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2005/06 Season Review

By Matt Lawton
June 29 2006

Itís never simple for Leigh RMI. Trials and tribulations have almost become the norm at Hilton Park, and the 2005/06 season proved to be no exception, when a promising start disintegrated in to a desperate battle to beat relegation. As always, was there to follow all the highs and lows. A torrid 2004/2005 season saw RMI relegated well before the end of the season, and their hopes of a quick return to the Conference National were dealt a huge blow early in the pre-season programme when manager Steve Bleasdale left the club to become assistant manager to Mark Wright at Football League side Peterborough United. For the umpteenth time in recent years, RMI had to search for a new manager, eventually settling, after much speculation, for former Trafford boss Andy Nelson, whoís immediate task was to set about improving the squad. The club had a major boost in itís finances with a friendly at home to rebel club FC United of Manchester, with more than 2,500 people witnessing a 0-0 draw against the side that were to run away with the North West Counties Division Two title.

A poll run by this website before the start of the season illustrated that a large percentage of the RMI support were looking for the team to be challenging for a spot in the play-offs, something that didnít materialise, although it looked a possibility after a bright start to the season that saw a 1-0 home defeat at home to Droylsden sandwiched by a win 2-1 at Redditch on the opening day and a dramatic 2-1 home victory over Stalybridge.

Although early season form was a little patchy, with a 3-1 defeat followed by a 1-0 victory at home to Hinckley, hopes were still high that RMI could keep in touch with those at the top of the table.

A 2-1 defeat at Gainsborough was followed by a thrilling 4-4 draw at struggling Vauxhall Motors, with the attacking play superb, yet both defences had a nightmare. RMI continued to struggle for a victory in the league, picking up just one point from a possible six with home games against Hednesford and Workington, with a 0-0 draw and 1-0 loss being the results. Confidence was boosted though with a 3-1 victory at Chester-le-Street in the Second Qualifying Round of the FA Cup, though dreams of a decent cup run were dashed in the next round with a 2-1 defeat in a replay at fellow Conference North side Gainsborough. The disappointment of that defeated affected RMIís league form as they picked up only one point in the next five games with only a 1-1 draw at Alfreton to show for their efforts after being thrashed 4-0 and 4-1 at Kettering and Moor Green respectively.

November did see a terrific encounter at local rivals Hyde United, with RMI clawing back a two goal deficit to snatch a point from a 3-3 draw, while progress in the Lancashire Marsden Trophy was secured with a routine 1-0 home victory over Colne.

December got off to an awful start as a 4-1 humbling at home to Stafford ended interest in the FA Trophy, before RMI lost on penalties at home to Unibond League side Marine in the Second Round of the Marsden Trophy, meaning RMI now only had the league to concentrate on as the New Year approached.

After the disappointment in the cup competitions, league form took a huge upturn, though a terrific performance at eventual champions Northwich ended only in a 1-0 defeat. RMI got their rewards in the upcoming games though when high-flying Harrogate were defeated 3-1 on Boxing Day in a game that featured the undoubted goal of the season from Chris Simm after he dribbled virtually the whole length of the field to secure the RMI victory. That morale boosting victory was quickly followed with another home victory, this time a 2-1 win over Hucknall. Though this was followed by a 3-0 New Year defeat at Harrogate, the Leythers were quickly back on track with a 2-1 victory over Redditch that lifted RMI away from the foot of the table, completing the Ďdoubleí over the Worcestershire side in the process.

After the euphoria of such an improvement in form, it came as a crushing blow to the RMI faithful that the next three games brought three defeats, with three goals scored but a whopping twelve goals conceded during that period, including crushing defeats at local rivals Stalybridge and Droylsden.

Such was RMIís inconsistency during the course of the season, that only they could lose 6-1 at Stalybridge on the Saturday, only to beat promotion-chasing Nuneaton 1-0 at Hilton Park on the following Tuesday!

As with previous victories, the Nuneaton game signalled a slight improvement in form, with two successive draws against Barrow and Workington being followed by a terrific 0-0 draw away to championship-chasing Stafford, although this was preceded by defeats to Kettering and Worcester.

RMI continued to grab points with stalemates against Alfreton and Vauxhall Motors in February, but as the games began to ran out, the need for the full three points became more and more important by the week. Three defeats in the next five games saw RMI plunged further in to the relegation mire, before they threw themselves a lifeline with a 3-1 victory at Hednesford in a rearranged encounter.

However, RMI picked up only two points from the next available twelve, and a crushing 5-1 defeat at Hinckley looked to have condemned RMI to their second successive relegation.

Hope sprung eternal though as RMI grabbed an almighty point from their next game with a 2-2 draw at Hucknall.

This meant that RMI were in the driving seat going in to the final day of the season, with the second relegation spot being between themselves and Redditch. The drama was heightened just days before the seasonís climax when RMI were controversially docked a point for fielding an ineligible player in the 3-3 draw Worksop in March, with goalkeeper John Lamb failing to gain sufficient clearance to play in the game following a loan spell with Bradford Park Avenue.

This meant that RMI had to defeat Northwich at Hilton Park in the final game of the season, while hoping that Barrow could do them a favour and return victorious from Redditch.

In front of RMIís biggest league crowd of the season, Andy Nelsonís side kept their side of the bargain with a thrilling 2-1 victory over the champions, with a fantastic atmosphere providing the backdrop for a dramatic day. Safety was ours it seemed, only for news to painstakingly come through that Barrow had been defeated 2-1 by Redditch and RMI were relegated.

However, following Canvey Islandís resignation from the Conference National, circumstances have decreed that RMI will in fact remain in the Conference North division, meaning outside circumstances have now saved the club from relegation in two of the past three seasons.

A season of true highs and lows, with more than a few dramatic twists along the way. The performance at Stafford was unbelievably resolute, while the victories over Nuneaton and Northwich will live long in the memory, as will the goal scored by Chris Simm in the victory over Harrogate Ė a true footballing work of art.

Roll on next season!

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