn't good enough, so in the second half, we slowed down the tempo and looked to play more methodically. The result - we pretty much dominated the first 15 minutes. Dean O'Halloran looked a new man after a half-time rollicking, and in the 50th minute, he hit a fierce shot that Doherty could only parry away. Five minutes later, our other winger Graeme Montgomery crossed to the far post, and Kieron Gray headed over from close range. We eventually found a way through after 59 minutes. Young full-back Ashley Clark made a quick impact soon after replacing Jordan Peters, centring the ball for Greenwood to fire into the net! It was 1-0 to the Boro, and York Street was silenced! But with our lead came nerves, particularly from a panicky Gareth Stamp, who blasted wide in the 62nd minute. In the 77th, Big Dunc got his head to Monty's deep cross but failed to keep it on target. Woolford hit another shot from distance seven minutes later, and the Boston man again fluffed his lines. By that stage, I was getting ready to put up the shutters. I also gave Garry Morath-Gibbs his first run-out in five weeks, but the young striker showed rustiness with a wayward shot in the last minute of normal time. Then came three minutes of added-on time. Just as the last of them was about to start, Robinson hit a through-ball to substitute Stephen Boothman in the Boro area. Boothman's attempt to find the far corner was blocked by Kyle Thomas, but the goalie couldn't keep hold of the ball! Kyle's parry took it towards Woolford, who had by far his easiest chance of the game... and he did not make a mistake that time. There was a collective groan on the Romford bench. We were less than a minute away from reaching Qualifying Round 4, but now we were 90 minutes away again.

Boston United - 1 (Woolford 90)

Romford - 1 (Greenwood 59)

FA Cup Qualifying Round 3, Attendance 1,593

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Peters (Clark), Gray, Reid, Dunn, O'Halloran (Scott), Morrison, McCrae, Montgomery, Greenwood, Stamp (Morath-Gibbs). BOOKED: Greenwood, O'Halloran, Peters.

Conceding a 93rd-minute equaliser when we were on the brink of victory was hard to take at first. Then I realised that being taken to a replay at Ship Lane might actually be a good thing - at least for our finances. We racked up nearly £15,000 in gate receipts from our trip to Lincolnshire, and there would be plenty more to be taken four days later, when we were back at home.

Sure enough, 912 people showed up at Ship Lane to witness the biggest match of our season so far. Victory would give us a cool £8,000 in prize money, as well as a Qualifying Round 4 tie at home to Lowestoft Town.

10 October 2018: Romford vs Boston United

We looked the more positive side in the first quarter-hour or so. We won a couple of corners inside the opening seven minutes, and though we couldn't make anything from either of them, our first real opportunity would not be long in coming. Jordan Peters put a cross into the Boston area on 14 minutes, and United defender Luke Prosser could only head it towards his own goal! Prosser was fortunate to see his backwards header hit the bar, but the ball bounced back into play, and Duncan Greenwood stabbed in an easy goal from the six-yard box! It was a great start for us, but certainly not for Boston, whose defender Marcus Holness required injury treatment after picking up a knock on 23 minutes. Four minutes later, Boro striker Garry Morath-Gibbs got above Holness to head Graeme Montgomery's cross at goal, and Gerard Doherty had to catch it for the Pilgrims. Things were going well for us on the attacking front, and at the other end, we did a good job of restricting Boston to long-range shots. Martyn Woolford and Conner Robinson both missed the target from just outside the box shortly after the half-hour mark. We took greater control of the game in the 38th minute, when Morath-Gibbs' through-ball was finished by Big Dunc. Our second goal was followed by a third in injury time. It was another Peters cross that did the damage, as Jordan's delivery was fired home by Dean O'Halloran, who had recovered from a very early knock to enjoy an excellent first half! 3-0 to the Boro, and surely the tie was over already!

Four days on from the original tie, it was clear that we were much fitter than Boston United. Some of Boston's players looked absolutely knackered, and they gave us another goal just two minutes into the second half. Dean hit a fantastic long lob into the penalty area for Morath-Gibbs, who scored a truly fantastic volley from a tight angle! That made it 4-0, and we were bang on course for Qualifying Round 4! After conceding their fourth goal, Boston briefly resorted to drastic actions, as Woolford hit a couple of dreadful long-rangers. Unsurprisingly, he didn't threaten Kyle Thomas with either of them. Woolford would've been better off shooting from inside the area, which is what he finally did in the 60th minute. Robinson headed across the goal to his experienced team-mate, who got beyond Trevor Dunn and slid in what was surely just a consolation for Boston. As the minutes ticked away, the chances of a Romford collapse or a Boston miracle became even more remote. Robinson failed to hit the target for the Pilgrims on 73 minutes, and neither did substitute Luke Cann seven minutes later. But with just three minutes to go, Boston got another goal on the board. Woolford used his experience to skip past Ashley Clark's challenge and hit a left-wing cross from the byline into the area. Robinson was there to hit a shot that deflected off the near post and then Kyle's left leg before crossing the goal line! United had cut our four-goal lead in half, but it was nowhere near enough. For the second time in four seasons, we were in the final Qualifying Round of the FA Cup!

Romford - 4 (Greenwood 14,38, O'Halloran 45, Morath-Gibbs 47)

Boston United - 2 (Woolford 60, Thomas og87)

FA Cup Qualifying Round 3 Replay, Attendance 912

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Dunn (Clark), Gray, Reid, Peters, O'Halloran (Scott), Eaton, Saraiva (McCrae), Montgomery, Greenwood, Morath-Gibbs. BOOKED: Saraiva.

After the game, Duncan Greenwood got the man of the match award, and Tom Greenwood - Boston's manager - got the sack!

Victory meant that we could make preparations for another FA Cup game at home to Conference North opposition. If we defeated Lowestoft Town on 20 October, we would be back in Round 1 proper, where we could earn ourselves a really lucrative tie!

Before that massive meeting with Lowestoft, we had a couple of league fixtures to get through. Could we further consolidate our place in the top five?

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We were on a massive high following our win over Boston United in the FA Cup - but I knew that Ebbsfleet United could knock us back down to terra firma in our next league game. Ebbsfleet were going fairly well in 8th place, and they had never lost to us, so they were slight favourites at Stonebridge Road.

13 October 2018: Ebbsfleet United vs Romford

A 10th-minute corner from Fabio Saraiva caused Ebbsfleet all sorts of problems. Fleet midfielder Christian Davidson could only head Saraiva's delivery to Daniel Morrison, who flicked the ball back into a dangerous position. Vasilis Koutinis was about to shoot when Sam Beale dispossessed him, but the tackle knocked the ball to Kieron Gray in the six-yard box. Kieron finally ended the scramble with a simple finish to give us the lead! Gray then denied Ebbsfleet an equaliser five minutes later, when he headed Danny Parslow's cross away from the lurking Ryan Colclough. His intervention gave the hosts a corner, but Reuben Reid failed to convert from Mauro Vilhete's delivery. On 21 minutes, Koutinis brilliantly cut inside from the left wing and narrowly missed a chance to double our lead. It was an opportunity we would rue missing. Reid gave us a scare in the 30th minute by getting past Gray and dragging a low shot inches wide. Reuben finally found the target three minutes later after some disappointing defending from Romford namesake Brett Reid. Brett could not clear Colclough's cross away from the other Reid, who pounced for Ebbsfleet. That equaliser was followed four minutes later by another goal from the experienced Fleet frontman. An uncharacteristically poor headed clearance from Kieron reached Vilhete, whose low cross towards the six-yard box was fired home by Reid for 2-1. The man of the moment almost had a hat-trick wrapped up by the 39th minute, but Moses Millen's save merely delayed the champagne moment. In the penultimate minute of the first half, Reid got beyond Keston James to reach Davidson's through-ball and drill it into the far corner. That completed an 11-minute treble from ruthless Reuben, and we were 3-1 down at half-time.

Ebbsfleet continued to outclass us in the early stages of the second half. If it wasn't for Millen's valiant goalkeeping, they might have moved miles ahead of us. Moses acrobatically tipped over a stunning shot from Colclough after 47 minutes. He then kept out two more efforts from Reid in the 56th and 62nd minutes. Moments after the latter effort, we wasted a golden chance to get back within a goal of Fleet. Koutinis' long ball sent Gareth Stamp charging through on goal, but keeper Joseph Lumley pushed Stampy's strike away. Instead of being just a single goal behind, we went three goals down after 69 minutes, thanks to the hosts' star man. A neatly-struck effort was too quick for Millen, and it was 4-1 to Ebbsfleet United - or, more specifically, Reuben Reid. This really was a magnificent display of shooting from Reid, who on his own had more shots on target (eight) than the entire Romford team had shots (seven)! We did score with our seventh attempt, as Gareth's curler squirmed underneath Lumley to make it 4-2 after 78 minutes. By then, though, the contest was already effectively over.

Ebbsfleet United - 4 (Reid 33,37,44,69)

Romford - 2 (Gray 10, Stamp 78)

Conference South, Attendance 595 - POSITIONS: Ebbsfleet 4th, Romford 3rd

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Millen, Peters, Gray, James (Bradley), Reid, Morrison, McCrae (Eaton), Scott, Saraiva (Pollard), Koutinis, Stamp.

As a result of our first real mullering in the league this season, we were inside the play-off places by just two points rather than four. If we failed to take maximum points at home to lowly Worcester City in the following game, there was a chance that we could drop out of the top five.

16 October 2018: Romford vs Worcester City

We had the ball in the Worcester goal after just three minutes. Winger Graeme Montgomery tried to find Duncan Greenwood with a cross, and instead found the back of the net! Sadly, it did not count, because Duncan had unfairly impeded on City keeper Chad Collins. That wasn't the first time Big Dunc had cost us a goal in that manner this term. Greenwood tried to make amends after a quarter of an hour, when he got his head to another Monty cross, but Collins tipped his effort over. We were at least troubling the opposition keeper, which was more than could be said of Worcester's attacks. On 23 minutes, Stan Little fired a free-kick against the Romford wall, and Adrian Hall failed to find the target from the rebound volley. That was the closest Worcester came to scoring in the first half-hour. They almost gifted us the opener in the 35th minute, when Collins fumbled Dean O'Halloran's cross and had to regather it before either Duncan or Garry Morath-Gibbs could pounce. Two minutes after that, we did take the lead. Keston James side-footed the ball to Romone McCrae on the edge of the area, and Romone powered it in to draw first blood! Worcester went close to levelling after 39 minutes, when another Little free-kick skimmed the bar, but we were still in the ascendancy at half-time.

It wasn't until the second minute of the second half that Worcester registered their first shot on target - and it gave them their equaliser. Cathair Friel's pass was drilled into the corner by Danny Pilkington, and the Dragons were back level. Our response was to attack them with some quick, direct football. Two minutes after losing our lead, we could've regained it through Morath-Gibbs, but he headed wide from Greenwood's free-kick. After 58 minutes, we should have been back in front. Russell Bradley - making his first Boro start for two months - hit the ball deep into Worcester's half, and when defender Matt Evans missed his header, Morath-Gibbs raced through to leave himself with just the goalie to beat! However, Garry's shot was more OMG than GMG, because he failed to find the target! I felt that we were losing our grip on the game, so after 63 minutes, I brought on Fabio Saraiva as an attacking midfielder. Within six minutes of his introduction, Fabio made a significant impact. The Portuguese playmaker picked up Dean's pass into the Worcester area, and then smashed it first-time into the net! We were 2-1 up, and with City continuing to mess most of their attempts up, that lead looked fairly healthy. Worcester's hopes weren't helped by an 80th-minute knee injury to defender Danny Fitzsimons, but they were able to replace him. When McCrae pulled his hamstring four minutes later, we'd already used all our substitutes, so we had to finish a man light. Defending a slender lead with 10 men was not something we had done particularly well in the past. This time, we managed to hold firm and secure all three points.

Romford - 2 (McCrae 37, Saraiva 69)

Worcester City - 1 (Pilkington 47)

Conference South, Attendance 400 - POSITIONS: Romford 3rd, Worcester 20th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Dunn, Gray (Reid), James, Bradley, O'Halloran, Eaton (Saraiva), McCrae, Montgomery, Greenwood (Pollard), Morath-Gibbs. BOOKED: Gray, Eaton, James.

We were four points ahead of the 6th-placed team once again, but victory came at a cost. A pulled hamstring ruled Romone McCrae out of action for at least four weeks, so we would have to play our crucial FA Cup tie without him.

Just 90 minutes of football at home to Lowestoft Town separated us from a place in Round 1 of the FA Cup. We'd only lost one home game so far this season, and Conference North strugglers Lowestoft had only won on the road once, so we were certainly favourites on paper. Could we handle the pressure and justify that tag on the pitch?

20 October 2018: Romford vs Lowestoft Town

This was clearly a massive game to the fans, as our home attendance at Ship Lane topped 1,000 for the first time! I took a gamble on fielding the out-of-form Vasilis Koutinis, and the Greek youngster was eager to impress me from the off. He created a couple of chances for Duncan Greenwood inside the opening two minutes, but the first went over the bar and the second was parried by Deale Chamberlain. Lowestoft's first chance to strike came in the 4th minute. Josh Burge's free-kick hit the bar and deflected out off Kyle Thomas' back to earn a corner, which the Trawler Boys subsequently wasted. We spurned a number of half-chances over the next ten minutes, and Vasilis scuffed a clear-cut opportunity on 15 minutes by hitting the post from a few yards out. Four minutes later, Lowestoft won a corner against the run of play. Burge swung it to the near post, and Sam Rents outjumped Jimmy Scott to head the Trawler Boys into a 1-0 lead. Jimmy believed that he was to blame for Lowestoft going ahead, and he was keen to make up for it. Scott did exactly that after 36 minutes, with his first competitive assist! His left-wing cross was volleyed in by none other than Jordan Peters, who celebrated scoring a senior goal for the very first time! We were back level, but for the rest of the half, we made life difficult for ourselves by conceding free-kicks in dangerous positions. After 44 minutes, Koutinis was shown a yellow card, becoming the second Boro player to be booked after Scott. A minute later, the referee reached for another card - a red one! Daniel Morrison completely lost his cool, lunging in on Lowestoft's Henry Randall as he tried to beat him to a loose ball just outside the Romford area. Morrison quite simply had to go, and we were a man down! Were we about to go a goal down again?

Injury time was underway when the dust settled and Burge took his free-kick. His effort deflected off the Romford wall, and we won a free-kick of our own seconds later after Kieran Charnock fouled Kieron Gray. Kyle Thomas hit it long to Greenwood, who headed towards goal. Then came a major communication breakdown in the Lowestoft defence, as centre-back Michael Raynes waited for Chamberlain to come forward and gather the loose ball... only to see the goalie let it slip through his fingers! Duncan reacted quickly and had a pop at goal. His shot deflected off Raynes and fell to Koutinis, who calmly slotted the rebound into an empty Lowestoft net! Incredibly, we were 2-1 up just minutes after losing a player!

I wondered how Lowestoft would react to conceding such a silly goal. My answer would come inside the first 15 minutes of the second half. We won a corner after 54 minutes, and Graeme Montgomery whipped it in for Brett Reid to head home from outside the six-yard box! That made it 3-1 to the Boro! When Peters intercepted a cross from Lowestoft sub Kane Tracey moments after the restart, we hit the Trawler Boys on the break for another goal! Monty was first to Jordan's clearance, and he chipped it forward to Koutinis, who then found Greenwood with a weighted pass towards the area. Chamberlain charged off his line, and Big Dunc placed his shot beyond the keeper! I was astounded - we'd scored three unanswered goals since the red card and were leading 4-1! Another through-ball from Vasilis to Duncan could have even resulted in a FIFTH Romford goal after 59 minutes, but the skipper got his shot all wrong, and the visitors weren't quite vanquished. They showed flickering signs of life on 70 minutes, when Burge slid Adam Yates' drilled cross home to reduce our lead to 4-2. But instead of launching a full-scale fightback, Lowestoft hardly troubled us again in the final 20 minutes. We effortlessly closed the game out before celebrating a well-earned place in Round 1 of the FA Cup!

Romford - 4 (Peters 36, Koutinis 45, Reid 54, Greenwood 56)

Lowestoft Town - 2 (Rents 19, Burge 70)

FA Cup Qualifying Round 4, Attendance 1,049

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Peters, Gray, James (Eaton), Reid, O'Halloran, Morrison, Saraiva, Scott (Montgomery), Greenwood, Koutinis (Dunn). BOOKED: Scott, Koutinis. SENT OFF: Morrison.

The FA Cup really is a money-spinner for non-league teams, and that match alone made us a fat load of it! We racked up £17,000 in gate receipts, and nearly £14,000 in prize money, which together with our matches from the previous rounds pushed our bank balance close to £100,000! What's more, there was the possibility of a really lucrative home game against Football League opposition!

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On Sunday morning, I joined some of the players at the clubhouse, where we watched the draw for Round 1 of the FA Cup. It was the first time we had been in the pot for that stage since 2015/2016, when we hosted Portsmouth.

I personally was hoping for a home draw against a League One team like Coventry City, Crystal Palace, Millwall, or even Pompey again. All four of those sides had won or played in an FA Cup Final in the past.

We didn't get either of those four, but we were drawn at home against another League One side. On 3 November 2018, we will be welcoming Oxford United to Ship Lane for one of the biggest games in our history!

We had two weeks to get ready for the U's, but before then, we returned to league action with a couple of matches. The first of them was at Priory Lane against 2nd-placed Eastbourne Borough. We were now down to 4th place, but if we defeated the Sports by at least two goals, we would be back in the runners-up spot at their expense.

This match was Duncan Greenwood's first since he agreed to extend his contract until the end of next season. Big Dunc had already scored nine times in twelve matches this term, and I was optimistic that there were more goals to come from the captain.

27 October 2018: Eastbourne Borough vs Romford

Daniel Morrison was starting a three-game suspension, and I feared losing another central midfielder after just seven minutes at Priory Lane. Fabio Saraiva made a reckless lunge on Freddie Warren just outside the Romford area, and he was lucky to escape with a yellow card. Warren was unlucky not to score with the resulting free-kick, which he swerved inches wide. Full-back Russell Bradley won us our first corner in the 14th minute, when his cross was headed behind by Eastbourne's Lloyd Foot. Fabio drilled the ball low into the middle of the penalty area, and after the Sports failed to clear it away, Russell squeezed it into the net! Bradley's first ever goal for Romford gave us a 1-0 lead - an advantage that could well have been doubled on 18 minutes. An excellent cross from Dean O'Halloran was unfortunately headed against the post by Graeme Montgomery. Eastbourne then looked to draw level, but Johnny Cosgrove's woeful effort over the bar in the 22nd minute was indicative of their shooting accuracy, or lack thereof. Chris Shephard fired two shots the wrong side of a post in the 35th and 41st minutes. In the penultimate minute of normal time, Shephard's short pass to Cosgrove was fired sweetly at goal by the Northern Irishman, but Kyle Thomas pushed it away to keep us in front.

