NOBODY could have seen Dorchester’s season turn out like this.

From the rife optimism and buoyancy shown by then boss Callum Brooks in pre-season to a miraculous intervention from the FA to save the Magpies from relegation.

In the end, it took a worldwide coronavirus pandemic to halt Dorchester’s seemingly inescapable slide towards the drop.

When play in the BetVictor Southern Premier South halted due to the worsening crisis, the Magpies were still 11 points off safety with 10 games to play.

Dorchester’s hierarchy were confident of avoiding relegation on the pitch, although a challenging run-in featuring clashes against Poole, Chesham and Taunton suggested a tougher task at hand.

And all this after the campaign began with a 1-0 win over Beaconsfield Town, Tom Blair’s solitary strike proving just enough.

However, four consecutive defeats followed to Truro, Salisbury, Blackfield & Langley and Hartley Wintney – somewhat bursting the bubble of boss Brooks.

The former Hamworthy manager had engineered a notable late run of form in the previous campaign to steer the Magpies clear of relegation danger.

Tellingly, though, the highs of a 6-0 win over Tiverton would prove too lofty to match.

Two wins followed the quartet of league defeats as Dorchester beat Evesham 2-0 to progress in the FA Cup qualifying rounds, going on to see off Hendon 3-1 courtesy of a Jack Hoey hat-trick.

The Magpies would go on to crash out of the FA Cup to Blackfield and only taste league victory again in mid-October – one week after a chilling 6-0 loss at Weston-super-Mare.

Embarrassment at the Seagulls was the beginning of the end for Brooks as respective exits to Salisbury and Frome in the FA Trophy and League Cup followed.

Somehow, gloom descended on Dorchester against Walton Casuals as the hosts, leading 1-0, were boosted by the dismissal of visiting goalkeeper Alex Tokarczyk.

However, sloppy play from the Magpies allowed Casuals to sneak 2-1 ahead – a stoppage-time leveller from Neil Martin salvaging a point which felt like a loss.

Dorchester then managed to score three times at leaders Chesham, only to concede another six. These were dark days for the uber-positive Brooks.

A 7-0 win over former club Hamworthy in the Dorset Senior Cup provided some respite until a dreadful 3-0 home loss to Met Police.

Hours after full-time, Brooks resigned from his post.

Vacating the managerial hotseat posed Dorchester an awkward recruitment problem ahead of the busy festive fixture list.

First-team coach Jody Rivers stayed on and was heartbroken when Gosport scored in the 95th minute to earn a 4-4 draw in his opening game.

Tiverton then won 5-1 at the Clayson before another late concession saw Poole nick a 1-0 win.

Dorchester were 2-0 up against Blackfield & Langley on New Year’s Day before the Watersiders came back to draw 2-2 – Blair sent off for the third time in the season to earn a seven-game ban.

Step forward new manager Leigh Robinson and his sidekick Robbie Herrera, two highly-rated figures.

Robinson, fresh from a spell at Truro, and Herrera, a former Fulham and QPR right-back, seemed astute appointments.

Yet the duo would also find luck hard to come by as their first match ended in a poor 3-0 loss at relegation rivals Beaconsfield.

Sitting bottom of the league, slight breathing space was given in the Dorset Senior Cup as a 4-1 win over Wimborne set up a Ridgeway derby against old enemies Weymouth in the final.

However, seven straight losses in the league flooded in as relegation began to loom large.

With Robinson and Herrera insisting performances were improving – stronger defence at the heart of such belief – the cup final gave them proof.

Tom Bath, scorer of 20 goals this season, put the Magpies 1-0 up before Weymouth rapidly went 2-1 ahead. A swerving Blair volley then levelled at 2-2 in a thrilling encounter.

As Dorchester pushed for a winner on home ground, Weymouth winger Abdulai Baggie headed in for 3-2 before Josh Wakefield finished off a clinical counter.

Although the 4-2 defeat had been bitterly disappointing, Robinson drew positives which were extracted for good when a long-awaited victory came in the league.

Martin’s free-kick was diverted home by Wimborne’s James Stokoe in the second minute and Dorchester held on for their first league win in 19 games.

Still, a chasm remained to Beaconsfield when fears over the virus stopped play, Dorchester having used a staggering 44 players in the campaign.

We will never know if Dorchester could have escaped the drop on their own merit, but Robinson and Herrera can now build for a better future.


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