Tonbridge Angels rise to new high as manager hails season
EVEN the most ambitious Tonbridge Angels fan would have been hard pressed to predict just how well their side would do in their debut Conference South campaign.
To put it simply, the Longmead outfit have been living in dreamland for the past few months, finishing a brilliant ninth ahead of some huge non-league clubs.
Relegation – something the majority of fans were desperate to avoid at the start of the 2011/12 season – has never really been on the agenda. In fact, since Christmas, Angels have been flirting with the play-offs following a fine end-of-season run.
Manager Tommy Warrilow has been delighted with the progress his side have made.
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"Some people have been saying if we had done this and done that – at the start of the season fourth from bottom would have been a success," Warrilow said. "We have learnt as the season has gone on and are a stronger side now. You have got to be realistic. Ninth – we have got to be happy with that. If fans aren't, then they're not living in the real world.
"The majority of supporters are more than happy with how it has gone. Only the Woking game saw our play-off chances go. To keep our season alive that long was brilliant. Look at some of the teams who have finished, not just above us, but below us as well. Some big, big clubs have stayed up by the skin of their teeth."
Angels' debut season in Conference South got off to a dream start with a 4-0 defeat of Maidenhead United. Frannie Collin didn't score that day, but did open his account just a few days later in a 4-1 reverse at Sutton. Collin would carry on banging in the goals and end up the league's top scorer – he got 29 goals in all competitions. Angels' form too, would continue in the same Jekyll and Hyde fashion.
Superb one week, poor the next, it was always going to take time to adjust to a new level. Warrilow wasn't too concerned, even when his side lost 6-3 to Woking and 5-1 to Farnborough in the space of a few days. His side were creating chances, just not taking them.
Angels really hit their stride after Christmas. They brought in Rory Hill, Joe Benjamin and Nathan Koranteng to add a bit of pace and width to the side, while Warrilow also re-signed Chris Piper.
"I wanted to keep pushing the lads on, but the signings did mean I had to release some," Warrilow said. "It wasn't popular, but I had to let Kinchy go (Scott Kinch). I hated it. But I wanted to bring Piper back. I felt I had to do something a bit different and Pipes and (Lee) Browning have been outstanding."
Angels went on a great run, losing two of 15 games after Christmas and began flirting with the play-offs. That was ultimately a step too far, but it didn't stop the fans dreaming and they are sure to want more of the same in 2012/13.
"The fans have been brilliant," Warrilow said. "The supporters are outstanding home and away. The gate has gone up 25 per cent. I'm not knocking the ones that aren't happy either – you need that in a football club. They get the debates going. Who is best? Frannie or Mainy? Ade (Olorunda) or (Mikel) Suarez. That is what football is about.
"The one thing I'd love to see next season is more fans coming into the bar afterwards. Let's get 100-150 people in there. I want them to say 'we were rubbish today, Tom'. We are in there until at least 6pm and I want the fans to know more about the staff and the team. So come and have a drink with us next year."
Hopefully, come the end of next season, fans and players alike will be toasting another successful year.