Seven minutes into the second period, Shephard dribbled unchallenged to the penalty area, where he followed up an excellent run with a shot that was much less so. Two minutes later, a poorly-executed clearance from Saraiva was gathered by Eastbourne midfielder Tom Clarke, who moved the ball back forward to Simon Smith. The full-back's cross was deflected towards Warren, who in turn centred it to Ellis Emberson. The 18-year-old midfielder shot on the volley... and hit the post! After that major scare, I replaced Saraiva with winger Jimmy Scott and moved Montgomery to the centre. It was a tactical switch that paid off greatly in the 57th minute. After Smith headed O'Halloran's cross out of the Eastbourne penalty area, Monty nodded it back into the danger zone. Duncan Greenwood flicked it on for Garry Morath-Gibbs, who squirmed the ball home for 2-0. Two minutes later, we led 3-0 thanks to an excellent solo goal from Garry, who bamboozled defender Daniel Murphy with his dribbling before finding the bottom corner! That third goal effectively killed the game off. After keeping Eastbourne at bay for the final half-hour, we could toast a magnificent away win, which moved us back above the Sports into second place!

Eastbourne Borough - 0

Romford - 3 (Bradley 15, Morath-Gibbs 57,59)

Conference South, Attendance 613 - POSITIONS: Eastbourne Boro 3rd, Romford 2nd

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Peters, Gray, Reid, Bradley (Dunn), O'Halloran, Eaton, Saraiva (Scott), Montgomery, Greenwood (Stamp), Morath-Gibbs. BOOKED: Saraiva, Greenwood.

With one eye on the upcoming visit of Oxford United, I rested some - but not all - of our key players for our next league game at home to Enfield Town. The Isthmian League Premier Division champions were playing their first ever season in the Conference South, and they sat in mid-table.

31 October 2018: Romford vs Enfield Town

We were short on central midfield options, so Fabio Saraiva kept his place in the team. After just three minutes, Fabio hit a wonderful pass for Vasilis Koutinis, who tapped a first-time shot into the net! The match had started off very well, but seven minutes later, one of my worst fears appeared to come true. Saraiva went down clutching his thigh after being floored by Lamar Hurley's challenge, and he was clearly in too much distress to continue. As Fabio was stretchered off, Graeme Montgomery came on in his place, but we keenly felt the loss of our chief playmaker. Bradley Champion went close to pulling Enfield Town level with a 21st-minute driver that only just cleared the bar. Later on in the half, my concerns grew as I feared losing another player - this time to indiscipline. Kenny Pollard's 39th-minute foul on Champion inside the centre-circle saw him become the third Boro player to be booked after Brett Reid and Russell Bradley. Enfield had their best chance yet moments later, as Jason Smith's low, close-range effort was tipped away by Moses Millen. Romford winger Jimmy Scott then had an injury-time free-kick saved by Sam Baxter as we headed into the interval with a slender advantage.

Baxter was tested twice by Dean O'Halloran in the opening minute of the second half, and he caught both of the Irishman's ambitious efforts. A 51st-minute shot from Gareth Stamp didn't trouble Baxter as much, going inches past his right-hand post. The next few chances went Enfield Town's way, but luckily for us, Champion's shooting was not champion. His best effort came after 78 minutes, when he cracked a 25-yarder that Millen tipped out of play. The resulting Enfield corner was a poor one, and a quick counter-attack led to a corner of our own. Montgomery drilled it across the goalmouth, where Jordan Peters bundled in his first league goal and doubled our lead to 2-0! Two minutes from the end, Koutinis made it 3-0 with an emphatic finish into the top corner. That compounded the misery of Enfield Town and their 36-year-old left-back Richard Rose, who was dreadful throughout. I briefly considered signing Rose back in the summer, and I'm so glad that I didn't!

Romford - 3 (Koutinis 3,88, Peters 79)

Enfield Town - 0

Conference South, Attendance 531 - POSITIONS: Romford 2nd, Enfield Town 15th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Millen, Dunn, Gray, Reid (Peters), Bradley, O'Halloran, Pollard (Eaton), Saraiva (Montgomery), Scott, Koutinis, Stamp. BOOKED: Reid, Bradley, Pollard.

That was our fourth win in a row, and our excellent form saw us comfortably inside the play-off zone at the end of October.

However, I wasn't completely ecstatic. Fabio Saraiva's first-half injury looked very serious, and he would need a scan on the morning after the game to either confirm or relieve our fears. We were already without two central midfielders - Romone McCrae and Daniel Morrison - for the Oxford game. Would we be losing another?

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On the Thursday morning after our win against Enfield Town, I anxiously waited in my office for the results of Fabio Saraiva's scans. When the phone call came and Fabio broke the news, it left me feeling devastated.

The scan had confirmed a hamstring tear, meaning that our playmaker would miss not only the big FA Cup game, but all of our games for the next three months at least. Fabio's loss was a major blow, as he had scored three goals and assisted for another seven since his arrival at Ship Lane in the summer. He would take some replacing.

Much of my day was spent frantically calling the managers of numerous professional clubs, asking if they'd like to loan us a young attacking midfielder. Every call was greeted with one of two responses: either the club were not willing to loan a player out to the Conference South, or a certain player we were interested in was not interested in us.

The closest I got to getting my man came when I phoned Cambridge United's boss - none other than Rio Ferdinand - to enquire about his team's reserve playmaker Dylan Richards. Rio was quite happy for Dylan to come to Romford, but the player instead accepted a loan offer from Conference North side Corby Town. I was back at square one.

I put that disappointment aside 48 hours later, as Romford FC faced one of its biggest ever tests. If we were to get through Round 1 of the FA Cup, we would need to bridge a three-division gap against League One side Oxford United. Oxford had some good-quality professional players that we could only crave, but we had momentum and our vociferous home support. Was a major giant-killing in the works?

3 November 2018: Romford vs Oxford United

Although I expected a large crowd at Ship Lane, the level of support we got blew me away. There were nearly 2,000 at the ground as our attendance record was absolutely smashed! I was now hoping that we wouldn't get smashed on the pitch! Goalkeeper Kyle Thomas did his best to shut out Oxford early on, as he made a 5th-minute save from Alfie Potter. We hoped to launch an attack on our own in the 10th minute, but that fizzled out when Garry Morath-Gibbs was tackled on the edge of United's penalty area by Jake Wright. Garry fell badly and then clutched his knee, so I knew something was wrong. Garry had to be taken off, with Vasilis Koutinis taking his place. Despite that setback, we registered our first shot at goal after 16 minutes, when Jimmy Scott's long-ranger fizzed just wide. We also won a number of corners, and a quarter of the way through the game, we were giving a pretty good account of ourselves. When a Romford counter-attack broke down in the 28th minute, though, Oxford sensed blood. Jack Barthram's pinpoint long pass found James Constable, who got past the onrushing Thomas and centred the ball for Billy Lobjoit to tap it into an empty net. The U's had broken through, and they gained an even bigger foothold after 34 minutes. Lobjoit had a close-range shot blocked by Kieron Gray, and the rebound fell to Oxford captain Constable, who added to his tally of over 200 senior goals for United. Constable almost found the net again four minutes later, and it took a stunning fingertip save from Kyle to deny Oxford their third goal. At the other end, the visitors restricted us to long-range efforts. Duncan Greenwood's 39th-minute attempt, which flew wide, was our last chance before the break.

We held out for 28 minutes in the first half... but only for three minutes in the second. Potter's cross was converted by Lobjoit for his second goal of the day, and Oxford were 3-0 up. We now had nothing to lose, so the new aim was to get at least one goal on the counter. It almost came after 53 minutes, when Graeme Montgomery drilled a shot inches wide after picking up Elliot Eaton's through-ball. Monty had another chance a minute later. U's keeper Ryan Clarke came forward to push his effort away and then looked on as Greenwood fired the rebound off target. We finally got on the board in the 61st minute - thanks to an extraordinary goal from Dean O'Halloran, who curled a stunning strike from the right flank into the far corner of the net! That reduced the arrears to 3-1, but Oxford were soon looking to restore their three-goal cushion. Former Norwich City winger Joshua Murphy had a shot caught by Thomas in the 74th minute. Four minutes later, Constable headed Paddy McLaughlin's long ball above Kyle and into the net, but the offside flag denied United a game-clinching fourth goal. We were still just about in contention right up until the 87th minute, when Greenwood hit the post with a shot that could've put us within one more goal of a replay. Our FA Cup journey was at an end, but I was still immensely proud of my boys, because we had only lost by two goals against a team three divisions above us.

Romford - 1 (O'Halloran 61)

Oxford United - 3 (Lobjoit 28,48, Constable 34)

FA Cup Round 1, Attendance 1,921

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Peters, Gray, Reid, Dunn, O'Halloran (McGrath), Pollard (Eaton), Montgomery, Scott, Greenwood, Morath-Gibbs (Koutinis).

Despite the defeat, Romford chairman Leo Jones was still grinning from ear to ear at the final whistle - and I couldn't blame him. We had recorded gate receipts in excess of £30,000 from this game, and our share of the profits took our bank balance up over the £100,000 mark! That money will certainly be put to good use in the future.

There was some further good news on the injury front, as Nicholas Lyskov resumed full training and Garry Morath-Gibbs was cleared to play on after his early departure against Oxford.

Less positively, another Romford player was joining the sidelines. Teenage centre-back Liam Georgiou returned from a three-month loan at Great Wakering Rovers that saw him make 12 appearances for the Isthmian North side - and he came back with a broken wrist. It would be another month before Liam returned to first-team action for the Boro.

Four days after Oxford's visit, Ship Lane played host to another big game - a top-of-the-table clash between us and runaway leaders Boreham Wood. Ian Allinson's men had made an incredible start to their first season back in the Conference South, losing just two of their first 15 games and winning the other 13!

7 November 2018: Romford vs Boreham Wood

A through-ball from Duncan Greenwood set up a brilliant chance for Garry Morath-Gibbs to put us ahead after just 20 seconds, but Garry hit a powerful shot wide. In the 14th minute, Greenwood's effort towards the far corner was turned away by Boreham Wood keeper Simon Rayner. Ten minutes later, a poor clearance from Rayner gifted us another opportunity. Trevor Dunn intercepted the clearance and passed to Duncan, who moved up the right flank and swung the ball across the Boreham Wood goal. Wood defender Joe Keaney hacked the ball away before it could reach a Romford player. Another Greenwood chance came and went when Big Dunc put a free-kick just over in the 28th minute. The Wood had to defend like beavers for much of the first half, but they showed some attacking bite towards the end. On 40 minutes, Samir Bihmoutine sent an excellent cross to Cameron Lancaster, and he laid it off for Vincent Faherty, who narrowly missed the target. The Irishman then headed into the side netting on the stroke of half-time, at which point the game was still goalless.

Like in the first half, Morath-Gibbs spurned a fine opportunity early in the second period. Garry chipped a shot off target just a minute-and-a-half after the restart. We were given an even greater chance to move ahead after 55 minutes. Boreham Wood left-back Shay Mullan shoved Greenwood in the visitors' six-yard box, and the referee almost instantly pointed to the spot. Mullan had been booked late in the first half, and he was lucky not to receive another yellow card - but Duncan's emphatic spot-kick down the middle was punishment enough. We were 1-0 up against the league leaders, but in the 60th minute, Boreham Wood exposed our weakness down the flanks. Faherty's drilled cross was turned into the net by Wood skipper Chez Isaac for their equaliser. Our opponents then showed why they led the table by ten points at kick-off. Jon Newell skimmed the bar with an excellent long-range free-kick in the 70th minute. Two minutes later, Lancaster found Connor Martin in bags of space down the right wing, and Martin's first-time cross was tapped home at the far post by Faherty. Boreham Wood had recovered from 1-0 down to lead 2-1, and their 14th league win in 16 games was never in question after that. Kyle Thomas saved a couple of late efforts from Isaac and Lancaster, and though we kept the final deficit down to a single goal, I knew I'd missed a trick. Fielding a 3-5-2 formation against a team with quick wingers is generally not a good idea...

Romford - 1 (Greenwood pen56)

Boreham Wood - 2 (Isaac 60, Faherty 72)

Conference South, Attendance 531 - POSITIONS: Romford 3rd, Boreham Wood 1st

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Gray, Peters (Lyskov), Reid, Morrison, Dunn, Eaton, Pollard, Bradley (Scott), Greenwood, Morath-Gibbs (Stamp).

Defeat against Boreham Wood saw us move down a place into 3rd in the Conference South standings. Next up, we made our furthest ever journey north for the start (and possibly end) of our FA Trophy bid.

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We got up very early on Saturday morning, because we had to travel over 200 miles to Greater Manchester for our FA Trophy Qualifying Round 3 match. The draw had given us an away date with Salford City - a club who had undergone an incredible transformation over the last few years.

Salford have been managed by former Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar since 2012. After starting off in the Northern Premier League Division 1 North, the Dutchman led the Ammies through successive promotions to the Conference North in 2016. They are still there, but after a spell in administration earlier this summer saw them deducted 10 points, Salford went into this game bottom of their division with exactly zero points.

10 November 2018: Salford City vs Romford

Our first ever trip to the north-west could not have started any worse, because Salford went ahead after just two minutes. A poor header from Duncan Greenwood led to Salford hitting us on the break, and attacking midfielder Theo Lewis dealt a major blow with a low strike into the corner. Duncan wanted to make up for that quickly, but moments after we restarted play, he hit the side netting with a poor effort. Our disappointing start worsened in the 11th minute, as another Ammies assault resulted in their second goal. It was also a second goal for Lewis, who followed up an excellent run that started from inside the centre-circle with a cracking shot into Moses Millen's top-left corner. 2-0 to Salford. We clearly had to keep tabs on Lewis for the rest of the game, and likewise their left-winger Phil Towler, whose cross hit the bar in the 21st minute. Only after we began pressing City hard did we get ourselves into the match. Our shooting could have been better, mind. Garry Morath-Gibbs fired wide in the 35th minute, and Elliot Eaton launched a half-volley into orbit five minutes later. Only Big Dunc came close to threatening Salford's lead before the break, as he missed by just a few inches during the final minute.

We spent the first 15 minutes of the second half trying to find our range. Young Morath-Gibbs continued to disappoint, as he missed the target again in the 57th minute and then saw a weak header comfortably held by Jordan Watson a minute later. In the 60th minute, Dean O'Halloran won a corner off Ammies captain Rafeeq Kaid. Graeme Montgomery's set-piece was headed against the bar by Brett Reid, whose defensive efforts in the other half helped to limit Salford's second-half opportunities. On 66 minutes, another Montgomery corner caused mayhem in the Salford box before Daniel Morrison finally slid it in off the post to halve our deficit! Morrison then set up a chance to eradicate it completely three minutes later, but his long-pass to Morath-Gibbs was struck into the side netting by the out-of-form teenager. Our woeful efforts in front of goal were ultimately our downfall, as we succumbed to a 2-1 defeat. Another reason for our poor display was the number of fouls we committed. While Edwin van der Sar's squeaky-clean Salford only conceded two all game, we played more like Nigel de Jong and conceded 21 in total! One potentially costly foul came after 80 minutes, when Trevor Dunn hauled down Anthony O'Hanlon in the six-yard box and gave away a penalty. Danny Pitham's spot-kick was brilliantly saved by Millen, but that save meant little in the grand scheme of things, because we were still heading out of the FA Trophy.

Salford City - 2 (Lewis 2,11)

Romford - 1 (Morrison 66)

FA Trophy Qualifying Round 3, Attendance 104

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Millen, Peters (Dunn), Lyskov, Reid, Bradley, Scott, Eaton (Pollard), Morrison, Montgomery, Greenwood (O'Halloran), Morath-Gibbs. BOOKED: Eaton.

Elimination from the FA Trophy meant we now had just the Conference South to focus on this season - but what effect would losing three successive matches have on our psyche?

The midweek home game against 14th-placed Slough Town would represent a good opportunity to get back in the groove. Kevin Phillips led Slough to victory in the Isthmian Premier play-offs last season, and his team's attack was fronted by former Boro captain Kieron Carroll.

14 November 2018: Romford vs Slough Town

I instructed the team to play a high-tempo, aggressive game - but young Keston James took my words a bit too literally early on. The Boro defender was booked after just five minutes for barging into Kieron Carroll. A couple of minutes earlier, we had the ball in Slough's net after Gareth Stamp headed home from Duncan Greenwood's long free-kick. Sadly, the goal was ruled out because Gareth had fouled goalkeeper Nick Pope. We found the target again in the 18th minute, and this time, Duncan's low finish was allowed to stand. Four minutes later, another Greenwood free-kick deflected off the Slough wall and won us a corner. Kieron Gray's header from Graeme Montgomery's cross was kept out by a superb reflex save from Pope, but the Rebels goalie was merely delaying our second goal. After 26 minutes, it was 2-0 to Romford, as Duncan beat Pope with another calm finish. In stark contrast to Big Dunc, Big Kes was anything but calm. When James clattered into Carroll for a second time just before the half-hour, the giant defender was given his marching orders. A couple of minutes after that, Slough almost fluked a goal back through Alton Hardwick, whose first-time cross looked destined for the net until Kyle Thomas tipped it over the bar. We comfortably dealt with the Slough corner, and then won a free-kick deep in their half moments later. Greenwood's delivery was headed in at the far post by substitute Nicholas Lyskov, who had just come on to fill a defensive gap left by James' dismissal but instead further increased our lead to 3-0! And if Stamp had been less wasteful with a trio of efforts late in the half, we might have been in an even more dominant position at half-time!

If the first half had plenty of excitement, the second half served as a dire anti-climax. Slough only forced a couple of saves out of Thomas in what was a dreadful first half for them, and they never looked like threatening Kyle's clean sheet after the break. Carroll was totally anonymous on his return to Ship Lane - he didn't get a single shot at our goal. In the 84th minute, Carroll was replaced by James Webb, who lasted just five minutes before a rough challenge from Lyskov left him with a twisted knee. A 72nd-minute Greenwood free-kick that Pope comfortably caught was the only shot on target we had in the second period. Thanks to Big Dunc's earlier brilliance, though, we were already assured of a comfortable victory that moved us back up to 2nd place.

Romford - 3 (Greenwood 18,26, Lyskov 33)

Slough Town - 0

Conference South, Attendance 551 - POSITIONS: Romford 2nd, Slough 15th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Peters, James, Gray, Bradley (Lyskov), O'Halloran, Morrison (McCrae), Eaton, Montgomery, Greenwood, Stamp (Koutinis). BOOKED: James. SENT OFF: James.

Next up was a major test at 4th-placed Havant & Waterlooville, who had not lost a league match since mid-August. If the Hawks beat us at Westleigh Park, they would move level on points with us - and they would also have a game in hand.

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17 November 2018: Havant & Waterlooville vs Romford

The game was less than five minutes old when Boro midfielder Daniel Morrison brought down Guy Madjo to give Havant a free-kick just outside our penalty area. There was about a minute's delay before they got to take it - and it was a worthwhile wait for the home fans, because Stewart Lavery struck it perfectly into the top corner! We were already trailing 1-0! In the 9th minute, however, we got our own back from another set-piece. Kieron Gray headed Morrison's corner into the net and levelled the scores! Morrison had been fired up by his earlier mistake, and after 14 minutes, his firm challenge on Malcolm Melvin left the Havant midfielder requiring treatment. Our goalscoring defender Gray also had to leave the field briefly after Jamie Chandler clattered into him in the 25th minute. Things then calmed down for a bit before a 31st-minute cross from Russell Bradley caused the Hawks some concerns. They needed Brazilian defender Raphael Branco to head it off the line. Four minutes after he almost fluked us into the lead, Bradley presented the hosts with a great chance to score. Russell's rubbish headed pass towards goal only succeeded in finding Havant striker Guy Madjo, who went for glory... and volleyed his shot against the post! My heart had skipped a beat there, but the scores remained level at 1-1.

