FOOTBALL clubs are like bluebells these days.

One of the UK’s most beautiful flowers blooms only in the Spring window of April into May.

Around the same time comes the business end of the season for teams looking to seal promotion or, at least, a spot in the play-offs.

Portland United’s players and staff timed their own bloom exceptionally well.

All the work done in the summer to nurture and grow their crop of talent paid off in spades.

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Kyle Critchell’s Blues did weather a slow start, waiting until September for their first league win, before hitting their stride.

A run of eight successive wins in all competitions from September into October signalled to their divisional rivals that this young Portland side was fully in contention for a play-off spot.

The Blues were always in the hunt for a top-five place behind the undisputed big four of eventual champions Moneyfields, AFC Stoneham, Shaftesbury and AFC Portchester.

Backing up a hard winter with good results despite unkind fixtures, right when it mattered in March, Portland delivered with five consecutive away wins.

Their efforts put them within one victory of a play-off spot going into the final two matches.

However, with the schedule piling up and faced with four games in eight days to close out the season, 2-1 home losses against Shaftesbury and play-off rivals Brockenhurst extinguished the Blues’ hopes.

Finishing seventh is not to be sniffed at, though. This was Portland’s highest Wessex League Premier placing since claiming fourth in the 2018/19 campaign.

And it was arguably unexpected.

When Portland sowed the seeds for the 2023/24 term, few could have expected them to bed themselves in and challenge so strongly for the top five.

What they received was a healthy yield of results, in keeping with the sea of bluebells springing up all over Dorset.

After blooming in their narrow window, the bluebells will regenerate themselves over the summer, just as the Blues will as they hope to increase their return next season.

But is Critchell happy with his crop this Spring?

“We’ve got to reflect and look at the alignment from club to management team and all the way through,” he told Echosport.

Dorset Echo: Portland United manager Kyle Critchell led the Blues to seventh place this seasonPortland United manager Kyle Critchell led the Blues to seventh place this season (Image: IDRIS MARTIN)

“There are areas that definitely need to develop, and we know that as a club.

“With regards to statistics and data, we would never have envisaged that we would be fighting for that play-off spot but it’s been testament to all the hard work that’s gone on throughout the club.

“The volunteers, committee members, the coaching staff, the players, we’ve all worked extremely hard and the rewards were that we had a chance of getting into the play-offs.

“We failed at that but those players that want to go on and get better will learn from it, for sure.”

Chairman Matt Lucas echoed Critchell’s thoughts as the Blues kept alive their play-off dreams until the final game of the season.

“We’re all overjoyed,” he said. “It wasn’t in our remit that we would be gunning for the play-offs at all.

“As the season progressed, things got more and more interesting. It was just wonderful to take that hope of making the play-offs into the last game.

“That’s after playing a lot of away games in quick succession as well. Both myself, the committee and the supporters are really proud of how the season has gone.”

Lucas also believes the club’s culture of nurturing players has had a massive effect this season.

He said: “Everybody knows now that we’re a club that likes to give chances to younger players but also to nurture all the players at our club.

“The fact we’ve been doing this now for two or three seasons, I think that’s a reward this season.

“The fact there’s a bond in the club and the players all get on, and it’s been going so well, has had an effect on the results. Our reserves and under-18s also had positive league campaigns as well.

“I’m thoroughly delighted.”

Following a season that has exceeded expectations, have Portland set the bar high for 2024/25?

“You don’t necessarily have to put markers down because the management team will have their markers as high as they possibly can,” Lucas stressed.

“They don’t need me to do that as well. What I’ve said in previous years is that I just look for improvement from season after season.

“We’re not getting carried away. We know what we’re here to do and know what the vision is. We will stick with that and continue.

“We hope that will give us a positive season for all three teams.”

Add to that planned improvements to the Blues’ clubhouse plus new floodlights and you have a club very much building for the future.

Like all good gardeners, the Blues are tending to their crop early and with care to heighten the chances of an extraordinary bloom next April.