Ablett's season to forget at Stockport
Saturday night might be party time for Whigfield but it is when Gary Ablett's upbeat demeanour is most likely to slip, usually after the Stockport manager has returned home and started to pick the bones out of another defeat.
Last Saturday evening must have been the worst of the season, with the Hatters' relegation still raw after their 3-1 defeat against Yeovil that afternoon confirmed the inevitable.
It was a dreadful, gutless performance, a point that Ablett doubtless impressed upon his players as he kept them in the home dressing-room at Edgeley Park for an hour after the final whistle.
What has frustrated the former Liverpool and Everton defender more than anything this season is that he believes he has a squad that could have stayed in the division, but the cold facts of just five wins in 41 games suggest otherwise.
"I would be lying if I said it had been easy to motivate myself and remain cheery," Ablett told me. "We have been competitive in most games and with a bit of luck could be in a better position but there are plenty of teams who could say the same thing."
Stockport won at Wembley in 2008 but fans have had little to cheer this season
I have the deepest sympathy for Ablett, who was appointed last July on the back of what proved to be empty assurances that the club would soon be out of administration and plotting a bright future.
Jim Melrose was on the panel that interviewed the former Liverpool reserve coach and it looked as though the consortium he fronted would soon take over the troubled club.
But summer moved into autumn and then on to winter with no significant developments. Slowly Ablett realised there would not be a radical upturn of circumstance. The Melrose Consortium's bid to take over was finally rejected at the start of April by the Football League.
There was a rueful laugh at the other end of the telephone when I suggested to Ablett that he must be the only man in history to have spent his entire League managerial career in administration.
"The Football Association should consider doing a coaching module on managing clubs in administration because it has been a real eye-opener for me," added Ablett.
The 44-year-old has been described to me by one club insider as a rock who has stood firm despite the ceaseless battering to come his way, and certainly throughout our conversation he constantly tried to focus on the positives.
He was keen to stress that administrator Leonard Curtis had tried to find the finances to provide overnight stops for the first team and that the effort of supporter groups such as Help the Hatters and County Unite had done a fantastic amount of work in bringing the training ground up to scratch.
They had gone out into the community and raised money to provide equipment such as a photocopier and a printer; the sort of things that Ablett took for granted in his previous job at Anfield.
And yet it does not take much digging to grasp the sort of restrictions Ablett has been grappling with. He conducts our interview from his office on his mobile phone because there is no landline or internet connection at the training ground.
He reckons that most of the leased equipment at their gym does not work but a proposal for a cheaper deal that he had found elsewhere was rejected by the administrator because those sorts of decisions have to wait until someone, somewhere finally takes over at the club. Meanwhile, Ablett and his staff have bought heart-rate monitors and recovery drinks out of their own pockets.
Then there is the canteen. Ablett is fulsome in his praise of the lady who cooks breakfast and lunch for his squad. She does so using an oven with a broken door that requires the assistance of a chair to close it.
"She works on an absolute shoestring and does so without complaint," added Ablett. "That is the kind of effort and commitment that we have needed this season and it is one story of many at the club."
On the field the manager has been restricted by League rules regarding clubs in adminstration to a squad of 20. Several of these have been young players who have been asked to shoulder a burden too heavy for their tender years.
"It has come too soon for some of them," said Ablett. "Their education should still be at a development level but they have had to be at the coalface for games where it was vital that we won."
Influential players such as Carl Baker, Michael Raynes, Michael Rose and Oli Johnson left in January. Ablett freshened up his squad with a series of loan signings, but the likes of Matt Sadler, Danny Swailes, Ritchie Partridge and Jabo Ibehre have been unable to alter the course of Stockport's season.
Ablett's upbeat tone returns when he discusses the quality of some of the juniors progressing through the ranks. A good example is Craig Madden's under-18 team, who will take on Macclesfield in the Youth Alliance Area Final on Wednesday after defeating Preston in their semi-final.
Manchester United reserve boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was quick to praise the quality of Stockport's younger players after a recent fixture and Ablett is hopeful that one fringe benefit of this season is that some of his players will be battle hardened beyond their years.
But decisions have to be made on the future of youngsters at the centre of excellence. Parents are asking questions but it is difficult to provide answers given the backdrop of uncertainty.
Ablett has never experienced relegation before and is determined to stay at the club and put things right next season.
Yet the Hatters boss stated recently that he had no idea that whether there would be a club for him to manage when the new campaign kicks off in August. Stockport have been in administration since last April and the situation cannot drift indefinitely. Football League rules do not allow a club to start consecutive seasons in administration.
This has most definitely been a season to forget for beleaguered Stockport fans - and yet in a cruel twist it might be the final one that they have to remember.
There is fresh hope, with the 2015 consortium headed by former County chief executive Sean Connelly and fans' representative David Schofield looking like a serious proposition.
They appear to be the only serious hope for Stockport's survival - but if they are successful it might mean the end for Ablett. There is speculation that the consortium would appoint former manager and firm fans' favourite Jim Gannon, who recently left Peterborough.
That would be a shame because Ablett, who does not have a contract at the club, has been managing with one arm tied behind his back.
Surely he deserves the opportunity to show how good - or bad - he is at managing Stockport is something approaching normal circumstances?