COMMENT – Big challenge ahead for Steelmen after a doomed campaign

It proved to be a season of struggle for Corby Town and manager Tommy Wright as they were relegated from the Vanarama National League North
It proved to be a season of struggle for Corby Town and manager Tommy Wright as they were relegated from the Vanarama National League North

If you ever wanted to show someone how quickly things can change in the space of a year in football then, unfortunately, Corby Town would be a good example.

Cast your minds back 365 days or so and you arrive at a time when things were very rosy indeed at Steel Park.

Greg Mills' reaction after missing a penalty against Hednesford Town summed up the general mood at Steel Park during a tough campaign

Greg Mills' reaction after missing a penalty against Hednesford Town summed up the general mood at Steel Park during a tough campaign

Tommy Wright’s first full season brought with it a stunning Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division title success, secured on that famous day down at Poole.

Fast forward a year and the Steelmen find themselves back where they were after what proved to be a torrid campaign in the Vanarama National League North.

It proved to be a step up into the unknown.

I have watched a lot of football at ‘Conference North’ level in the past and, as the season progressed, even I was surprised and impressed by how much the standard has improved while our senior non-League clubs have been battling it out at lower levels.

By the time Christmas rolled around, it was fairly clear that the Steelmen were facing a fight against the drop. It was, of course, a fight they failed to win.

But it’s easy to forget that things started so well. Wright looked to have thrown together a squad that looked capable of giving it a real go in the division and a fine six-match unbeaten run at the start of the campaign suggested they were going to have few problems adjusting to a higher level.

However, once that first month was done, things soon unravelled.

A run that yielded just one point from a possible 27 over a two-month stretch, which also included a shock FA Cup exit at the hands of Rushall Olympic, turned things on their head.

Wright reacted by making changes to his squad and while there was a brief recovery towards the end of the year, the Steelmen found themselves with an uphill battle.

Hopes were still high after a 2-1 success at Worcester City and then a 2-0 home win over Tamworth in January and February.

But that victory over the Lambs on February 13 would prove to be Corby’s last as they were relegated with something of a whimper.

To say it was a tough season would be something of an understatement.

In the space of a couple of years, Wright has tasted the very best and very worst that football management can offer.

It’s something every manager has to go through.

And yet, he never took the easy option of passing the buck. Always fronting up after matches, always honest and always willing to carry the responsibility on his broad shoulders. It’s a sign of a man.

Only once did you get the feeling he was ready to crumble and that came after a 3-0 defeat at AFC Telford United but lasted just a couple of days, you got the feeling he knew what fate awaited his team after that loss.

But while Wright was unquestionably frustrated with the path his team’s season took, the support from the club’s board and fans (attendances remained very healthy) never really waivered.

While many fanbases would have reacted with venom, a sense of perspective remained on the terraces at Steel Park.

Indeed, no-one could quite believe that Corby had found themselves at the level so quickly after few had expected the brilliant title success last year.

Lessons will have been learned both on and off the pitch but now comes, perhaps, the even tougher task of rebuilding and finding a way of bouncing back at the first attempt.

Wright continues to lead the club’s academy, which would appear to be flourishing, and it would seem a change of approach to the first-team will come during the summer with them training full-time in line with the youngsters.

There’s a chance the Steelmen will be in new surroundings of the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League, which in itself presents a new challenge.

But a challenge is something Wright revels in.

He will rebuild and you can be sure he will be putting pressure on himself to ensure that in a year’s time, this season’s struggle will be nothing more than a distant memory.