If either set of fans thought the second half would be less stressful than the first, they had another thing coming! Havant made the more promising start and almost got their noses in front after 54 minutes. Substitute Chris Arthur's cross towards Ahmed Abdulla in the six-yard box was flicked away by Bradley, but Russell again found Madjo in a dangerous position. Kyle Thomas had to bail his team-mate out by catching the Cameroonian's header. Nine minutes later, Havant could only clear a Dean O'Halloran free-kick as far as Trevor Dunn, who pumped the ball back into the Hawks' area. Vasilis Koutinis rose salmon-like above Sekou Diarra to flick it on to Garry Morath-Gibbs, whose volley was too powerful for goalkeeper Ross Etheridge! That gave us a 2-1 lead, but the scoreboard operators at Westleigh Park would be troubled again within moments of the restart. Lavery raced past Nicholas Lyskov to reach Madjo's through-ball, which he slotted past Thomas for his and Havant's second goal. Nic was finding Lavery a tricky opponent to mark, and in the 73rd minute, our Danish defender was again outclassed by the former Port Vale trainee. Lavery got on the end of Ricky Wellard's cross before Lyskov, and his simple tap-in made it 3-2 to Havant & Waterlooville. Three minutes later, Thomas turned away a powerful strike from Madjo, but the ball fell to Abdulla, who then found Havant's hat-trick hero on the edge of the six-yard box. Lavery shook off pressure from Gray and was odds-on to bag a quadruple... until Kyle parried his effort from point-blank range and caught a follow-up cross from Abdulla! After Kyle waited for his defence to reposition themselves, he set the wheels in motion for a quick counter-attack. Less than half a minute after Thomas's crucial saves stopped us going two goals down, we were back level, as Morath-Gibbs' pass was hammered in by Romone McCrae! At 3-3, the match was nicely poised, and the next goal - if there was to be a next goal - would be crucial.

Havant adopted a more attacking strategy in the closing moments. They had the next scoring chance in the 84th minute, as Kiel Robinson crashed a long-range driver high and hopelessly wide. Two minutes later, Romford midfielder Elliot Eaton lobbed the last in a string of first-time passes towards Koutinis, who turned past Diarra and viciously struck his shot beyond Etheridge's reach. 4-3 to Romford! The match had started under light drizzle, and it was now raining goals! With just over two minutes left to play, an EIGHTH goal poured down - but the scoreline wasn't 4-4! It was 5-3 to the Boro!! Vasilis surged through the hosts' offside trap and dribbled unchallenged down the left flank before floating in a cross that Garry headed home at the far post! That goal effectively sealed the win, but Lavery had the last word for Havant with his FOURTH goal of the night deep into injury time. It doesn't happen very often that a player scores four goals in a match and still ends up on the losing team, but Lavery's individual brilliance had been overshadowed by our outstanding team performance!

Havant & Waterlooville - 4 (Lavery 6,64,73,90)

Romford - 5 (Gray 9, Morath-Gibbs 63,88, McCrae 77, Koutinis 86)

Conference South, Attendance 664 - POSITIONS: Havant 6th, Romford 2nd

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Dunn, Lyskov, Gray, Bradley (Reid), Morrison (Eaton), Pollard, O'Halloran (Scott), McCrae, Koutinis, Morath-Gibbs.

By full-time, my mind felt like it had been pummelled by Carl Froch, my heart was beating faster than a marathon runner's, and my clothes were covered in so much sweat that I looked like I'd entered a wet T-shirt competition! All that was worth it in the end, because we were still in 2nd place - and we now led 3rd-placed Canvey Island by four points!

The players deserved bags of credit for putting every ounce of effort they had into this victory, and some had suffered more than others. Daniel Morrison sprained his wrist after throwing himself into a challenge early in the second half, and it looked like he would miss our next game as a result. As we were already light on midfield options, I decided that Danny should be given some pain-killing injections so that he could at least sit on the bench.

That next game was at home to Kingstonian. The K's were sitting in the lower part of mid-table, which was disappointing for a side who had been expected to seriously challenge for a place back in the Conference Premier.

21 November 2018: Romford vs Kingstonian

Kingstonian conceded a free-kick just outside their penalty area in the second minute. It was in the perfect range for Duncan Greenwood to shoot, but he narrowly missed the target. Two minutes later, Dean O'Halloran tried to cut inside and test Aaron Butcher in the away goal, but he scuffed a left-footer wide. Another great chance came our way in the 17th minute, when Big Dunc headed Graeme Montgomery's cross over the bar from point-blank range. Two minutes later, a ridiculous decision put us on the back foot. After Nathan Fox sent a Kingstonian corner into the Boro box, his team-mate David O'Connor dove over Montgomery's feet with a disgraceful act of simulation that would've made Jurgen Klinsmann proud! Incredibly, the referee saw this as a foul from Monty, and he pointed to the spot! I was furious, and even more so when Richard Brodie dispatched the penalty. Another K's player went down in the 24th minute, but Sam Toms was genuinely hurt and had to be replaced. Three minutes later, Duncan bent a long-distance effort narrowly wide, and I sensed that this perhaps wasn't going to be our lucky day. Then, in the 31st minute, we equalised thanks to the luck of the Irish! Dean was thanking his four-leaf clover when his inswinging cross from the byline somehow found its way into the back of the net! And so, after two goals that were outrageous for different reasons, neither team could be separated in the first half.

A couple of Kingstonian corners caused us major concerns in the 48th minute. The first of them found defender Jordan Smith, whose header Moses Millen had to palm over for a second corner. That one was cleared away, but Fox crossed back into the penalty area, where ex-Milton Keynes Dons striker Remy Forrester outjumped Nicholas Lyskov to head home. Kingstonian's advantage was restored, and they were in control from that point on. Millen denied Brodie his second goal in the 59th minute, but their next confrontation eight minutes later ended differently. O'Connor played a searching ball from the right wing for Brodie, who brushed off Russell Bradley and chested in the goal that made it 3-1 Kingstonian. The latter stages of the game were very frustrating for us. Greenwood failed to find the target from another free-kick in the 73rd minute, and O'Halloran was guilty of a terrible miss over the crossbar five minutes later. Those two moments summed up our day, because out of nine Romford shots at goal, just one was on target. Not good enough.

Romford - 1 (O'Halloran 31)

Kingstonian - 3 (Brodie pen19,67, Forrester 48)

Conference South, Attendance 542 - POSITIONS: Romford 2nd, Kingstonian 11th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Millen, Peters, Lyskov (Gray), Reid, Bradley, McCrae, Eaton, O'Halloran, Montgomery (Scott), Koutinis (Morath-Gibbs), Greenwood.

That match was actually our last in November, so we had the rest of the month to ready ourselves for what on paper looked like a difficult December schedule. Three of our next four opponents were placed inside the top seven.

I was keen to bring in some fresh blood to help us out. Unfortunately, my attempts to sign two players on loan from Football League clubs ended in frustration.

We were among many clubs who tried to loan in Crewe Alexandra midfielder Mathew Cunningham, and he turned us down in favour of a shorter move to Northwich Victoria. After that, we made an offer to take Luton Town right-back Russell Rowland for the next three months, but personal talks with the 18-year-old went so badly that we had more chance of signing Kelly Rowland.

That double disappointment meant there were no further additions to the squad before a crucial month that could either keep our play-off bid on track or run us off the rails.

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                                   P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Boreham Wood           19    17    0     2     48    16    +32   51
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[color="#0000FF"]2.          Romford                18    11    2     5     38    22    +16   35[/color]
3.          Canvey Island          17    9     4     4     28    18    +10   31
4.          Eastbourne Boro        18    9     4     5     24    17    +7    31
5.          Hayes & Yeading        17    9     3     5     35    22    +13   30
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
6.          Havant                 16    8     5     3     25    17    +8    29
7.          Brackley               17    8     5     4     30    23    +7    29
8.          Oxford City            18    7     5     6     27    21    +6    26
9.          Weston-super-Mare      17    8     2     7     32    29    +3    26
10.         Woking                 19    7     5     7     27    24    +3    26
11.         Ebbsfleet              17    7     4     6     23    22    +1    25
12.         Kingstonian            17    7     3     7     20    20    0     24
13.         Grays                  17    7     3     7     22    24    -2    24
14.         Welling                17    6     4     7     24    27    -3    22
15.         Hampton & Richmond     18    6     3     9     27    32    -5    21
16.         Enfield Town           18    6     3     9     19    25    -6    21
17.         Bromley                19    6     3     10    25    38    -13   21
18.         Slough                 17    6     1     10    22    37    -15   19
19.         Dorchester             18    4     6     8     11    18    -7    18
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
20.         Worcester              17    2     6     9     8     21    -13   12
21.         Bath                   17    1     4     12    9     29    -20   7
22.         Salisbury              18    3     3     12    14    36    -22   2 *

* Salisbury deducted 10 points for entering administration

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Kicking off a potentially difficult pre-Christmas run of fixtures was an away meeting with Hampton & Richmond Borough. The Beavers were only 15th in the table, but they came out on top in our most recent encounter.

1 December 2018: Hampton & Richmond Borough vs Romford

Hampton & Richmond striker Sam Gallagher hit a long-distance shot that limped hopelessly off target after just four minutes. As bad as that sounds, it was actually one of the better chances either team had in a dire first half! Dean O'Halloran's typically dreadful shooting was on display again when he ballooned our first shot high and wide in the 10th minute. Duncan Greenwood was also rueing a horrible miss two minutes later, after he drilled the ball inches wide when he just had the goalkeeper to beat! Later on in the first half, H&R opened our defence up a few times, and we were fortunate not to go behind. One lucky escape came in the 21st minute, when Karimm Gilligan ran onto an excellent through-ball for Moses Makasi, only to miss the target after being forced into an acute angle. Makasi set up another opportunity for Gilligan on 40 minutes, and this time, the ex-Brentford midfielder hit the side netting. Gallagher also came within inches of scoring for the Beavers two minutes from time. At the break, the match was still awaiting its first decisive moment.

About 90 seconds after the restart, Hampton & Richmond finally registered the game's first shot on target. Gilligan went clear after receiving an excellent pass from Gallagher, but Kyle Thomas did well to push his effort away. Beavers full-back Richard Taundry skimmed the crossbar with a free-kick about six minutes later. On 62 minutes, Greenwood set up an opportunity for Garry Morath-Gibbs to give us the lead, but Garry fired it across the goal. The next real opportunity came the home team's way in the 74th minute, as a poorly-positioned Romford defence allowed substitute Harry Milton to break away and run onto Gallagher's through-ball. Our errors went unpunished, as Milton could only find the side netting. Following our latest flirtation with disaster, we upped our attacking efforts in the closing stages. Rikki Banks didn't have to make a single save in the first 75 minutes, but the H&R keeper made three stoppages within the final quarter-hour! Greenwood was denied twice in the 76th and 81st minutes before Banks turned Romone McCrae's effort around the post in the 85th. We then lost substitute winger Jimmy Scott to a knock and had to play out the dying moments with just ten men. It was almost a fatal setback, because Hampton & Richmond's American wing-back Ralf Wunderlich came mighty close to scoring with a 30-yard piledriver in injury time. It flew just over the bar, so the game finished goalless.

Hampton & Richmond Borough - 0

Romford - 0

Conference South, Attendance 505 - POSITIONS: Hampton & Richmond 16th, Romford 2nd

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Dunn, Gray (Peters), Lyskov, Reid, O'Halloran (Scott), Eaton (Morrison), McCrae, Montgomery, Greenwood, Morath-Gibbs. BOOKED: Gray.

I planned to put young defender Liam Georgiou on the bench for our next game - but instead, he would be going out on loan for a second time this season. When Isthmian South outfit East Thurrock United asked if they could have the 18-year-old for three months, just like Great Wakering Rovers did at the start of the campaign, I said yes. Liam was still not quite ready for regular action at Romford, so I thought another loan spell was the best thing for him.

Next up was another away trip - this time in Northamptonshire, where Brackley Town were awaiting us. Brackley were hovering just below the play-off places.

5 December 2018: Brackley Town vs Romford

I opted for a direct approach to the game at St James Park, but after the first ten minutes, it was clear to me that something was not quite right. Brackley were absolutely dominating possession, and defender Matthew Preston came quite close scoring in the 7th minute, when his header was caught by Kyle Thomas. To try and stop Brackley from running the game like a dictator, I ordered the Boro players to really press them hard. It was a tactical switch that paid off handsomely midway through the half. Deep-lying playmaker Daniel Morrison drove the ball forward to Duncan Greenwood, and when Neil Benjamin hopelessly failed to flick it away, Big Dunc was clean through! One emphatic finish later, and it was 1-0 to Romford after 22 minutes! That lead would be consolidated seven minutes later. Russell Bradley's chipped pass found Gareth Stamp, who used his blistering pace to storm past the Brackley defenders before drilling the ball beyond Aljaz Cotman! 2-0 to the Boro! The Saints didn't know what had hit them, and save for a couple of late corners, they hardly threatened us before the half-time whistle.

Brackley made a slow start to the second half, and our speedy poacher Stampy left them for dust in the 58th minute. If he'd been more clinical with his shot rather than fire it straight at Cotman, we would surely have led by three goals. That was one of only a few chances we would have to strengthen our advantage. For us, the second half was more about retaining it. Goalkeeper Thomas put every effort into keeping Brackley at bay, and he produced a couple of top-class saves. The first of them came when he tipped wide a piledriver from Matthew Duckworth in the 79th minute. A minute later, Kyle made another fabulous fingertip save to deny Ishmel Demontagnac. However, Kyle's man-of-the-match heroics weren't quite enough to earn him a clean sheet. Tomi Adeloye headed home from Demontagnac's cross in injury time to earn Brackley what was in the end just a consolation goal.

Brackley Town - 1 (Adeloye 90)

Romford - 2 (Greenwood 22, Stamp 29)

Conference South, Attendance 179 - POSITIONS: Brackley 8th, Romford 2nd

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Gray, Lyskov, Reid (Peters), Morrison, O'Halloran, Eaton, McCrae (Montgomery), Bradley, Greenwood (Pollard), Stamp. BOOKED: Greenwood.

Another victory kept us in 2nd, but 3rd-placed Hayes & Yeading United were hot on our heels... and they were our next opponents. If United beat us by at least a couple of goals at Ship Lane, they would jump above us into the number 2 spot.

On the eve of the game, I received some good news from Trevor Dunn, who received an offer from Isthmian Premier side VCD Athletic but turned it down to stay at the Boro. Trev's days at Romford looked like being numbered anyway, because I had been thinking about bringing in another right-back for some time. If Dunn's shaky form showed some improvement, there was a chance that I'd change my mind.

8 December 2018: Romford vs Hayes & Yeading United

After just four minutes, a miscued pass from Hayes & Yeading captain Mike Symons led to a scoring opportunity for Nicholas Lyskov. The Dane charged out of his position to reach the loose ball and dribble it into the box, where he fired a typical defender's finish well off target. Six minutes later, another Hayes & Yeading player made a potentially more costly mistake, as Joe Wilkinson lunged in on Duncan Greenwood in the area. Penalty to Romford! Captain Greenwood took the spot-kick, but it wasn't captain fantastic, because Arron Bentley saved to keep the visitors on level terms. The penalty miss affected us badly, and after struggling for just over a quarter of an hour, we went behind in the 29th minute. All of our defenders crowded around Joe Pigott and paid no attention to Symons, so when Pigott played the ball through to his skipper, Symons was free to score. Hayes & Yeading were 1-0 ahead... but only for about eight minutes. Dean O'Halloran's wayward cross looked like floating out of play until Russell Bradley headed it back across goal, and Garry Morath-Gibbs was there to nod it into the net off Bentley's gloves! Garry's equaliser was the 25th senior goal of his career, and the 17-year-old could have scored his 26th shortly after play resumed. Alas, he scuffed it wide, and the half-time score remained level at 1-1.

Eight minutes after the restart, Hayes & Yeading had the first opportunity to make the scoreline 2-1 in their favour. Kyle Thomas stood in Symons' way, as the Romford keeper made an easy catch from the striker's header. On 57 minutes, United winger Aaron Cole was booked for diving in the Boro area to try and win a penalty for his team. The action moved to the other penalty area a minute later. Some crisp passing resulted in us opening the visitors up and taking the lead through Graeme Montgomery! It was a lead that looked far from secure after we lost O'Halloran to a knock in the 63rd minute. Kyle had to save us in the 67th minute with another catch, this time from Cole's effort. Hayes & Yeading attacked again in the closing stages, but a couple of poor misses from Paul Stonehouse on 80 minutes and Hicham Abdellah six minutes later relieved some of the pressure we were under. The three points were soon ours, as we wrapped up another win despite Greenwood - who had five shots at goal and only got two on target - enduring one of his worst performances of the season.

Romford - 2 (Morath-Gibbs 36, Montgomery 59)

Hayes & Yeading United - 1 (Symons 29)

Conference South, Attendance 608 - POSITIONS: Romford 2nd, Hayes & Yeading 3rd

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Gray, Peters (James), Lyskov, Morrison, O'Halloran (Scott), McCrae, Montgomery, Bradley (Eaton), Morath-Gibbs, Greenwood.

We were now exactly halfway through the Conference South season, having played all of our opponents once. I was absolutely overjoyed with how things were going after 21 games, because we had already racked up 42 points - that's a rate of exactly two per game!

To put that impressive total into context, we only accrued 46 points in the WHOLE of last season! That is some transformation!

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Great stuff

Do you have a reserve/youth team

I have never had a reserve team at Romford, and I don't plan to start one until we're at least in the Conference Premier.

I do have a youth team, though. We've had a few good players come through the set-up in recent years - Peters, Morrison and Morath-Gibbs are the best youth products we've got at the moment.

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The first half of the Conference South season could not have gone much better. If we kept up our good form in the second half, we would stand a great chance of reaching the play-offs.

Following our win against Hayes & Yeading United, we had two weeks to prepare for the next phase of the campaign. During that fortnight, I thought long and hard about where I could strengthen what was already looking like a very good team.

Adding another playmaker to the team to cover for the injured Fabio Saraiva would've been an idea, but there weren't too many viable options on the loan market. Likewise, I struggled to find a right-back who could take some pressure off youngsters Trevor Dunn and Jordan Peters.

Then, I found a player who could fill in another potential weak spot at left-back. At 30 years old, Joe Heath of Weston-super-Mare would give us some invaluable experience if we signed him. Weston were happy enough for us to loan him for the rest of the season... but Heath wanted a permanent move away from the Woodspring Stadium. When he told me how much he wanted us to pay him, I baulked and called the deal off.

My decision to turn down Heath meant that there were no signings at Ship Lane before our next game - well, no new signings, anyway. Dean O'Halloran did, though, put his signature on a new contract that would extend his stay here until the summer of 2020. It was just a few months ago that I was thinking about putting Dean up for sale, but the winger's form had dramatically improved since then!

