There was not a lot of love around for Leamington boss Paul Holleran on Valentine’s Day.
Nine points adrift of the play-offs having slid down the table to 11th, Brakes had just produced a gutless performance at home to Hitchin, failing to register a shot on target.
A break-up looked on the cards.
However, just a day later, a 2-1 smash-and-grab raid at Hungerford showed there might just be a relationship worth saving.
Seventeen games and just two defeats later, Holleran’s Brakes stand on the verge of securing their place in the play-offs.
A point at home to Hungerford Town tomorrow would guarantee a top-five finish irrespective of results elsewhere and put Leamington on the brink of a first-time return to the Conference North.
And, while those dark winter days still carry their scars, Holleran knows a coveted play-off berth will go a long way to regaining the fans’ affections.
“Going into the last game of the season, if it’s in your own hands you take it,” said Holleran.
“After last year’s relegation and rebuilding, I’m pleased with the position we’re in.
“Following the game at home to Hitchin we have responded well.
“We’ll be positive (against Hungerford) and try to win the game.
“It’s going to be be exciting.
“It’s a bit like the quarter-final of the play-offs. Get a result and we carry on.
“And we’ll be approaching the game like that.”
Hungerford come into the fixture on the back of five straight wins and with their play-off spot confirmed.
And, with the semi-finals scheduled for midweek, it could be seen as the perfect opportunity for them to rest one or two key players.
However, Holleran believes their visitors will be at full strength, with the carrot of home advantage to play for.
“For Hungerford, in their position, they’ll want to win the game to guarantee a home tie in the play-offs.
“I don’t think there will be a scenario where they rest players.”
He added: “They are a good side with a good experienced players.
“It’s actually where we started to turn the corner and in the next seven to ten days everything could be sorted.
“It’s the start of the really tough games which could all hinge on the blow of a whistle or the bounce of the ball.
“Saturday should be a good day with big numbers turning up and hopefully we’ll put in a good performance for them.”
Despite a spot in the play-offs being the main focus of attention for many clubs in the run-in, any sense of achievement at reaching them could quickly turn to despair next week when the semi-finals take place.
And, while there is still a possibility of Leamington securing a home leg in the four-team shootout, Holleran believes home and away ties are the way forward, if only to prolong the excitement.
“At this level it should be two-legged.
“Whichever teams meet in the semi-finals would get big crowds and the fans enjoy the home games.
“You’ve got two or three points between five or six teams at the top of the table. It makes Saturday exciting.
“Without the play-offs, some divisions’ seasons would have been over weeks ago.
“So it works from that point of view.
“It’s when the second-placed club is 15 points clear that it doesn’t.”
No talk of play-offs is complete without the mention of momentum and while Hungerford’s five-game winning sequence demands respect, Leamington’s resurgence will make them a team to be feared.
“The only time we have come unstuck (since Histon) is away from home on a Tuesday night,” said Holleran.
“Last weekend it was good to get Hoody and (James) Mace back involved.
“After missing games, players are always a bit fresher when they come back.
“Callum Gittings will play a part as well and we will be stronger than we have been for a bit.
“We’ve had to manage the injury situation with, off the top of my head, Hoody, Tank, Connor Gudger, Joe Magunda and James Fry out long-term.
“But apart from those two Tuesday night games we’ve been where we need to be.
“And the beauty of this week is that we have been able to put our feet up and give the players a rest.
“We’ll go into Saturday in a better condition than we were last Saturday with the players refreshed and ready to go.”
n Connor Gudger and Daniel Dubidat have both recovered from knocks picked up at Cirencester, while Callum Gittings returns to the squad after suspension.