WHEN Louis Almond scored a last-minute winner for Chorley in a 3-2 win over Bradford (Park Avenue) on the final day of the 2018/19 National League North season, it looked like being a devastating blow.

But big rivals York City did Mark Bower’s men a massive favour, beating AFC Telford United 1-0 to ensure the Horsfall side snuck into the play-offs anyway.

It was Avenue’s second successive attempt at the end of season lottery, and although their play-off journey ended quickly in 2018/19 with a 1-0 defeat at Spennymoor Town, it was another season of over-achievement.

And then the next 18 months happened.

To widespread astonishment, Bower left the club by mutual consent on May 21, and there were whispers of fans growing discontented over some of the decisions behind the scenes.

Damien Irvine had come in as CEO in October 2018 as part of a partnership with Bradford Bulls.

His off-field contacts, sponsorship deals and financial knowledge came in useful, with Avenue owner Gareth Roberts candidly admitting that he could no longer fund the heavy losses the club were making each year by himself.

But with the Australian Irvine trying to implement a comprehensive restructure, did Avenue try and do too much, too soon?

Out went Bower and in came former City star Garry Thompson, part of the 2012/13 history-makers squad.

But with several of Avenue’s key men departing, including Nicky Clee, Luca Havern and Mark Ross, the club went into the new campaign with a radically different squad.

Many of the new signings were questioned, both for their age and suitability, and while Thompson was a well-respected player, he had no managerial experience to speak of.

On July 26, 2019, my T&A colleague Brad Deas produced an in-depth feature on Avenue, in which he spoke to Irvine and Thompson.

The former insisted that although the sale of key players, including Conor Branson, was regrettable, a financially-troubled Avenue had to treat them as assets, putting the future of the club first.

But then, four days after the article was published, Irvine left his role with immediate effect.

It was nightmare timing for Thompson, whose first competitive game in charge was that weekend at Curzon Ashton.

Avenue were whacked 5-0, and then suffered exactly the same fate in a humiliating derby defeat to Guiseley.

Thompson was sacked less than 24 hours later.

But the rot did not stop there. Avenue only took one point from their next three games, and at the end of September, captain Ryan Cresswell was hooked at half-time in the dreadful 8-0 defeat at Brackley Town, never to play for the club again.

In an explosive interview with my T&A colleague Rowan Newman last June, Cresswell said: “It was a very bad start in regards to Garry Thompson having his hands behind his back and his feet tied together to assemble a squad. I ended up going to Bradford for next to nothing.

“The club had ambitions but, financially, didn’t want to back them. They lost their players, the owner pulled the budget and said to Garry, ‘sign a squad with this much money’. He could not afford any experience, there was only me.”

Marcus Law was in charge for just 10 games post-Thompson, before the interim boss departed, to be replaced by returning hero Bower.

He won his first game, 3-2 at home to Hereford, but though old favourites like Clee and Oli Johnson came back, the rest of the season proved a slog.

After losing 2-0 to Curzon on March 14, 2020, Bower’s men were 13 points from safety, with a -55 goal difference.

But all sport in the country stopped days later due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Avenue were handed a remarkable lifeline, with the season declared null and void, and an unthinkable relegation to the Northern Premier League avoided.

Last season was very stop start, but before it was curtailed, Avenue won four and drew six of their 16 games to finish in a respectable 15th place.

While the finances have been steadied somewhat, thanks to the work of the likes of Irvine and current director of football Martin Knight, Avenue did not come out of the pandemic totally scot-free, with the club infuriated to be fined for not fulfilling three league fixtures last season, despite arguing that playing the games was not financially viable with the country back in lockdown.

This season has seen them deal with a poor start, and a failed appeal to be reinstated into the FA Cup after victorious opponents Gateshead fielded an ineligible player.

But they have picked up seven points from their last three home games to move up to 17th in the 22-team National League North, and given the last two-and-a-half years, Avenue can be grateful if a few bad results are the worst of their issues.