After two weeks of intensive training, we were all set to host 3rd-placed Canvey Island on 22 December. However, an overnight downpour meant that the Ship Lane pitch was more suitable for ducks than a match against the Gulls. The game was postponed until the New Year, and we now wouldn't be back in action until after Christmas.

Four days later, our play-off challenge finally got back underway, as we faced Grays Athletic at the Rush Green Stadium in Romford. Grays were just inside the top five, and they boasted a favourable recent record against us. We were under no illusions about the threat they would pose.

26 December 2018: Grays Athletic vs Romford

This Boxing Day derby got off to a post-Christmas cracker. Romford defender Kieron Gray made two crucial interceptions inside the Boro area within the first 30 seconds, and we went on the attack ourselves moments later! Romone McCrae played a long ball to Garry Morath-Gibbs in the middle of the park, and GMG dribbled all the way to Grays' penalty box. Garry then laid the ball off for Duncan Greenwood to dink it over the goalkeeper! With just 46 seconds gone, we were in the lead! Grays could have cancelled out the opening goal just two minutes later, but Ally Woodburn met Max Noble's cross with a far from clean header. We really took the game to the Gravelmen after that. We'd already notched up three corners by the 10th minute, and three minutes later, we had our second goal. Greenwood was on target again, as he scored a 30-yard corker that went in off the underside of the bar! At 2-0 up, we were almost in total command. We won three more corners during the first half, but nothing came of them, although we did have some late chances to add another layer to our lead. Grays goalie Neil Rushton denied Duncan his hat-trick from point-blank range in the 39th minute, and he made another brave save to keep Garry off the scoresheet five minutes later. Rushton's opposite number Kyle Thomas stayed on course for a clean sheet, as the Romford keeper only needed to make a couple of saves from Noble during the first period.

All went well for the Boro in the first half, and that was the case again once play resumed. Ollie Lawrence failed to trouble Thomas's goal with a poor header in the 55th minute. His fellow sub Glen Lane arguably fared even worse with his attempt two minutes later. However, Grays' third substitute - their prolific Welsh striker Andrew Jenkins - would make a more positive impact. Big Dunc went close to securing his hat-trick with a couple of free-kicks that went just wide midway through the half, and he would soon regret not scoring from either of them. It was in the 73rd minute that Jenkins found Jake Woolley with a fantastic long lob, which Woolley chested before volleying into the net. Grays had pulled back one goal, and we were getting nervous. After 78 minutes, defender Brett Reid was booked for conceding a free-kick inside our 'D', which James Jennings smashed against the bar. Five minutes later, Kyle was winded when a fierce close-range strike from Grays defender Kieren Dean hit him square in the stomach, and Kieron had to clear the danger. Were the Gravelmen about to give us a proverbial kick in the abdomen?

After surviving the last seven minutes of normal time without our lead being threatened, we just had to see out the three that were added on. Those three minutes went by without major incident, but play went on, and Grays launched one last attack in the extra seconds added onto injury time. Lane picked up the ball from Jennings just outside the six-yard box, and Nicholas Lyskov made a desperate lunge on the winger to stop him getting a shot in. Lane went down, and the referee signalled for a penalty! I felt sick to my stomach. Mike Jones readied himself for the penalty that would salvage one late point for Grays, and we now needed Kyle Thomas to save two for us. Kyle dived to his left-hand side... and his guess was spot on, as he pushed Jones' spot-kick away! I'd never celebrated a penalty save so wildly, but that was a massive moment in our season!

Grays Athletic - 1 (Woolley 73)

Romford - 2 (Greenwood 1,13)

Conference South, Attendance 436 - POSITIONS: Grays 5th, Romford 2nd

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Gray, Lyskov, Reid, Morrison (Montgomery), O'Halloran (Dunn), McCrae, Pollard, Bradley, Greenwood, Morath-Gibbs (Koutinis). BOOKED: Reid.

That was our first win against Grays since 2013, and it was also the first time as Romford manager that I had actually won a match in Romford! I only had to wait for six-and-a-half years!

We were back at 'home' three days later for our final match of 2018. The visitors to Ship Lane were mid-tablers Woking, who had been managed by former Blackburn Rovers striker Jon Stead for just over a month.

29 December 2018: Romford vs Woking

Like the previous match, this one started with a chance for Romford in the very first minute - but Daniel Morrison never looked like scoring from 30 yards. In the third minute, our hopes of continuing our three-game winning streak got a major boost. Woking defender Jack Parkinson dove into a challenge on Duncan Greenwood and came off much worse than Big Dunc. But as the game progressed, I could tell that we weren't playing as well as we could be. Too many passes were squandered, and for a team that generally likes to press hard, we didn't fare too well when Woking did the same against us. The Cards could've gone in front on 21 minutes, when Sean Anderson curled a free-kick inches wide. Four minutes later, Woking were ahead. After spotting Kyle Thomas off his goal line, Colin Joyce hit a cheeky 20-yard shot that flew over Kyle's head and landed in the net! It was a lapse in concentration that we did not recover from. On 38 minutes, Woking's former Romford keeper Roscoe Fryatt hit a long free-kick that Adrian Bloomfield flicked forward for Ben Williamson. The striker slipped through the gap between our centre-backs and evaded a vain challenge from Kieron Gray before firing into the corner. Woking's lead was increased to two goals, and Fryatt kept it that way with a fabulous save from Morrison three minutes before the break. It was just the second save Fryatt had to make in what was a terrible first half from our point of view.

The second half wasn't much better, and it could've got off to a dreadful start, as Jamal Lowe nearly bundled Williamson's cross over our goal line in the 49th minute. Thomas had to parry it out for a corner, though he did it in a far from confident manner. Kyle showed a bit more composure when catching Jack Maloney's header two minutes later. Those two early efforts were as close as Woking got to scoring a third goal during a dire second half. Joyce did, though, give us a couple more scares late on. He put a free-kick over the bar in the 76th minute before narrowly missing another opportunity in the 89th. There was pretty much nothing to write about at the other end. We failed to scratch, let alone penetrate, a rock-hard Woking defence that was brilliantly led by right-back Philippe Chevalier. The result was our first defeat in five games, and perhaps our worst performance of the season so far.

Romford - 0

Woking - 2 (Joyce 25, Williamson 38)

Conference South, Attendance 619 - POSITIONS: Romford 2nd, Woking 9th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Peters, Gray, Lyskov (Reid), Bradley, O'Halloran, Morrison, McCrae, Montgomery, Greenwood (Eaton), Morath-Gibbs (Stamp). BOOKED: Greenwood.

This was a disappointing way to wrap up the old year, with our fourth home defeat of the season. Was it just a blip, or a sign of struggles to come?

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                                   P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Boreham Wood           24    22    0     2     61    21    +40   66
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[color="#0000FF"]2.          Romford                23    14    3     6     44    27    +17   45[/color]
3.          Hayes & Yeading        23    13    4     6     41    25    +16   43
4.          Canvey Island          23    11    8     4     37    23    +14   41
5.          Eastbourne Boro        24    11    5     8     30    23    +7    38
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
6.          Grays                  23    11    4     8     36    29    +7    37
7.          Ebbsfleet              24    9     8     7     31    26    +5    35
8.          Havant                 21    9     7     5     32    27    +5    34
9.          Woking                 24    9     6     9     34    31    +3    33
10.         Weston-super-Mare      24    10    3     11    40    38    +2    33
11.         Welling                24    9     6     9     37    39    -2    33
12.         Oxford City            23    8     7     8     35    31    +4    31
13.         Enfield Town           24    8     6     10    27    32    -5    30
14.         Brackley               22    8     5     9     35    34    +1    29
15.         Kingstonian            23    8     4     11    23    28    -5    28
16.         Hampton & Richmond     23    7     6     10    33    38    -5    27
17.         Bromley                24    7     5     12    31    48    -17   26
18.         Dorchester             24    6     7     11    20    28    -8    25
19.         Slough                 22    7     2     13    24    44    -20   23
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
20.         Worcester              24    3     7     14    15    34    -19   16
21.         Bath                   23    3     6     14    17    38    -21   15
22.         Salisbury              23    6     5     12    21    40    -19   13 *

* Salisbury deducted 10 points for entering administration

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In 2013, Romford were promoted to the Isthmian League Premier Division. In 2016, we won that division and moved up to the Conference South. If the three-year pattern was to continue, then 2019 would be the year in which we won promotion to the Conference Premier.

At the start of the New Year, we were certainly looking good for a place in the Conference South play-offs. However, I was aware that if we followed up a home defeat to Woking at the end of December with some similarly poor results in January, we wouldn't be so comfortable.

Thanks to a particularly rainy end to 2018 in Thurrock, we were given New Year's Day off, with our home fixture against Canvey Island being postponed for another ten days. More disappointment was to follow on that day, when Hayes & Yeading United defeated Kingstonian 4-1 to jump above us into 2nd place.

Four days after the New Year's Day washout, the Ship Lane pitch had recovered sufficiently for us to host mid-table side Weston-super-Mare. If we beat the visitors from Somerset, and Hayes & Yeading failed to take maximum points from Hampton & Richmond Borough, we would move back up to 2nd.

5 January 2019: Romford vs Weston-super-Mare

We launched our first attack after less than 45 seconds. Elliot Eaton's shot hit the Weston crossbar, and Seagulls defender Exodus Geohaghan could only clear the loose ball as far as Duncan Greenwood, who headed wide. About two minutes later, young Boro striker Gareth Stamp felt confident enough to shoot from 35 yards, and his piledriver only just cleared the bar. After that, there was little in the way of attacking action to talk about from either side until the 29th minute, when Stampy's confidence hit new heights. Elliot lobbed a fantastic pass up to Gareth, who stormed past Weston full-back Nathan Battersby and planted a header beyond the despairing Billy Baker! Stamp's goal would be all that separated the teams after the first half. Eaton came closest to a second Boro goal with a 40th-minute long-ranger that went well wide, while the Seagulls hardly troubled us at all.

Romone McCrae cracked another long-distance shot off target in the opening minute of the second period, as did Stamp three minutes later. I was angry that we were frequently wasting possession by shooting from so far out, but when we won a corner in the 55th minute, we showed just how deadly we could be from close range. An excellent delivery from Graeme Montgomery found Brett Reid in the six-yard box, and there was no stopping the defender's header! We had gone 2-0 up before Weston-super-Mare had even registered a single shot at goal! Both those things would change in the next 15 minutes, though, as Weston finally pulled themselves together. George Colson gave Moses Millen a real test from 25 yards after 62 minutes, as Moses could only parry the Welshman's rocket. We tried to withstand another Weston attack five minutes later, but Romone cracked by pulling down Danny Crow in the Romford penalty area. Once things had settled down, Sean Newton put the penalty away, and the Seagulls were back to within a single goal. McCrae then missed an opportunity to make amends by putting a shot over the bar in the 70th minute. Memories of how we nearly blew a 2-0 lead against Grays Athletic on Boxing Day rushed back into my mind. I need not have fretted. Shortly after Romone's missed chance for 3-1, Crow fired a hopeless effort well wide for Weston, and he wouldn't get any closer with his next attempt in the 81st minute. Four minutes later, a diving header from Matt Grimes found Crow in the area, and a fantastic save from Millen kept out the former Norwich City man's would-be equaliser. But even if Crow had scored, he would still have been denied, because the linesman had flagged for offside. Weston-super-Mare's big chance to claim a point was gone, and we held on for yet another victory - our 15th in 24 league games this season! What's more, Hayes & Yeading United were beaten 1-0 by Hampton & Richmond Borough, so we were back in 2nd spot!

Romford - 2 (Stamp 29, Reid 55)

Weston-super-Mare - 1 (Newton pen68)

Conference South, Attendance 634 - POSITIONS: Romford 2nd, Weston-super-Mare 12th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Millen, Gray, Lyskov, Reid, Morrison, O'Halloran (Scott), Eaton, McCrae (Pollard), Montgomery, Greenwood, Stamp (Koutinis).

The three points we got from that game took us up to 48, which was already two more than we racked up last season!

Next up was a two-hour journey west to Wiltshire, where we entertained a Salisbury City team who were penniless, managerless, fighting a seemingly hopeless battle against relegation... and bang in form. Since Curtis Davies was made redundant in November, the Whites had hit a purple patch and were on a four-game winning streak that lifted them from last place right up to, er, second-from-last place.

8 January 2019: Salisbury City vs Romford

Salisbury looked much more dangerous opponents under caretaker boss Michael Harris, and they had the best of the early chances. After precisely 59 seconds, Sam Swallow hit a stunning volley that the restored Boro keeper Kyle Thomas had to tip over his crossbar. Kyle made a more comfortable save from Jacob Stones in the 12th minute before pushing away Ellis Deeney's effort two minutes later. At first, we struggled in the rainy and foggy conditions at the Raymond McEnhill Stadium, but we played noticeably better after the rain subsided. Our first chance to get on the board came after 22 minutes, when Graeme Montgomery's excellent cross was headed wide by Duncan Greenwood. When we decided to really get stuck into Salisbury late in the half, our fortunes improved even more. A fantastic tackle from Daniel Morrison on Deeney in the 41st minute started off a brilliant team move that resulted in us taking the lead. The final ball was drilled in by Dean O'Halloran to captain Greenwood, who struck from the edge of the six-yard box! 1-0 to Romford, and that was the way the first half finished.

Garry Morath-Gibbs is not the most consistent striker at Romford, but despite a poor first half here, I gave him more time in the second. On 54 minutes, Eaton's through-ball presented Morath-Gibbs with a fantastic chance to double our lead... but he blasted it wide from a tight angle. After Garry had another effort saved by Dan Hanford moments later, I decided to sub him and bring on Gareth Stamp. Gareth's early impact wouldn't be particularly great, though, as it was soon Salisbury's turn to attack. Thomas had to make a couple of saves from Whites midfielder Medi Abalimba in the 59th and 63rd minutes. Kyle made an even more important intervention in the 72nd, turning Tom Morley's shot over the bar shortly after Greenwood meekly lost possession. The Romford captain's hit-and-miss performance continued seven minutes later. Elliot Eaton sent Duncan clean through, only to see Greenwood miss the target by centimetres. Eaton and Stamp also spurned late chances to put the win completely beyond doubt. Thanks to City's own slack shooting, we did not require a second goal.

Salisbury City - 0

Romford - 1 (Greenwood 42)

Conference South, Attendance 811 - POSITIONS: Salisbury 21st, Romford 2nd

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Peters (Reid), Gray, Lyskov, Bradley, O'Halloran, Morrison (Eaton), McCrae, Montgomery, Greenwood, Stamp (Morath-Gibbs).

After kicking off 2019 with back-to-back wins, our place in the play-off spots looked more secure than ever. We were now 12 points ahead of 6th-placed Ebbsfleet United!

We were back at Ship Lane on Friday night, as our rearranged meeting with Canvey Island finally went ahead. Steve Tilson's Gulls were 4th and had not lost any of their previous six league fixtures.

11 January 2019: Romford vs Canvey Island

After a tepid start to proceedings, the match saw its first significant piece of action in the 13th minute. Romford forward Vasilis Koutinis tried to curl the ball into the net from a ridiculously tight angle, and Canvey Island keeper Connor Wareing tipped it away. Vasilis almost got lucky there, and seven minutes later, the whole Boro team was blessed with good fortune. Tom Kennedy's free-kick for Canvey hit the crossbar and came back to Jacob Hazel, whose diving header sent the rebound across the goal line. However, the linesman already had his flag up, so the scoreline remained 0-0. At that point, the Gulls were enjoying so much of the ball that it might as well have had their name inscribed on it, but the disallowed goal left them frustrated. They were feeling even more disgruntled after 33 minutes. An excellent Romford attacking move was finished off from close range by Garry Morath-Gibbs, and we were 1-0 up! Garry had a free-kick saved by Wareing in the 36th minute before missing the target with another effort four minutes later, but thanks to his goal, we had the upper hand at half-time.

To try and increase our lead, I went for a more direct strategy in the second half. The tactical switch proved to be a disaster. In the 58th minute, Kieron Gray made an excellent block to stop Louie Swain from heading Jonathan Wafula's cross home... but he was helpless to stop Cameron Norman from volleying in the rebound. With our advantage gone, I switched back to the lower-tempo strategy that saw us into the lead in the first half. Canvey had the momentum, though, and it took a fine save from Kyle Thomas to deny Hazel the Gulls' second goal in the 62nd minute. After surviving that and a wayward shot from Swain six minutes later, we pulled ourselves back together. Kenny Pollard saw his 69th-minute strike caught by Wareing, who then parried Garry's next attempt in the 75th. Three minutes later, a blistering Boro counter-attack resulted in us taking back the lead through Trevor Dunn, who scored his first Romford goal in his 52nd appearance! Would it be the game-clincher? It didn't look that way when, with just eight minutes left, Hazel placed the ball into the net after an excellent set-up by Norman. However, for the second time in the match, an offside decision was given against Hazel. Canvey did not come close again, so our perfect start to 2019 continued with a third straight victory!

Romford - 2 (Morath-Gibbs 33, Dunn 78)

Canvey Island - 1 (Norman 58)

Conference South, Attendance 577 - POSITIONS: Romford 2nd, Canvey Island 4th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Gray, Lyskov (Peters), Reid, Morrison, Dunn, Eaton, Pollard, Bradley (Scott), Koutinis (McCrae), Morath-Gibbs. BOOKED: Morrison.

Remarkably, that was our seventh win in ten games, and all of those seven victories had been by a single goal! We weren't the most entertaining team in the league, but we certainly knew how to grind out the wins!

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After starting the New Year with three consecutive wins, we faced a difficult test at home to Oxford City. We had failed to beat City in four consecutive matches since thrashing them 4-0 back in September 2016.

19 January 2019: Romford vs Oxford City

Dean O'Halloran had already scored a couple of fluke goals this season, and he came very close to getting another in the second minute. His 30-yard cross from the touchline caught goalkeeper Andy Hitchen off guard, as it hit the crossbar before Hitchen fumbled the rebound. Oxford City defender Josh Robinson had to make a vital interception to stop Duncan Greenwood from sliding the loose ball home. We were agonisingly close to getting off the mark, but missing out on the goal seemed to affect us. We failed to create another opportunity in the next 20 minutes, and then Oxford hit us with a sucker punch. Romone McCrae had the ball tackled off him by Kealan Dillon, who knocked it forward to Andre Johnson. Johnson then set up the opening goal for star striker Eric McLean, who made it 1-0 to Oxford City after 22 minutes. Dillon opened us again in the 33rd minute with an incisive pass to Dymon Labonne, who curled wide a great opportunity for City's second goal. Six minutes later, Boro goalkeeper Kyle Thomas made a fine save from Johnson to keep us in contention for the second half.

Thomas thwarted Johnson with another save in the 59th minute, and we were very fortunate to still be just a single goal down. A more ambitious approach was needed if we wanted to come away with at least one point, so for the final half-hour, we tried to get as much service as we could to Big Dunc. On 62 minutes, the newly-introduced Kenny Pollard hit a lovely pass up for Greenwood, but the skipper's shot was parried by Hitchen and cleared by Chimdi Akubuine. Pollard could've created another Greenwood chance seven minutes later, but Kenny got greedy and failed to hit the target. When Duncan fired a woeful long-distance shot miles wide in the 75th minute, I sensed that we weren't going to get anything from this game. We looked solid defensively, and centre-back Kieron Gray made an incredible number of interceptions in the second half on his way to being man of the match. It was our attacking performance that really let the Ship Lane faithful down on this occasion.

