FLEETWOOD Town assistant boss Craig Madden admits the quality of the Conference has taken him by surprise but he still believes the club can make a final push for the play-offs.
As Town enter the final straight in their first season at non-league’s elite level, Micky Mellon’s No.2 said: “It has surprised me how good the teams and players are. On a given day, anyone can beat anyone else. The teams up there are there because they have deserved to be.’
“We matched Crawley on Saturday but they had that little bit extra which counted in the end and they deserved to beat us.
“Although we had chances, they took what they were given and put their opportunities away.’
“Luton played really well at our place back in August. Their keeper made a great save at 2-0 and we had a player sent off, but it’s perhaps the only game in which we’ve been totally dominated.
“It comes to mind now because it was an early warning that this was going to be a tough league.
“Since then, eight of our 11 defeats have been by a single goal and we have seen found lower-placed teams like Hayes & Yeading and Forest Green coming to Highbury and playing well. They raised their games.”
“Other coaches dip into the Conference quite a bit because there is a wealth of experience at our level as well as loads of young talent.”
Though Town slipped to seventh after York’s win over Mansfield last night, they remain very much in the play-off chase with eight games to play.
Madden’s playing days pre-dated play-offs but he has had experience of them working at Stockport County:
“County finished outside the play-offs on goal difference in 2006-07, which was really disappointing,” he recalls.
“However, we came back the following year to beat Rochdale 3-2 at Wembley, so I know what it takes to get teams there – a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck.’
He is a fan of the system, adding: “For some clubs the season used to end in March. I remember one season at Bury, when we were in the top four all season and lost the last game to Wimbledon, who were promoted. We finished fifth and didn’t get anything. It was heart breaking.’
“Now, every club can still be in with a chance at Christmas and it makes for exciting times for players and fans alike. There is something to look forward to.
“The teams below us have games in hand but they’ve got to win them and a lot play each other.
“We still have something to play but we need to put a run together now to end a great season on and off the field in style.”