Romford - 0

Oxford City - 1 (McLean 22)

Conference South, Attendance 652 - POSITIONS: Romford 2nd, Oxford City 6th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Gray, Lyskov, Reid, Morrison, O'Halloran (Dunn), Eaton, McCrae (Pollard), Montgomery, Greenwood, Morath-Gibbs (Stamp).

Our first loss of the year was also our fifth home defeat in the league this season. In contrast, we had only lost two league games on the road, so I was hopeful of getting a better result at Bromley. The Lilywhites had gone unbeaten in their previous five matches - a run of form that eased their fears of being dragged into a relegation tussle.

23 January 2019: Bromley vs Romford

I was frustrated to see midfielder Daniel Morrison pick up a knock in the third minute, and my stress levels shot up even more just a minute later! Bromley striker Jake Reed had dribbled his way into the Romford penalty area when Kieron Gray blocked his path and tried to muscle him off the ball. The ref saw this as a foul, and signalled for a penalty! Seb Forster-Caskey made the most of Bromley's golden chance, giving them the lead from the spot after only five minutes. Morrison hobbled off soon after, and we had to try and fight back with one substitution already used up. We narrowly avoided going two goals down in the 13th minute, as Greg McDermott's shot was turned away by Moses Millen. Morrison's replacement Elliot Eaton then hit our first shot woefully wide in the 20th minute, though to be fair, it was from a difficult angle just outside the area. Ten minutes later, we got a much better opportunity to equalise. Duncan Greenwood cushioned Millen's long free-kick on to Dean O'Halloran, who dribbled into the area before Bromley's penalty scorer Forster-Caskey tripped him up to give us a spot-kick! Duncan took the penalty, and after a steady run-up, he coolly placed it past the goalkeeper. That levelled the game up, but Bromley went back in front in the 35th minute, following a mistake from Russell Bradley. The left-back lost the ball to Greek winger Savvas Tzivelekis, whose cross reached Jake Reed before the striker fired into the net. Tzivelekis was later booked for persistent fouling as the first half ended on a scrappy note.

The match became even more intense early in the second half. Reed thought Bromley should have had another spot-kick when Jordan Peters clashed with him in the 48th minute, but the referee wasn't in the mood for awarding a third penalty. Graeme Montgomery then hit the bar after 57 minutes as we started our attempts to get back level. Six minutes later, Romone McCrae lobbed a fantastic free-kick forward to Gareth Stamp, who hit the post! Two minutes after that, Tzivelekis hit the roof for Bromley! Tzivelekis pushed Bradley away in a desperate attempt to reach Daniel Griffiths' long ball, and as soon as the ref's whistle blew, he knew he was a goner. A second yellow card was followed by a red, and the Lilywhites were a man down. We now had to make our man advantage count to wipe out the more significant disadvantage. After 75 minutes, we finally broke back. Stampy spotted an opening for Big Dunc, and our skipper pounced with a deftly-executed finish to level the scores again at 2-2! That goal would've been meaningless, though, had Bromley scored once more. With nine minutes to go, Reed teased our defence with a mazy dribble, but his subsequent shot didn't worry Millen at all. That was the last scoring chance for either team. I shook hands with Bromley boss Tony Burman at the end of a four-goal draw, but few of the players were prepared to exchange such pleasantries with one another. No fewer than 32 fouls were committed in what was more akin to a bar room brawl than a soccer match. Incredibly, the only two players that referee Nick Kinseley issued cards to were Tsivelekis and Eaton, who was cautioned for fouling McDermott in the 79th minute.

Bromley - 2 (Forster-Caskey pen5, Reed 35)

Romford - 2 (Greenwood pen31,75)

Conference South, Attendance 413 - POSITIONS: Bromley 16th, Romford 2nd

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Millen, Peters (Lyskov), Gray, Reid, Bradley, O'Halloran (Dunn), Morrison (Eaton), McCrae, Montgomery, Greenwood, Stamp. BOOKED: Eaton.

Our last league game in January was at home to another mid-table team - Dorchester Town. Since our last encounter, Dorchester had sacked Karl Henry and appointed 30-year-old Andy Beattie as the youngest manager in the Conference South.

This match marked Fabio Saraiva's return to the Romford squad after a nearly three-month layoff with injury. The Portuguese midfielder had just resumed full training and was ready to take his place in the matchday squad for the first time since his Halloween horror.

26 January 2019: Romford vs Dorchester Town

Our previous match against Bromley was a scrappy affair, and the early indications were that this game wouldn't be much different. Dorchester's Miles John was booked after just four minutes for a foul on Romford's Nicholas Lyskov, who was cautioned himself two minutes later. Tensions had died down by the 11th minute, when Garry Morath-Gibbs cracked a Romford shot just wide. Garry missed another chance after receiving a fine cross from Dean O'Halloran in the 20th minute. At the other end, Dorchester also struggled to find the target, even though we did give them quite a few opportunities. One such chance came on 27 minutes, when Tony Garrod skipped past Lyskov and struck a curler that drifted away from the goal. In the 42nd minute, O'Halloran's cross struck the bar and bounced back towards our other winger Jimmy Scott. Jimmy had been booked earlier in the half, and his struggles continued as he couldn't reach the rebound before defender Zac Smith. Scott's missed chance would be rather costly for us. In the last minute of normal time, an error from Brett Reid allowed Garrod to ride his tackle and play in Merrick James-Lewis, whose shot flew over Kyle Thomas and into the Boro net. The Magpies had pinched the opening goal just before half-time.

I made two changes at the break, bringing on Kieron Gray and Fabio Saraiva for the struggling duo of Lyskov and Scott. The returning Saraiva had his first effort on goal in the 63rd minute, but his long-distance drive didn't cause any problems for keeper Leigh Bedwell. Captain Duncan Greenwood had fired a half-volley wide about four minutes earlier, and once again, it looked like we were going to pay the price for our attacking ineptitude. But in the 70th minute, our fortunes took a positive turn. Dorchester failed to clear the ball after Fabio crashed a free-kick into the wall, and Graeme Montgomery cut it back for Daniel Morrison, who rifled a low left-footer past Bedwell! The Romford fans were delighted with that equaliser, but they were silenced again five minutes later. Magpies centre-back Eric Costello flicked a header into the box for his colleague Jake Simpson, who turned past Reid and Monty to leave himself with a simple tap-in. We were 2-1 down, and the prospect of another home reverse made some of the Boro boys rather nervous. Russell Bradley was the third Romford player to be booked on 77 minutes, and Morrison became the fourth about five minutes later. Mozza's foul presented an opportunity for Mike Green to finish us off, but Thomas caught his long-range free-kick. We then survived a couple of wasteful efforts from Magpies sub Adam O'Reilly before going all-out for a late equaliser. Our third substitute Vasilis Koutinis had a header saved by Bedwell in the 90th and final minute of regulation time. The Greek youngster got another chance in added-on time. A mini-game of head tennis ensued around Dorchester's penalty area before Simpson - the man who'd put the visitors in a winning position - hit a horrible header towards his own goal. Worse still for him, Koutinis was in the perfect position to stab in an equalising goal for Romford! For the second straight game, we had salvaged a 2-2 draw!

Romford - 2 (Morrison 70, Koutinis 90)

Dorchester Town - 2 (James-Lewis 45, Simpson 75)

Conference South, Attendance 651 - POSITIONS: Romford 2nd, Dorchester 15th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Dunn, Reid, Lyskov (Gray), Bradley, O'Halloran, Morrison, Montgomery, Scott (Saraiva), Greenwood (Koutinis), Morath-Gibbs. BOOKED: Lyskov, Scott, Bradley, Morrison.

And so, after a three-match winning streak, we went three league games without victory for the first time this season. I hope this won't be the start of a major collapse that could put our play-off place under serious threat.

Even though we are 14 points clear of the teams just outside the top five, we can't afford to take our foot off the pedal just yet.

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                                   P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Boreham Wood           29    25    0     4     67    25    +42   75
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[color="#0000FF"]2.          Romford                29    17    5     7     53    34    +19   56[/color]
3.          Hayes & Yeading        29    16    4     9     52    35    +17   52
4.          Canvey Island          28    13    9     6     44    30    +14   48
5.          Grays                  29    12    7     10    38    32    +6    43
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
6.          Oxford City            28    11    9     8     40    33    +7    42
7.          Woking                 28    12    6     10    40    35    +5    42
8.          Eastbourne Boro        29    12    6     11    35    33    +2    42
9.          Welling                29    11    7     11    47    45    +2    40
10.         Hampton & Richmond     29    11    7     11    40    40    0     40
11.         Ebbsfleet              29    10    9     10    35    32    +3    39
12.         Brackley               29    11    6     12    41    41    0     39
13.         Havant                 29    10    8     11    36    43    -7    38
14.         Weston-super-Mare      28    11    3     14    43    43    0     36
15.         Dorchester             29    9     9     11    31    33    -2    36
16.         Slough                 28    11    3     14    35    51    -16   36
17.         Bromley                29    9     8     12    41    54    -13   35
18.         Kingstonian            26    9     5     12    27    32    -5    32
19.         Enfield Town           28    8     8     12    28    35    -7    32
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
20.         Salisbury              28    8     6     14    26    45    -19   20 *
21.         Worcester              29    3     10    16    19    42    -23   19
22.         Bath                   29    4     7     18    23    48    -25   19

* Salisbury deducted 10 points for entering administration

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February would see us play just two matches - both away from home. We were looking for a quick return to form after picking up just two points from our previous three games.

Kenny Pollard would not be involved in those next two away games, or indeed any other games for us this season. Instead, Kenny would be trying to stop VCD Athletic being relegated from the Isthmian League Premier Division after I accepted their loan offer for the the 18-year-old striker.

While Kenny was getting some experience in south-east London, we headed that way for the first of our February outings. Our hosts were Welling United, who were among a whole bunch of teams fighting to get into the play-off spots.

2 February 2019: Welling United vs Romford

It did not take long for the Wings to get off the ground. Russell Bradley conceded a contentious free-kick just outside the Romford area in the third minute, and Welling striker Sean Lowe proceeded to swing the set-piece into the net. Going 1-0 down represented the worst possible start for us, and things didn't improve a great deal over the first half. Duncan Greenwood failed to trouble the Welling net with a terrible shot in the 14th minute. Fabio Saraiva went much nearer in the 26th minute, firing a vicious 30-yard free-kick just over the crossbar. That was as close as we came to equalising in a pretty ordinary first period.

We conceded another free-kick in a dangerous position when the second half was barely half a minute old. Dean O'Halloran was booked for fouling Josh Dawkin, and he was fortunate to see Reece Jones put the free-kick just over. Two minutes later, though, we were undone by another dead ball. Jones' corner was headed home by Lowe, who got a second goal both for himself and for his club. We now badly needed to pull a goal back. When Welling keeper Bulent Un miscued a goal kick in the 55th minute, I thought we had a great chance. Greenwood gathered the errant ball and played in his striker partner Gareth Stamp... but Stamp missed an absolute sitter with just the goalie to beat! Duncan gave himself a glimpse of goal moments later after dispossessing Wings defender Daniel Thompson, but he lobbed his shot off target. We didn't trouble Un again until the 76th minute, when the Turkish custodian caught Greenwood's header. A minute after that, O'Halloran made an excellent run down the right flank. Dean then cut inside before whistling a shot over Un and into the net. The Irishman's goal gave us hope, but too many late fouls cost us the chance to continue the comeback and avoid defeat.

Welling United - 2 (Lowe 3,48)

Romford - 1 (O'Halloran 77)

Conference South, Attendance 572 - POSITIONS: Welling 9th, Romford 2nd

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Gray, Lyskov (Peters), Reid, Morrison, O'Halloran, McCrae, Saraiva, Bradley (Montgomery), Greenwood, Stamp (Koutinis). BOOKED: Bradley, O'Halloran.

We had a full week to stew over that result, and then went back on the road for a meeting with bottom club Bath City, who'd won just four league games all season. Dean O'Halloran missed the trip to Somerset with a tummy bug, so Trevor Dunn took his place on the right wing.

9 February 2019: Bath City vs Romford

We made light work of Bath at Ship Lane back in September, but our opponents showed in the first half that they would not be pushovers again. Scottish midfielder Lewis Vaughan put a shot high and wide in the 13th minute, shortly before Welsh winger Jaye Bowen went much closer from the edge of the area. After 19 minutes, Bath comfortably dealt with our first attempt to go on the attack, and then hit us on the break. Damon Fry aimed a long ball for Adam Donovan Bussey, and after Boro defender Brett Reid missed his interception, Bussey was free to rush through and beat Moses Millen. Another excellent pass from Fry almost caused further damage after 25 minutes, but Bowen could only send his volley across the goalmouth. About three minutes later, Romford midfielder Fabio Saraiva suffered a dead leg in a challenge from Bath's veteran anchorman Paul Phelan. Shortly after our playmaker was stretchered off, a bad day got even worse. Bussey slipped behind an unaware Russell Bradley to volley home from Bowen's delivery. After almost exactly half an hour, we were 2-0 down against arguably the worst team in the division! Russell made the scoreline less embarrassing when he bundled Graeme Montgomery's corner into the Bath net five minutes later, but we still faced an uphill struggle. Duncan Greenwood's failure to convert a couple of late headers meant that we still trailed 2-1 at the break.

There was much to improve upon - in particular, our disciplinary record. When Trevor Dunn tussled with Vaughan on 47 minutes, he received Romford's third yellow card of this match, and the NINTH of our last three games. Thankfully, we did calm down a bit later on. Bussey narrowly missed the chance to score a hat-trick for Bath in the 53rd minute, and it was a miss he would soon rue. Four minutes later, another Monty corner unravelled the hosts' lead. Graeme's cross found Nicholas Lyskov - a half-time replacement for the woeful Reid - and the Dane chested it before half-volleying into the net! From two goals down, we were back on level terms! Now it was Bath who were on edge. They lost full-back Tom King to injury in the 61st minute, and his team-mates were soon committing fouls left, right and centre. We looked like favourites, but in spite of our best efforts, we couldn't create enough chances to justify that tag. After an exciting hour of football, the last 30 minutes were a damp squib, and the match finished 2-2. It was the third time in four games that we had shared the points after a four-goal thriller.

Bath City - 2 (Bussey 19,30)

Romford - 2 (Bradley 35, Lyskov 57)

Conference South, Attendance 405 - POSITIONS: Bath 22nd, Romford 2nd

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Millen, Peters (O'Reilly), Gray, Reid (Lyskov), Bradley, Dunn, McCrae, Saraiva (Eaton), Montgomery, Greenwood, Morath-Gibbs. BOOKED: McCrae, Reid, Dunn.

The solitary point was enough to make absolutely certain that we at the very least would not be relegated. I was never really worried about our survival, but my main concern was whether we would qualify for the play-offs.

We hadn't done so much as take the lead in our last five matches, and with just three points gathered from a possible 15, we were steadily losing the advantage we had on those sides below us.

The three-week break came at arguably the right time for us, as we could put our recent slump aside and prime ourselves for the crucial final quarter of the league campaign. Over those three weeks, I put the team through their paces on the training ground, working particularly hard on our tackling and our fitness levels.

I also contemplated making a loan signing or two. But just like earlier on in the campaign, any possible loan deal that was in the pipeline fell through for various reasons.

One player that I had my beady eye on was a teenage full-back at Gillingham. However, when I heard that the lad in question was a heavy drinker who liked to frequent the pubs and clubs of north Kent, I steered well clear. I did not want to risk bringing the new Kenny Sansom to Romford.

I'm the sort of manager who prefers his players to be teetotalers, or at the very least occasional drinkers. But if our poor form continues and we don't make the play-offs, I myself might become an overnight alcoholic!

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Is that creative writing about the player having a drink problem

Yes and no. The player in question was on my shortlist, and I got a message in my inbox saying that he'd been spotted leaving a nightclub in the early hours. As soon as I saw that, he went straight off my shortlist. He obviously didn't have high professionalism.

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The dawn of March also marked the beginning of a crucial phase in the season. With 11 games left, we were in pole position to claim a Conference South play-off place, and a potential promotion to the Conference Premier was in our sights. The final two-and-a-bit months would determine whether that quest ended in glory or failure.

We were nine points ahead of 6th place, so the odds of us finishing in the top five were very favourable. That said, we really needed to cut short a five-game winless run, otherwise people would be asking questions.

Between this point and the end of the regular season, we were scheduled to play on nine consecutive Saturdays - and on the first of those, we travelled to Worcester City. The Dragons had dropped to second-from-bottom after failing to win any of their last 12 games, so we were hotly-tipped to inflict more pain on them. We would have to do it without Nicholas Lyskov, who gashed his head in a training session at the end of last month.

2 March 2019: Worcester City vs Romford

We pushed high up the pitch against a slow Worcester team who really struggled to deal with our quick attacking style. Garry Morath-Gibbs narrowly missed the target in the 7th minute, but he would later get his name on the scoresheet. We survived a poor attempt from City striker Ollie Marland on 15 minutes and quickly went back on the attack following Kyle Thomas' goal kick. Graeme Montgomery tried to find Duncan Greenwood with a weighted pass, and though that was intercepted by Worcester defender Robert Palmer, Morath-Gibbs hit a rebound shot that was simply irresistible. A minute later, I got a bad case of loving GMG, as the youngster helped us to go 2-0 up! Garry's through-ball was fired home first-time by Fabio Saraiva, whose first goal since his return put us firmly in control. Worcester just couldn't get to grips with us, either when defending or attacking, and another hapless shot from Marland in the 24th minute summed up their first half. Eight minutes later, another Thomas goal kick created a third Romford goal. Kyle's long hoof upfield was flicked on by Saraiva towards Morath-Gibbs, and Garry then lobbed a fantastic pass for Duncan to bury home from out wide. Worcester had to face it - we were addicted to goals!

The hosts really struggled against our high line, and four minutes into the second half, we exploited their own high line for goal number four. Morath-Gibbs secured his assist hat-trick with a wonderful pass to Greenwood, who surged past Danny Fitzsimons and beat Neil Collett for a second time! That made it 4-0, but Worcester finally got wise to our game plan three minutes later. Palmer dispossessed Fabio and then passed to his captain Tom Thorley, who hit a long ball up for Marland. It was weighted perfectly for the striker, who raced through the Boro defence and struck a left-footed volley beyond Thomas. That was a warning to us. When Worcester moved their quick former Leicester City man Ashley Chambers from the right wing to join Marland in attack, it was clear to me that we had to defend deeper. That tactical change helped us to nullify our opponents' attacks, but later in the half, we had some concerns in midfield. Fabio and Daniel Morrison were both struggling with knocks, and both men would be substituted by the 70th minute. We could have gone 5-1 up a minute before then, but Montgomery's cross to Greenwood was cleared just in time by Palmer. Then, either side of Morrison's substitution, Chambers hit the post before Fitzsimons headed into the side netting. We were under severe pressure, so when Chambers was forced off with a 79th-minute injury that reduced Worcester to ten men, I breathed a sigh of relief. The Dragons didn't give up hope until the 89th minute, when Hope McDonald hopelessly scooped over a great chance to halve what had been a four-goal Romford lead. By full-time, the hosts had still only clawed back one goal, and their latest defeat dropped them to last place.

Worcester City - 1 (Marland 52)

Romford - 4 (Morath-Gibbs 15, Saraiva 16, Greenwood 32,49)

Conference South, Attendance 412 - POSITIONS: Worcester 22nd, Romford 2nd

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Dunn, Gray, Reid, Bradley, O'Halloran (O'Reilly), Morrison (Scott), Saraiva (McCrae), Montgomery, Greenwood, Morath-Gibbs.

We had three reaons to be cheerful on our way back to Essex: we won for the first time since 11 January, we moved up to 60 points, and we increased the gap between us and 6th place to 12 points again.

There was, though, one reason to be a little fearful. Dean O'Halloran strained his neck late on against Worcester, and he would miss our next match as a result.

Liam Georgiou came back from another three-month loan at the start of the following week, but like Dean, the young defender was unable to play in our next game. Liam had bruised his jaw in his 19th and last game for East Thurrock United, so he wasn't able to return to first-team action with Romford just yet.

Next on the schedule was a home game with Ebbsfleet United. Ebbsfleet were in 9th place, and back in October, they inflicted one of our only three away league defeats thus far this season. Could they complete the double against us?

9 March 2019: Romford vs Ebbsfleet United

The first four minutes suggested not. The match was just getting up and running when Duncan Greenwood rose above Ebbsfleet's Stefan Tomasevic to head Russell Bradley's deep cross into the corner of the United net! It was a fantastic start, but as we expected, Ebbsfleet pushed forward for a quick leveller. Their four-goal hero from six months ago, Reuben Reid, hit a poor strike off target within moments of the restart. Former Romford loanee Eddy Gnahoré went slightly closer with a 9th-minute piledriver that cleared the bar. Four minutes later, Agustín Battipiedi stung Kyle Thomas' palms from 30 yards out. The Fleet went even closer to scoring at the midway point of the half. On 22 minutes, Thomas saved Reid's effort from just inside the penalty area. Tyrell Miller-Rodney was unlucky to hit the post from a similar range in the 26th minute, but he finally got Ebbsfleet back level two minutes later. Miller-Rodney's corner was headed in at that same post by Ryan Colclough. With our advantage gone, we increased our attacking efforts. Defender Brett Reid - who shared some of the blame for Fleet's equaliser - could've got us back ahead on 31 minutes, but his header was brilliantly turned against the bar by Preston Edwards. That was our best chance to retake the lead before half-time.

I told my players to play even more offensively in the second half, but Ebbsfleet's manager Aaron McLean did the same with his troops. Barely a minute into the half, Miller-Rodney hit a great-looking through-ball to captain Craig Stone, whose strike hit the upright. Then, in the 50th minute, Miller-Rodney was on the receiving end of a fantastic pass from Reuben Reid. The ex-Brentford midfielder made the most of it, lashing home the goal that handed a 2-1 lead to Ebbsfleet. We were used to trailing by that exact scoreline, so we weren't overly concerned. Our subsequent attacks stretched Edwards to his limits, but the Fleet stalwart frustrated us with a couple of fine saves from Fabio Saraiva and Morath-Gibbs before the hour mark. He made another superb stop in the 78th minute, turning behind a Greenwood effort created by Romford sub Vasilis Koutinis. Six minutes later, Graeme Montgomery hit a long, low pass through the Ebbsfleet defence into their area, with the aim of finding Greenwood. Monty's pass was hit more out of hope than expectation, but it was perfect for Big Dunc, who broke free and drilled underneath Edwards to claim another late Romford equaliser! Though both teams had late chances to claim victory, that transpired to be the last goal of a thrilling game. Incredibly, for the fourth time this year, we'd drawn a match 2-2!

Romford - 2 (Greenwood 4,84)

Ebbsfleet United - 2 (Colclough 28, Miller-Rodney 50)

Conference South, Attendance 707 - POSITIONS: Romford 2nd, Ebbsfleet 9th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Peters, Gray, Reid (Clark), Bradley, Dunn, McCrae, Saraiva (Morrison), Montgomery, Greenwood, Morath-Gibbs (Koutinis). BOOKED: McCrae.

One other piece of news from that game was that substitute Vasilis Koutinis bruised his thigh late on and would be out of action for the next fortnight.

We would stay at Ship Lane for our next match, but before then, Ricki Mackin and I had a chance to look at some young talents who could be gracing that ground in the future. Following our annual youth trials, we decided to give contracts to at least six players.

Right-winger Zak Fitzpatrick was perhaps the most promising player in a sextet that also included full-backs Danny Rafferty and Malachi Semanshia, centre-back Larry Elliot, midfielder Gary Stocco, and left-winger Felix Akpan. We also considered offering contracts to a couple of strikers, but Ricki would evaluate them over the coming weeks before making a firm decision.

My attention then switched to what was likely to be a crucial home game against Eastbourne Borough. The Sports were just a couple of places below us in 4th, and victory for them would move them to within six points of us. If we won, the gap would increase to 12 points, and our play-off dream would edge a step closer to reality.

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16 March 2019: Romford vs Eastbourne Borough

We made a fantastic start, taking the lead after just three minutes. Graeme Montgomery set up the goal with a low centre to Garry Morath-Gibbs, who cheekily threaded the ball through goalkeeper Tim Sandercombe's legs, much to the Boro fans' delight! That wasn't an indication of what was to come, though, as it was Eastbourne who would dominate the first half. They almost equalised through Chris Shephard after just 10 minutes, but Kyle Thomas turned his vicious strike over the bar. Kyle also watched Freddie Warren miss the target in the 16th minute before making further saves from Shephard and Johnny Cosgrove over the next six minutes. The latter Eastbourne striker would eventually get the better of Thomas after 33 minutes. As we struggled in the blustery conditions, Eastbourne got some wind in their sails, and Cosgrove pulled them level after finishing off a quick counter-attacking move. That equaliser came as a real blow to me, and it was clear that I had to change tack if the Sports weren't to blow us away in the second half.

My big change before the restart was to tell the players to slow things down, and not hit so many long balls that could be blown off course. That didn't stop Jordan Peters from aiming a 50th-minute cross for the head of Duncan Greenwood, who flicked the ball wide. About three minutes later, a poor throw-in from Russell Bradley was intercepted by Eastbourne, who threatened to hit us on the break. Fortunately, Thomas was on hand to gather Shephard's shot. The match continued in an end-to-end fashion for the next 15 minutes or so. The best chance for either team to go 2-1 up came in the 65th minute. Romford playmaker Fabio Saraiva's free-kick could have gone anywhere in the wind, and Sandercombe was relieved to see it fly straight towards him. The adverse conditions helped us out greatly four minutes later, when Jordan's poor cross hit Sports anchor Tom Clarke and deflected towards Morath-Gibbs. Garry was in a very tight angle, but he still drilled the ball into the net for his and our second goal! We were leading again, but Eastbourne came on strong again in the closing stages and it looked likely that they would level once more. In the 84th minute, they unsuccessfully claimed for a penalty after Bradley appeared to back into Cosgrove. The men in red and black shirts were left red-faced, and they were frustrated again a minute later, when Louis Dennis' long-distance strike was pushed away by Thomas. That would be a massive save in the context of the game. Three minutes into injury time, a 20-yard special from Greenwood settled any late Romford nerves and gave us a 3-1 win that I was very pleased with.

Romford - 3 (Morath-Gibbs 3,69, Greenwood 90)

Eastbourne Borough - 1 (Cosgrove 33)

Conference South, Attendance 777 - POSITIONS: Romford 2nd, Eastbourne Boro 4th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Peters, Gray, Lyskov (Georgiou), Bradley, Dunn (Scott), Saraiva (Morrison), Morrison (Eaton), Montgomery, Greenwood, Morath-Gibbs. BOOKED: Lyskov.

At the start of the following week, my chairman Leo Jones gave me some worrying news regarding Romone McCrae. The midfielder had been offered a chance to move to Enfield Town for next season, so I had to act quickly if I didn't want to lose him. I didn't want to lose Romone, as he was arguably playing better this term than he did last season. Then again, you could say that about the whole team!

That same evening, I called Romone aside after training, and offered him £250 per week to stay at Romford for next term. He said that he would consider the offer, and make a final decision before the end of the week.

Romone took three days to make his mind up... and then he told me that he was going to take up Enfield's offer. I couldn't understand why. McCrae was turning down the possibility of playing in the Conference Premier next season in favour of a summer move to Enfield Town, who were not yet certain to even remain in the Conference South. It just did not make much sense to me.

Truth be told, I also felt rather betrayed. I angrily told Romone to stay at home when we travelled to Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, where we were entertaining Slough Town. The hosts were in 17th place, having lost their previous five games.

23 March 2019: Slough Town vs Romford

The Rebels started nervously, with defender Sammy Ritchie picking up a yellow card in the first minute for a foul on Garry Morath-Gibbs. We then had a couple of chances to score within the next two minutes, but neither Brett Reid nor Duncan Greenwood could trouble the target. Reid himself went into the book in the fifth minute, and soon after, the momentum shifted Slough's way. In the 18th minute, Kieron Carroll turned into our foe, as the ex-Boro captain's through-ball was slotted into the corner of the net by Rebels skipper Andy Clarke. Five minutes after creating the hosts' first goal, Carroll could've got one for himself, but Kyle Thomas saved well. Kyle looked less confident in the 25th minute, when he dropped Clarke's header before Brett cleared the danger. Slough went on to dominate the rest of the first half. Our only chance to pull level before the break came when Greenwood clipped the corner of the Slough woodwork in the 42nd minute. That would be a costly miss, because Victor Flenley made it 2-0 to the Rebels after scoring from Michael Noone's injury-time free-kick.

I brought on Elliot Eaton for Daniel Morrison during the break, and then made further changes just six minutes after the restart. The disappointing Trevor Dunn was replaced by Liam Georgiou as I switched formation from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2. It didn't change our fortunes, though. Garry had a 57th-minute shot pushed away by Slough stopper Nick Pope, who later frustrated Duncan with a fantastic save in the 79th minute. I was running out of ideas at that point, and a dreadful day would soon end a whole lot worse. With six minutes left, Clarke tried to run onto a Noone cross and turn it home. Instead, Romford midfielder Graeme Montgomery saved him some work with a diving header that floated over a flailing Thomas and into the Boro net! Monty's own goal sealed our worst defeat of the season, as Slough reversed the 3-0 beating we gave them in November.

Slough Town - 3 (Clarke 18, Flenley 45, Montgomery og84)

Romford - 0

Conference South, Attendance 433 - POSITIONS: Slough 17th, Romford 2nd

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Dunn (Georgiou), Gray, Reid, Bradley, O'Halloran (Scott), Saraiva, Morrison (Eaton), Montgomery, Greenwood, Morath-Gibbs. BOOKED: Reid, O'Halloran.

I was absolutely furious at half-time, and I let the players know it. We definitely could not afford to play so shockingly the following weekend - because we were away to Boreham Wood.

In terms of the title race, Boreham Wood were over the hills and far away - so much so that they could still be promoted even if they fielded one of the Teletubbies in goal for the rest of the season! In fact, they only needed to avoid defeat against us to mathematically seal their place back in the Conference Premier.

30 March 2019: Boreham Wood vs Romford

Surprisingly for a top-of-the-table clash, this started off rather cagily. The first shot of the game didn't come until the 15th minute, when Boreham Wood striker Joseph Dodoo hit a shot that could be best described as... er, sh*t. Two minutes later, Wood defender Shay Mullan made a potentially costly error. Mullan's poor header from Dean O'Halloran's crossfield pass allowed Duncan Greenwood to go through on goal, but Dunc's strike was parried by Tinky Winky, er I mean Graeme McKibbin. Romford skipper Greenwood had another chance in the 26th minute, firing it inches wide. That was our best chance to score in a first half that saw us largely on the defensive. We did a pretty good job of restricting service to the hosts' wide players, who I thought would be their most dangerous, but right-back Josh Simpson did create one chance in the 34th minute. Simpson's cross was met by a header from his captain Connor Martin, but Moses Millen parried Martin's attempt and turned the rebound behind for a corner. Young Moses was having a good game against the league leaders, though his goal kicks did cause some concern at times. A particularly poor kick in the 44th minute was intercepted by Dodoo, who charged clean through to leave himself one-on-one with Moses... and still missed the target. The former Leicester City striker was not on top form at all, and when he picked up a knock just before half-time, his bad day at the office came to an early end.

Boreham Wood brought on two substitutes at half-time. One of them was teenage midfielder Darragh O'Donoghue, whose free-kick Millen caught in the 53rd minute. We went on the counter-attack moments later, but the move ended after Fabio Saraiva failed to keep his shot down. Just like in the first period, our chances to score in the second half would be severely limited. We spent the rest of the game trying to soak up Boreham Wood's attacks as best we could. Our defenders worked overtime to keep Millen's sheet clean, and they in particular stepped up to the plate during the 68th minute. Nicholas Lyskov's challenge on Cameron Lancaster in the Boro area knocked the ball onto O'Donoghue, who played it to his fellow Wood sub Vincent Faherty. Kieron Gray's saving tackle on Faherty could only send the ball towards Samir Bihmoutine, whose cross to Lancaster was intercepted by Russell Bradley before Jordan Peters finally cleared! The home fans were now perhaps wondering if their team would score at all! By the 75th minute, I really started to believe that we could keep a clean sheet after Millen made a great save from Lancaster - a striker who'd scored 19 times in the Conference South this season. However, with just six minutes left to play, a combination of good fortune for Boreham Wood and Moses' first real mistake left us with broken hearts. From the side of the penalty area, Simpson found that Millen was standing at his near post, so he chipped the ball over him and into the other end of the goal. Moses quickly backtracked, but it was too late. Boreham Wood had grabbed a dramatic winner. When the final whistle blew about nine minutes later, the hosts' promotion party got started. I gave my warmest congratulations to Wood manager Ian Allinson, and then headed to the dressing room for the difficult task of consoling my distraught players.

Boreham Wood - 1 (Simpson 84)

Romford - 0

Conference South, Attendance 292 - POSITIONS: Boreham Wood 1st, Romford 2nd

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Millen, Peters, Gray, Lyskov, Bradley, Morrison, McCrae, O'Halloran, Saraiva (Eaton), Montgomery (Koutinis), Greenwood (Stamp). BOOKED: Lyskov.

We'd lost two games on the trot, and it was only thanks to Hayes & Yeading United's deficiencies that we remained in 2nd place at the end of March. With six matches left to play, we lead 3rd-placed United by one point and, more importantly, 6th-placed Eastbourne Borough by eleven. Our work is not quite finished yet.

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                                   P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.    C     Boreham Wood           36    28    3     5     75    30    +45   87
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[color="#0000FF"]2.          Romford                36    19    7     10    65    46    +19   64[/color]
3.          Hayes & Yeading        36    19    6     11    62    46    +16   63
4.          Oxford City            36    15    11    10    49    41    +8    56
5.          Woking                 36    15    8     13    51    45    +6    53
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
6.          Eastbourne Boro        36    15    8     13    47    44    +3    53
7.          Canvey Island          36    14    10    12    52    44    +8    52
8.          Grays                  36    14    10    12    44    39    +5    52
9.          Ebbsfleet              36    13    12    11    45    41    +4    51
10.         Kingstonian            36    15    6     15    44    42    +2    51
11.         Weston-super-Mare      36    15    5     16    57    52    +5    50
12.         Welling                36    13    11    12    56    54    +2    50
13.         Havant                 36    12    12    12    47    49    -2    48
14.         Dorchester             36    12    12    12    40    42    -2    48
15.         Brackley               36    12    11    13    51    50    +1    47
16.         Hampton & Richmond     36    12    11    13    44    45    -1    47
17.         Slough                 36    13    3     20    44    62    -18   42
18.         Enfield Town           35    11    8     16    38    46    -8    41
19.         Bromley                36    10    9     17    48    67    -19   39
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
20.         Salisbury              36    12    7     17    33    51    -18   33 *
21.         Bath                   36    6     10    20    30    55    -25   28
22.         Worcester              35    4     12    19    28    59    -31   24

* Salisbury deducted 10 points for entering administration

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At the start of April, I had a conversation I didn't really want to have. It was with our longest-serving player Dean O'Halloran, who told me with deep honesty that he wanted to move to a bigger club at the end of the season.

I had been expecting Dean to say that for a while. The 23-year-old Irish winger had been with us for five seasons, and someone with his talent and ambition was always likely to think about moving on at some stage.

That said, this seemed an odd time for Dean to be asking for a transfer, especially as we were so close to reaching the play-offs. I asked him if he would consider changing his mind if we were promoted to the Conference Premier. Dean replied, "Okay, boss. I'll stay if we go up. If we don't, I'm moving, and that's it."

O'Halloran promised to stay if we won the Conference South play-offs, but of course, we had to qualify for them first. A maximum of eight points from our last six fixtures would secure qualification. Here's what was in store:

6 April: vs Enfield Town (A) - Enfield Town were 18th, and had lost four of their last six games

13 April: vs Havant & Waterlooville (H) - Havant were 13th, and had won just one away match in 2019

20 April: vs Brackley Town (H) - Brackley were 15th, and had only won once and lost once since February

23 April: vs Kingstonian (A) - Kingstonian were 10th, and were within three points of the play-off places

27 April: vs Hampton & Richmond Borough (H) - Hampton & Richmond were 16th, and hadn't won in four games

8 May: vs Hayes & Yeading United (A) - Hayes & Yeading were 3rd, and were just a single point behind us

If we did secure a play-off place, we would most likely be in a straight battle with Hayes & Yeading for 2nd spot. That battle would be significant, because the league runners-up would be assured of home advantage for the second leg of their two-legged Semi Final, and also the Final if they got that far.

This was Hayes & Yeading's end-of-season run-in:

6 April: vs Ebbsfleet United (H), 13 April: vs Bath City (A),

20 April: vs Worcester City (A), 22 April: vs Eastbourne Borough (H),

27 April: vs Slough Town (A), 8 May: vs ROMFORD (H)

Our run-in began at Enfield Town. To avoid an awkward conflict of interest on Romone McCrae's part, I banned the future Enfield player from even attending the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium, let alone playing there. That may sound rather draconian, but while Romone's still my player, he still follows my rules.

6 April 2019: Enfield Town vs Romford

A defence-splitting lob from Elliot Eaton presented Garry Morath-Gibbs with a chance to fire us into the lead after only six minutes. Sadly, the teenager could not keep his shot on target. Nine minutes later, an excellent free-kick from Enfield Town defender Wayne Williams nearly resulted in the hosts going ahead. Winger Sam McQueen was in a great position to head Williams' delivery home until Moses Millen punched it away at exactly the right time. In the 22nd minute, McQueen's cross found Jason Smith just inside our penalty area, and we were fortunate to see Smith head wide. With Enfield putting us under increasing strain, our defence began to show cracks. Kieron Gray and Elliot Eaton earned needless cautions in the 23rd and 31st minutes respectively, and Brett Reid picked up a knock in between. The Towners also struggled to control their emotions, as they had midfielder Luke Foster and striker John Doherty booked within a minute of each other. This was becoming a scrappy contest, but with four minutes left until half-time, a moment of genius produced the first goal. Just like Josh Simpson did for Boreham Wood a week earlier, Enfield winger Sam Comer took advantage of Millen straying from his goal line. His swerving effort was from further out than Simpson's, but it had the same outcome. The ball flew over Moses and found the net, leaving our young keeper with egg on his face and Enfield Town with a 1-0 half-time lead.

After that agonising setback, we returned from the break all fired up, and it took us just three minutes to forget all about Comer's comet. To be fair, Comer helped us out with a terrible backwards pass that was intercepted by Morath-Gibbs. After playing a one-two with Duncan Greenwood, Garry stormed forward and slipped the ball past Sam Baxter to equalise! When McQueen received Town's third yellow card a few minutes later, I sensed that the momentum was shifting to us. But Reid was still struggling with a knock, so after almost exactly an hour, I brought on Jordan Peters to replace him. That would be a fateful substitution. Russell Bradley conceded a free-kick just outside our area after 63 minutes, and although Jordan headed Williams' set-piece out of the six-yard box, the rebound was volleyed into the net by Josh Nearney! The centre-back's goal restored Enfield Town's advantage, which looked like being doubled by McQueen in the 68th minute until Millen's fingertips saved us. Our half-time substitute Dean O'Halloran then showed any watching higher-league scouts how good he was - at losing his rag. In the 72nd minute, Deano made a total eejit of himself with a terrible two-footed lunge on McQueen deep in Boro territory. Referee Chris Powell fumbled about in his pocket, and then drew the red card, leaving us a man down as well as a goal down! Two minutes later, we trailed by a further goal. McQueen pulled the ball back for Connor Smythe to drill it into the corner of Millen's net. 3-1 to Enfield Town. Peters was so annoyed that he tried to get the goal disallowed for offside. He succeeded only in getting his name etched into Mr Powell's notepad. That was our fourth card of the match, and we were in danger of losing discipline completely!

The red mist descended over Romford again in the 80th minute. Gray made the far-from-wise decision to foul McQueen on the touchline while he was already under a caution. Kieron's second yellow card was followed by our second red card, and we were down to NINE men at the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium. Her Late Majesty would not have been amused. Duncan had to drop back to fill Kieron's place in defence, and three minutes later, our diem horribilis was complete. McQueen rounded off his own 'diem mirabilis' with Enfield Town's fourth goal. Considering that we were two men light and seemingly out of control, it was a sheer miracle that we didn't concede any more.

Enfield Town - 4 (Comer 41, Nearney 64, Smythe 73, McQueen 83)

Romford - 1 (Morath-Gibbs 48)

Conference South, Attendance 655 - POSITIONS: Enfield Town 17th, Romford 2nd

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Millen, Gray, Lyskov, Reid (Peters), Morrison, Dunn (O'Halloran), Eaton (Montgomery), Saraiva, Bradley, Greenwood, Morath-Gibbs. BOOKED: Gray, Eaton, Peters. SENT OFF: O'Halloran, Gray.

I do not need to tell you exactly what I told the players at full-time, so I'll just describe my emotions. Imagine one of Sir Alex Ferguson's old hairdryers, or John Sitton's sacking of a Leyton Orient player at half-time. I was even angrier than that. I made Messrs Ferguson and Sitton look like newborn puppies in comparison.

Once I had vented my general anger at the team, I called Dean O'Halloran and Kieron Gray out of the dressing room, and fined them a week's wages each. Dean - who would later be given a three-match suspension for violent conduct - took his punishment like a man and apologised profusely. Kieron - who would only be banned for one game because his dismissal was for two bookings - thought that the fine was unfair, but reluctantly coughed up.

On the morning after the game, I held a calmer post-mortem with the team, and warned them that we couldn't afford to implode again. We were dead lucky to still be in 2nd place thanks to another defeat for Hayes & Yeading United, but our play-off place was in a bit more danger. We were still eight points away from wrapping up a top-five finish, and the 6th-placed team were now eight points from catching us up.

After three consecutive away defeats, we were relieved to be heading back home for our next two matches. The first of them was against a Havant & Waterlooville team who were just a single point away from securing their survival. I made several changes to my team, and one of them was to give a senior debut to 16-year-old right-winger Johnnie Spong.

13 April 2019: Romford vs Havant & Waterlooville

The game was nearly 90 seconds through when we had our first scoring opportunity. Duncan Greenwood's long-distance free-kick into the area was met by the head of Garry Morath-Gibbs, but Havant keeper Ross Etheridge got down to stop his header right on the line. In the 15th minute, a shot from Graeme Montgomery bounced back off Hawks defender Declan John to Fabio Saraiva, whose follow-up volley missed the target. Greenwood then missed a couple of short-range chances in the 21st and 29th minute as we failed to turn early dominance into anything more substantial. Havant & Waterlooville had just one chance to get a goal against the run of play during the opening 45 minutes. Winger Jamie Chandler's 32nd-minute strike was turned behind by Kyle Thomas, who did not need to do very much in a goalless first half.

Trevor Dunn's crucial sliding challenge on Havant striker Guy Madjo conceded a corner to the visitors just three minutes into the second period. The Hawks didn't create anything from that corner, but there was a different outcome when we got one for ourselves in the 53rd minute. Montgomery put his recent bad form aside to send a brilliant corner towards Liam Georgiou, and there was nothing Havant could do about the young defender's volley! Liam's first goal of the season, in his first Boro start of the campaign, gave us the lead! It was not a lead that we ever looked like throwing away, because our opponents played dreadfully for the rest of the game. Stewart Lavery, who scored four times in November's reverse fixture, was particularly ineffective. Lavery had an opportunity in the 62nd minute, only to see it blocked by Keston James, who was later named man of the match after his first senior outing of the year. Havant's only other chance came in the 79th minute through Madjo, but he missed hopelessly from the edge of the area. We secured the three points with our first clean sheet since January, and we did it without needing to get out of second gear.

Romford - 1 (Georgiou 53)

Havant & Waterlooville - 0

Conference South, Attendance 575 - POSITIONS: Romford 2nd, Havant 17th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Dunn, James, Georgiou, Reid, Spong (Scott), McCrae, Saraiva (Morrison), Montgomery, Greenwood, Morath-Gibbs (Koutinis).

That win, and favourable results elsewhere, put us within just TWO points of securing a play-off place! All we needed now was one more victory the following week.

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Great season so far, and looking very good for the play-offs. Hoping to see the dream team of Big Dunc and GMG firing you up, looking forward to seeing how this one pans out!

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Great season so far, and looking very good for the play-offs. Hoping to see the dream team of Big Dunc and GMG firing you up, looking forward to seeing how this one pans out!

Thanks again. I love Big Dunc and GMG - they make a great little and large partnership (Garry's not that little, but Duncan's a giant by comparison), and I hope that they'll still be at the club for many years to come.

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Before our next big game, I've got some good news on the youth front. Six new players signed for the Under-18s team last month, and a seventh has now joined them. Following further evaluation, head of youth development Ricki Mackin signed striker Daniel Formaston to a youth contract a week after his 16th birthday. Here's hoping that young Danny eventually becomes the next Garry Morath-Gibbs, or even the new Nicky Reynolds...

We only needed to beat Brackley Town at Ship Lane, and we'd be safely in the play-offs with time to spare. In fact, if other results went our way, we might not even need a draw!

20 April 2019: Romford vs Brackley Town

We were so quick out of the traps against Brackley that we could have opened the scoring after just 20 seconds! After receiving an excellent pass from Garry Morath-Gibbs, Duncan Greenwood tried his luck 35 yards from goal, and his stunning strike missed the post by inches. Another player who wanted to catch the eye was Brackley's ex-professional winger Ishmel Demontagnac. He missed a couple of chances within the first 10 minutes, while Boro midfielder Romone McCrae was being treated for a knock. Another ambitious Demontagnac effort missed the target in the 14th minute. Soon after that, Duncan scooped another shot over the bar at the other end. On 23 minutes, Brackley's Jacob Blyth tried to curl the ball past Kyle Thomas, and Kyle was wise to his plans. The rest of the half saw few chances for either side, though Duncan did swing a free-kick narrowly wide in the 39th minute, not long after he'd been booked for pushing Saints defender Matthew Preston. Big Dunc was not having a particularly big game.

Another early Romford chance went begging half a minute into the second half, when Morath-Gibbs put too much power into his strike. We were struggling up front, but we fared much better at the back, where the giant Keston James dominated the aerial battles. Kyle Thomas was also looking good for a second straight clean sheet after saving Dale Tonge's 57th-minute screamer. But five minutes later, Kyle's sheet was dirtied thanks to a very unclean back-pass from Fabio Saraiva. Dominic Dell intercepted the ball before passing to Blyth, and when Keston's desperate lunge missed Blyth completely, the striker was clear to put Brackley 1-0 ahead. Something had to be done, but instead of subbing Saraiva, I took off Greenwood. Duncan didn't take kindly to my half-time criticism of him, and he showed no improvement after the restart. My decision to keep the faith in Fabio paid off after 67 minutes. Saraiva's left-wing cross was thrashed into the Brackley net by Morath-Gibbs, and we had a level game! Dunc's replacement Gareth Stamp could've turned the game on its head two minutes later, but he shot high and wide. Saints keeper Aljaz Cotman then caught a tame header from Garry in the 82nd minute. Five minutes later, Brackley gave our defence a workout with a string of long balls into the box. We were up to the task, as Thomas parried a couple of shots from Dell and Michael Duckworth before James cleared. Our defensive doggedness was crucial in us taking a point, but if our strikers had been more clinical, we might have come away from this match with all three.

Romford - 1 (Morath-Gibbs 67)

Brackley Town - 1 (Blyth 62)

Conference South, Attendance 599 - POSITIONS: Romford 2nd, Brackley 11th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Gray, Lyskov, James, Morrison (Scott), Dunn, McCrae (Eaton), Saraiva, Montgomery, Greenwood (Stamp), Morath-Gibbs. BOOKED: Greenwood, Dunn.

Was that solitary point enough to ensure a top-five finish? Not quite, but we were on the brink. With three games to play, Woking were nine points behind us in 5th, and Eastbourne Borough trailed them only on goal difference. To ensure a top-five finish, we needed only one more point, or a slip-up either from Woking or from Eastbourne.

Woking and Eastbourne were both in action on Bank Holiday Monday, so I waited anxiously for their results. Woking did not stumble, as they recorded a comfortable 2-0 win over already-relegated Bath City. Eastbourne, on the other hand, conceded in the 93rd minute to lose 3-2 at Hayes & Yeading United - a result that put my worst fears to bed.

That was the play-off objective met... but not mission accomplished. We now wanted to finish as high as we could to give us the best possible chance in the post-season. Back-to-back victories for Hayes & Yeading knocked us off 2nd spot, so we needed to win at Kingstonian on Tuesday night to wrestle it back from United.

23 April 2019: Kingstonian vs Romford

Although the first half-hour saw very few chances, it was clear that Kingstonian were dominating. The K's had loads of possession, which was helped by us frequently giving them the ball on a silver platter. After 15-year-old midfielder Kouassi Osseni volleyed the ball over the bar in the 24th minute, I decided to turn the tables. From that point on, the Romford players pressed hard and threw themselves into tackles. Midfielder Romone McCrae forced a save out of Aaron Butcher on 26 minutes as we looked to take the game to our hosts. In the 32nd minute, a Boro breakaway stunned the Kingsmeadow faithful into silence. McCrae's low left-wing cross clipped the heel of Garry Morath-Gibbs and deflected into the path of Vasilis Koutinis, who cut the ball into the net from a tight angle! That was followed seven minutes later by another Boro goal created from the left flank. This time, Russell Bradley's delivery was perfectly timed for Morath-Gibbs to tuck in his 16th goal of the season! Garry had matched his tally from last season, and we were 2-0 up despite a very shaky start!

Kingstonian had to win to keep alive their very slim play-off hopes, but the second half would bring about a lingering, painful death to their dreams of returning straight to the Conference Premier. Ex-West Bromwich Albion striker Paul Kinlan headed wide in the 58th minute, as did defender Callum McNaughton in the 77th. That was the sum of Kingstonian's second-half chances. Mike Hurst and Richard Brodie received two late bookings for the K's, who posed so little a threat in this defeat that our goalkeeper Kyle Thomas didn't need a shower after the match!

Kingstonian - 0

Romford - 2 (Koutinis 32, Morath-Gibbs 39)

Conference South, Attendance 406 - POSITIONS: Kingstonian 13th, Romford 2nd

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Gray, Peters, James (Georgiou), Morrison, Dunn, Eaton, McCrae, Bradley, Koutinis (O'Reilly), Morath-Gibbs (Stamp). BOOKED: James.

The state of play, with two games to go, was that we were two points above Hayes & Yeading United in 3rd place, and six ahead of Oxford City in 4th.

If we avoided defeat in our last home game against Hampton & Richmond Borough, we would definitely finish in the top three.

Also, if we won, and Hayes & Yeading lost away to a Slough Town team still battling to avoid the drop, 2nd place would definitely be ours - no further questions asked. If not, the runners-up spot would be decided when we faced United at The Warren on 8 May.

27 April 2019: Romford vs Hampton & Richmond Borough

Hampton & Richmond had nothing to play for - and, therefore, nothing to lose. They made a relaxed start to the game and could've scored in the very first minute were it not for Jordan Peters' crucial tackle on winger Paul McCall. H&R found the net five minutes later when Connor Wilkins' cross was headed home by Dermot McVeigh - but the Northern Irishman was flagged offside. At that point, the game started to turn towards us. In-form defender Keston James aimed a couple of headers at goal in the 9th and 16th minutes - the latter of which was saved by Rikki Banks. As I saw the match progress, I figured out that even though the Beavers had two quick wingers, their 3-5-2 formation left them vulnerable on the flanks - a weakness we could expose with our own widemen. After 27 minutes, we put my plans into action. Dean O'Halloran exchanged passes with Jordan Peters and then lofted in a byline cross from the right-wing to our other winger Tom O'Reilly. The 18-year-old rose above Ralf Wunderlich, whose poor pass started the Boro breakaway, and headed in his first ever league goal. Two minutes later, the two O's combined brilliantly again. O'Halloran created another assist for O'Reilly, whose shot went in off Banks' back! Tom was replicating his excellent Under-18s form with the first-team! The Boro were in full flow, and after 36 minutes, a 2-0 lead became 3-0 thanks to an excellent finish from Fabio Saraiva! Hampton & Richmond did get one goal back three minutes later, with Wilkins converting a rebound after Kyle Thomas had come off his line to block McVeigh's effort. That said, it would take something special for them to complete the fightback after the break.

H&R had the first chance in what would be a scrappy second half. In the 47th minute, Thomas caught a strike from Russ Penn, who was booked three minutes later. O'Halloran was also cautioned soon after, while his partner-in-crime O'Reilly missed a good chance to complete a memorable hat-trick after 55 minutes. Two more cards were doled out, one to each team, before the next goal came in the 65th minute. Romford left-back Russell Bradley tried to catch the Beavers number 1 out with a swerving effort from 40 yards. Banks seemed to have it covered, but then showed that he was nothing like his namesake Gordon with a horrendous spillage into his own net! I let out a Jimmy Carr-esque laugh as Butterfingers Banks made it 4-1 to Romford! We were now so far in front that I felt confident enough to bring on 16-year-old midfielder Johnny Embleton. Johnny was our newest first-teamer, but it was our longest servant who had the final meaningful word on the match. Another excellent Bradley cross in the 77th minute found O'Halloran, who stroked in our fifth goal! After his two earlier assists, Dean's goal was the perfect end to a man-of-the-match performance by the enigma from Eire. McCall later missed two opportunities to salvage a bit more pride for Hampton & Richmond, who had been well and truly hammered. Our fans at Ship Lane gave us a standing ovation at the final whistle. Let's hope they give us a couple more in May!

Romford - 5 (O'Reilly 27,29, Saraiva 36, Banks og65, O'Halloran 77)

Hampton & Richmond Borough - 1 (Wilkins 39)

Conference South, Attendance 685 - POSITIONS: Romford 2nd, Hampton & Richmond 17th

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Peters, Gray, James, Bradley, Morrison, McCrae (Embleton), O'Halloran, Saraiva (Greenwood), O'Reilly, Stamp (Montgomery). BOOKED: Stamp, O'Halloran, McCrae, Morrison.

A top-three finish was now a certainty, meaning that we would be guaranteed home advantage in the second leg of our Semi Final.

Now I wanted to know what had happened at Holloways Park. I heard that Hayes & Yeading scored after just nine minutes... but Slough fought back to win 2-1! Good old Kevin Phillips - I could kiss you, Super Kev!

That result confirmed us as Conference South runners-up ahead of our final-day meeting with Hayes & Yeading! At full-time, some Romford fans chanted, "We are runners-up, say we are runners-up!" Will they be chanting a similar, more triumphant song after the play-offs?

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If April had ended differently, our trip to Hayes & Yeading United on 8 May would have been the decider for 2nd place in the Conference South. But because we were already guaranteed that position going into the final match of the regular season, The Warren played host to little more than a possible dress rehearsal for the Play-Off Final.

For Hayes & Yeading, this was their last game before a Semi Final against Oxford City. Those two sides were set to finish in 3rd and 4th respectively. Oxford would need a miracle to overtake their future opponents in the standings.

Our Semi Final opponents were far from decided. Woking and Ebbsfleet United were the main contenders for the last remaining play-off spot, although four other teams - Canvey Island, Eastbourne Borough, Weston-super-Mare and Welling United - could yet sneak in.

Despite that uncertainty, we could take things easy, safe in the knowledge that we'd have the slight advantage of hosting the second leg. As the highest-ranked team in the play-offs, we'd also be guaranteed to host the Final should we win our Semi.

With the play-offs on the horizon, I decided to be pragmatic, and save my star players for the semis. I fielded a very young reserve side at The Warren (Romone McCrae was the only non-teenager to feature), in what was my first match since signing a two-year extension to my £625-per-week contract as Romford manager.

8 May 2019: Hayes & Yeading United vs Romford

We made a very poor start to the match, as Hayes & Yeading pounced on our poor passing to create several early opportunities. Strikers Chris Hunter and Mike Symons both put shots wide in the opening six minutes. In the seventh, winger Samuel Smith fooled our left-back Brett Reid with some fancy footwork before seeing his effort saved by Moses Millen, who was captaining the Boro. With United starting so strongly, it was surely only a matter of time before they found the net. They did that through Symons after 10 minutes, but his header was ruled out for offside. Two minutes later, Hayes & Yeading took the lead for real. Elliot Eaton's poor interception on Robert Ogley knocked the ball towards former Tottenham Hotspur trainee Hunter, and the American calmly slotted in the opening goal. My assistant Wayne Daniel charged out of the dugout, and barked at our players, "You're leaving too much space! Tighten up for f**k's sake!" Wayne knew what he was on about. We did tighten up after the goal, and we also started creating chances for ourselves. Although Romone McCrae didn't trouble the target in the 15th minute, we did pull level seven minutes later - through one of our most disappointing players this season! Gareth Stamp's cross was volleyed in by none other than Jimmy Scott, who broke his goalscoring duck in stunning fashion! The winger's confidence shot up after that, and he almost scored a spectacular second goal from the touchline in the 26th minute, with Arron Bentley having to tip it over the bar. Though Tom O'Reilly's corner was seemingly headed out of immediate danger by United midfielder Jordan Scott, Jimmy curled the ball back towards the far post, where Liam Georgiou rose up to head it in! 2-1 Romford! Jimmy hadn't recorded a single league goal or assist before this game, yet he was almost single-handedly beating Hayes & Yeading! To be honest, though, the hosts were also beating themselves. They nearly levelled through Hunter on 41 minutes, but Millen turned it against the crossbar. About five minutes later, a poor throw-in from Romford right-back Ashley Clark led to another chance for Hunter, who could only drag the ball wide.

I took off Reid at half-time, and gave a senior debut to promising left-back Danny Rafferty. Aged just 15 years and 286 days, local lad Danny became our youngest ever first-team player. Hunter's 50th-minute through-ball should've been converted by Symons, but another fantastic save by Moses frustrated the home team even more. They would ultimately pay for those missed chances either side of the break. After 55 minutes, Stamp sought out the unmarked Vasilis Koutinis, who capped off a fine team move with our third goal of the evening. Paul Stonehouse missed another shot for Hayes & Yeading soon after the restart. The hosts hardly troubled our defence again, as centre-backs Georgiou and Keston James excelled, and schoolboy Rafferty showed that he could mix it with the adults. We also cranked up the attacking pressure, with Bentley having to save two more strikes from Scott in the 58th minute and Stamp in the 70th. The Warren was emptying fast by the 87th minute, when a costly error from Ali Gordon led to us making it 4-1. Keston's headed clearance from Gordon's long ball was flicked on to O'Reilly, who created a deserved goal for Stamp. Gareth could've made a real claim for the man of the match award after his goal and two assists, and also the fact that he never misdirected a single pass. That accolade actually went to Jimmy, but everyone in the team deserved credit for an excellent performance that ended the regular season in style. We had dismantled Hayes & Yeading with what was basically a youth team!

Hayes & Yeading United - 1 (Hunter 12)

Romford - 4 (Scott 22, Georgiou 27, Koutinis 55, Stamp 87)

Conference South, Attendance 322 - POSITIONS: Hayes & Yeading 3rd, Romford 2nd

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Millen, Clark, Georgiou, James, Reid (Rafferty), Scott, Eaton (Embleton), McCrae, O'Reilly, Koutinis (Spong), Stamp. BOOKED: Reid, Georgiou.

Following our 23rd league win of the season, we could head into the play-offs on the back of a five-game unbeaten run. But who would we be playing in the Semi Finals?

The other results filtered through, and it emerged that we would have to get past a tricky Woking team who beat us at home earlier in the campaign. If Ben Williamson hadn't scored an 85th-minute winner against basement team Worcester City, we would have faced an arguably less difficult test against Canvey Island.

Leg 1 of our Semi Final against Woking would be played at the Kingfield Stadium on 12 May, with the second leg coming at Ship Lane three days later. The next week would put us either within 90 minutes of non-league football's top tier... or in the pits of despair.

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Arguably the biggest week of our lives began on 12 May, when we travelled to Surrey for the first leg of our Conference South Play-Off Semi Final against Woking. Our last visit to the Kingfield Stadium ended in a thrilling 3-2 victory, and with the division's second-best away record to our name, I felt confident about our chances.

After sitting out the dead rubber against Hayes & Yeading United, our key players were refreshed and raring to go. While Woking's stars perhaps weren't as fresh as ours, the Cards were high on confidence under Jon Stead, who took over an underachieving mid-table team in November and led them to a 5th-place finish.

12 May 2019: Woking vs Romford

I hoped to see a particularly good performance from Dean O'Halloran, but the speedy winger's first shot went over the bar after three minutes. Midfielder Fabio Saraiva went slightly closer in the 11th minute, when his vicious strike was tipped over by Woking keeper Chris Martin. Saraiva's resulting corner went beyond the far post to Kieron Gray, who headed the ball across the goalmouth, only to see Colin Joyce clear it from the lurking Duncan Greenwood. Woking's first attempt came on 18 minutes, and Ben Williamson lobbed it over the bar. Romford's Garry Morath-Gibbs couldn't find the target in the 29th minute, while Marvin Williams and Williamson both had near-misses for the Cards in the five minutes that followed. The rest of the period passed quietly, and with both teams clearly struggling up front, we were no closer to determining who was on top.

Woking shot out of the traps after the break. With less than half a minute gone, Williamson curled the ball across the Boro goalmouth, and Russell Bradley had to head it behind before Williams could pop up and score. That started a very nervy period in the game for us. Midfielder Daniel Morrison suffered a rib injury in the 52nd minute, but soldiered on for three minutes before I replaced him with Romone McCrae. Romone was my first substitution, and I brought on another pair of fresh legs in the 61st minute. Duncan looked a bag of nerves, so I took the bold decision to substitute my captain and bring on Vasilis Koutinis. Barely a minute passed, and then Boro defender Kieron Gray went down hurt following a collision with Williamson. Brett Reid replaced the unfortunate Kieron, and we had used up all of our substitutes. Fabio took the captain's armband after Duncan's exit, and we sought inspiration from our new skipper. Saraiva put a free-kick just over the bar in the 71st minute. Four minutes later, he hit a fantastic 20-yard shot that Martin kept out with an even better fingertip save. Martin kept the deadlock intact, and so did Kyle Thomas when the Romford number 1 pushed Joyce's 83rd-minute screamer aside. The score remained 0-0 as the game entered four minutes of injury time. We then suffered a major blow, as Fabio was forced off with a rib injury, leaving us with only ten men. His injury added even more time to added-on time. The original four minutes had already passed when both teams had their last chances to take the advantage. Martin beat away Koutinis' shot moments before Joyce spurned the chance to finish off a Woking counter-attack. Shortly after Joyce's miss, the referee blew the half-time whistle on a Semi Final tie that was still goalless.

Woking - 0

Romford - 0

Conference South Play-Off Semi Final Leg 1, Attendance 2,286

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Peters, Gray (Reid), Lyskov, Bradley, O'Halloran, Morrison (McCrae), Saraiva, Montgomery, Greenwood (Koutinis), Morath-Gibbs. BOOKED: Gray, Lyskov.

We'd done pretty well to get a goalless draw at Kingfield, but unfortunately, we would be without three players for the crucial second leg. Daniel Morrison and Kieron Gray were ruled out for the rest of the play-offs with bruised ribs, and although Fabio Saraiva's injury was not serious, he too would miss the return fixture.

We were, therefore, without our best defender Gray, and our best midfielder Saraiva. Add onto that the fact that our captain Duncan Greenwood had not scored since mid-March, and we were suddenly looking vulnerable.

I sought some inspiration from my favourite Swedish pop group ahead of the second leg at Ship Lane three days later. The permutations here were plain and simple - the winner takes it all; the loser has to fall. If the match was still tied after 90 minutes and extra-time, then a penalty shoot-out was the name of the game.

15 May 2019: Romford vs Woking

This crucial match attracted a massive audience at Ship Lane, which we managed to at least half-fill for the first time ever! A crowd of 2,729 smashed our previous record attendance from when Oxford United came to town back in November. I did not want to let down any of our supporters, young or old, so I got the players all fired up before kick-off. They left the dressing room roaring like lions, and determined to deliver a victory.

The pitch was in a right state after some earlier rain, so I tried to take advantage of the conditions with a long-ball game that suited our skipper Duncan Greenwood right to the ground. But instead of finding our target man, we kept finding opposition players with our passes. One such pass from Nicholas Lyskov after 11 minutes led to Woking's first scoring opportunity. The Dane's wayward long ball was intercepted by Michael Onovwigun, who via winger Jack Maloney set up a chance for frontman Ben Williamson. Much to Nic's relief, Williamson could only drag the ball wide. Seven minutes later, a Danny Gardner cross deflected off Lyskov and went out for a Cards corner. Gardner did some real damage from that corner, heading in Colin Joyce's delivery at the near post to draw first blood for Woking. A match witnessed by over 2,500 fans now sounded like it was being watched by around 250, with the visiting fans making the only noises. Gareth Stamp got the Boro fans cheering us on again in the 25th minute, when he reached Tom O'Reilly's long ball and darted past Woking defender Philippe Chevalier to go clear. Alas, he hit his shot far too early, missing the target. Although I'd definitely geed up the Romford players for the first half, they were playing more with their hearts than their heads. Woking looked more composed, and their command on the game increased as half-time neared. Maloney was having an especially impressive game, despite suffering a knock in a 35th-minute tackle from Trevor Dunn. The ex-Portsmouth left-winger cut wide a shot on 41 minutes, but then went on to create Woking's second goal in injury time. He shinned Gardner's pass towards Williamson, whose stunning finish into the bottom corner left us with so much to do in the second half.

I followed my players into the dressing room, and then tore them to shreds for the next 15 minutes. I was furious at how poorly we'd played in the first half, but a 2-0 deficit was something we could still recover from, as long as we got going quickly after the restart.

Elliot Eaton replaced the departing Romone McCrae at half-time, and it was he who hit our first shot of the second half. He tried to beat Chris Martin from 25 yards out in the 51st minute, but Martin hardly had to break sweat to catch his strike. I made another change moments later, with Liam Georgiou taking the lacklustre Lyskov's place in defence. We were still struggling to create regular chances at the other end by the 63rd minute, when I played my last card against the Cards. Greenwood again made way for Vasilis Koutinis, and we readopted the possession-based strategy that served us so well towards the end of the regular season. The next time we touched the ball after that switch was when we were restarting the game at 3-0 down. Martin's goal kick was cushioned by Onovwigun to Gardner, who switched the ball from the right flank to Williamson in the centre. Williamson jinked into the penalty area and then laid the ball off for Maloney to smash it past Thomas. Ship Lane emptied faster than Barings Bank, and in the 67th minute, our promotion hopes most certainly went to the wall. Another excellent Joyce corner found Maloney, who chested the ball and struck a sweet shot that hit the post, and then Kyle's back, before ending up in the net. Thomas had been beaten for a fourth time, and for the next few minutes, he made a number of saves to spare us further humiliation. At the other end, we were so impotent that Woking eventually took pity on us, and gave us a helping hand. With eight minutes left, a terrible headed back-pass from Onovwigun was intercepted by Gareth Stamp, who tapped in a Boro consolation, much to the delight of absolutely nobody. It was 4-1, but the horse had already bolted. Two minutes later, the Cards reverted to 'no mercy' mode, as Courtney Harris' delivery was converted from close range by Marvin Williams. Woking had won by 5 goals to 1. They would be going to Oxford City for the Play-Off Final, and we had to go back to the drawing board. We'd played with too much emotion, and our season had ended in tears.

Romford - 1 (Stamp 82)

Woking - 5 (Gardner 19, Williamson 45, Maloney 64,67, Williams 84)

Conference South Play-Off Semi Final Leg 2, Attendance 2,729

[Woking win 5-1 on aggregate]

ROMFORD LINE-UP: Thomas, Dunn, Reid, Lyskov (Georgiou), Bradley, Scott, Montgomery, McCrae (Eaton), O'Reilly, Greenwood (Koutinis), Stamp. BOOKED: McCrae, Montgomery.

The atmosphere in the Romford dressing room at full-time felt like a morgue. The players were all beside themselves with despair, me with anger. With a sore throat, and a voice croakier than Rod Stewart's, I told them, "You've really let me down today. You lost your heads and got caught up in the moment. You've ruined ten months of the hardest work you've ever put into your careers. Ten months of effort, all gone - in one game."

After that, I struggled to come up with any more words. I sat down quietly on the bench, covering my head with my hands to conceal the tears that were rolling down my cheeks. If we wanted to get to the Conference Premier, it would take at least another year of blood, toil and sweat.

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Ouch, that must have been incredibly tough to take. It all looked set up for promotion, especially after the away leg. I'm sure you can bounce back next season, but even so...

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Gutted. I'm so sorry to hear that. I really thought you could pull this out.
Damn

I thought you was going to do it

Ouch, that must have been incredibly tough to take. It all looked set up for promotion, especially after the away leg. I'm sure you can bounce back next season, but even so...

It was a gutting result to take, especially as the odds were stacked in our favour. That said, it'll only make me more determined to try and win promotion next season.

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Our exit from the Conference South play-offs left me at my lowest ebb. I spiralled into a deep depression, and didn't leave my house for the rest of the week. I lost count of how many times I played

's debut album over those few days.

If it wasn't for the support of my family, I might have done something incredibly stupid... like book a holiday to Syria, or watch all 26 series of The Only Way Is Essex.

Eventually, I roused myself from my self-pity, and once again saw the positives from this season. Finishing runners-up in the Conference South was not a mean feat for a team that many had tipped for the drop, and my efforts earned me a nomination for the Manager of the Year award. I didn't get it in the end, as the lion's share of the votes went to Mike Ford, who had won the play-offs with Oxford City.

At the start of the post-season, I had my annual debriefing with chairman Leo Jones. Little came out of that meeting, but we now had over £125,000 in our bank account, and Mr Jones wanted me to raise some more cash before he could consider improving our training facilities.

After that, I offered new contracts to several of our best young players. Defender Kieron Gray was first in line for a pay rise, as he got a new two-year deal worth £200 per week. Keston James, Moses Millen and Tom O'Reilly also got senior contracts for the next two seasons.

Meanwhile, Kenny Pollard came back from his loan at VCD Athletic, having succeeded in keeping them in the Isthmian Premier. KP only scored twice for the Kent side, but maybe next term will bring him better fortune in front of goal.

With regards to departures, Romone McCrae was definitely on his way to Enfield Town... and Graeme Montgomery would also be leaving Romford in the summer. I had seen the 31-year-old midfielder's form fall into a sharp decline during the second half of the campaign, and his shocking performance in our play-off defeat to Woking was the last straw.

After three seasons at Romford, during which he scored six goals and made 45 assists in 134 games, I told Graeme that he was no longer needed. Monty had barely shut the door on the way out by the time he agreed terms with Isthmian League Premier Division side Lewes, whom he would be joining for the new season.

McCrae and Montgomery were the first departures from the playing staff, and at the back end of May, I made a Cabinet-style reshuffle of my backroom team.

I wasn't ditching my assistant, as Wayne Daniel agreed to stay until at least 2021. But Mitch Fellows, who joined the Boro as a player-coach nearly seven years ago, and our long-time physio John Kelly were both told that their services weren't required anymore.

Taking Mitch's spot on the coaching staff was Dean Standen. Dean was our scout for five seasons, but he possessed a UEFA A Licence and had been wanting to go into coaching for some time. I offered him £160 a week - the same as Wayne - to change jobs, and he accepted.

Who will be our new scout, then? I'll reveal all next month...

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                                   P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.    C     Boreham Wood           42    31    4     7     86    38    +48   97
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[color="#0000FF"]2.          Romford                42    23    8     11    79    53    +26   77[/color]
3.          Hayes & Yeading        42    21    6     15    72    58    +14   69
4.    P     Oxford City            42    18    12    12    59    51    +8    66
5.          Woking                 42    19    8     15    62    50    +12   65
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
6.          Canvey Island          42    17    12    13    66    51    +15   63
7.          Ebbsfleet              42    16    15    11    55    48    +7    63
8.          Eastbourne Boro        42    18    9     15    56    52    +4    63
9.          Welling                42    17    11    14    66    62    +4    62
10.         Weston-super-Mare      42    18    6     18    70    60    +10   60
11.         Brackley               42    15    13    14    61    58    +3    58
12.         Grays                  42    15    12    15    47    45    +2    57
13.         Kingstonian            42    17    6     19    47    50    -3    57
14.         Havant                 42    14    13    15    56    60    -4    55
15.         Enfield Town           42    14    10    18    52    57    -5    52
16.         Dorchester             42    13    13    16    44    54    -10   52
17.         Hampton & Richmond     42    13    12    17    49    55    -6    51
18.         Bromley                42    14    9     19    60    75    -15   51
19.         Slough                 42    14    4     24    50    73    -23   46
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
20.   R     Salisbury              42    14    9     19    41    59    -18   41 *
21.   R     Bath                   42    7     12    23    33    64    -31   33
22.   R     Worcester              42    6     12    24    33    71    -38   30

* Salisbury deducted 10 points for entering administration

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GOALKEEPERS               APPS    CON  CLN  MOM  P%   TR   ST%  Y    R    AV RAT
Moses Millen              16      24   4    0    62%  -    -    0    0    6.84
Kyle Thomas               36      45   10   1    60%  -    -    0    0    6.89

OUTFIELD PLAYERS          APPS    GLS  AST  MOM  P%   TR   ST%  Y    R    AV RAT
Russell Bradley           31 (1)  2    5    0    77%  2.62 50%  3    0    6.85
Ashley Clark              1 (4)   0    1    0    68%  2.37 -    0    0    7.05
Trevor Dunn               29 (8)  1    1    0    76%  3.03 25%  2    0    6.86
Elliot Eaton              19 (20) 1    6    0    70%  3.48 27%  5    0    6.85
Johnny Embleton           0 (2)   0    0    0    80%  0.00 -    0    0    7.00
Liam Georgiou             2 (4)   2    0    0    52%  2.75 100% 1    0    7.07
Kieron Gray               45 (2)  2    0    3    65%  2.90 46%  5    1    7.26
Duncan Greenwood          38 (3)  23   3    8    75%  2.09 38%  5    0    7.31
Keston James              11 (2)  1    1    1    62%  1.59 43%  4    1    7.15
Vasilis Koutinis          13 (13) 8    4    2    76%  2.02 58%  1    0    6.98
Nicholas Lyskov           32 (4)  3    0    4    66%  2.80 43%  6    0    7.09
Romone McCrae             33 (7)  2    7    2    83%  4.00 38%  4    0    6.97
Dave McGrath              1 (2)   0    0    0    83%  3.05 -    0    0    6.83
Graeme Montgomery         36 (8)  1    13   0    80%  2.53 31%  1    0    6.85
Garry Morath-Gibbs        29 (2)  16   6    2    80%  2.33 51%  0    0    7.28
Daniel Morrison           32 (6)  2    3    0    81%  3.81 33%  3    1    6.88
Dean O'Halloran           34 (4)  5    7    2    76%  3.01 41%  6    1    6.97
Tom O'Reilly              3 (4)   2    1    0    73%  2.23 50%  0    0    7.08
Jordan Peters             28 (9)  2    3    1    77%  2.38 50%  2    0    6.86
Kenny Pollard             12 (7)  3    4    2    76%  2.03 40%  2    0    7.01
Danny Rafferty            0 (1)   0    0    0    67%  -    -    0    0    6.90
Brett Reid                33 (8)  3    2    3    66%  2.13 67%  6    0    7.04
Fabio Saraiva             27 (3)  5    8    1    81%  4.21 42%  3    0    7.12
Jimmy Scott               13 (18) 1    2    1    75%  2.56 30%  3    0    6.72
Johnnie Spong             1 (1)   0    0    0    58%  3.87 0%   0    0    6.65
Gareth Stamp              17 (13) 6    6    0    77%  1.73 36%  2    0    7.01

APPS - Appearances (Substitute apps), GLS - Goals, AST - Assists,
CON - Goals conceded, CLN - Clean sheets, MOM - Man of the Match awards,
P% - Pass completion %, TR - Tackles per 90 mins, ST - Shots on target %,
Y - Yellow cards, R - Red cards, AV RAT - Average match rating

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