Craig Elliott is gone, but leaves Boston United in a far stronger position than when he arrived - opinion

A look back at the four-year reign of the Pilgrims manager
Craig Elliott applauds fans in his final game as manager. Photo: Oliver AtkinCraig Elliott applauds fans in his final game as manager. Photo: Oliver Atkin
Craig Elliott applauds fans in his final game as manager. Photo: Oliver Atkin

Craig Elliott arrived at Boston United to a mixture of excitement and question marks.

Chairman David Newton had appointed a manager with three promotions on his CV, having guided Shaw Lane up the leagues. But he was also a man who very few on the York Street terraces knew much about.

In the four years and eight weeks since the 43-year-old took charge of his first and final games with the Pilgrims, United fans have a much clearer opinion of the man, and manager.

While results have been far from ideal in recent weeks - three straight home defeats in the league - Elliott can depart with his head held high, knowing he left the club in a far healthier position than when he arrived - and that he did it very much his way.

It was the Pontefact lad who took a punt on saving a Pilgrims side in freefall. He didn't just save them, he guided them from second bottom of the National League North to within a shout of a play-off spot on the final day of the season.

It was the former Glasshoughton Welfare and Ossett boss who led the Pilgrims to the second round of the FA Cup - that fantastic draw at League One Rochdale and replay, screened live on BT Sport, York Street's farewell big game in front of more than 4,000 fans.

It was the former Harrogate Town player who led Boston to a third place finish in 2019-20, the club's joint highest ever finish in this division.

But while Jason Lee and Lee Canoville and also Dennis Greene suffered play-off semi-final defeats, Elliott went one better, missing out on promotion following a 1-0 defeat to Altrincham in front of a Covid-emptied stadium.

Bizarrely, had it not been for high-profile errors in those two high-profile matches, Elliott's legacy may have taken a very different turn.

But it wasn't just on the pitch that Elliott deserves credit. Perhaps off it he made more of a mark.

The gut punches have come thick and fast in his tenure. But be it the Covid crisis, betting bans, marquee signings quitting one game in, that abandonment at Darlington, a season being made null and void, overseeing the players' transition from York Street to Pilgrim Way, heartbreaking defeats and forced withdrawals from the FA Cup and enforced rearranging in the FA Trophy, he has carried himself and the club in the correct manner, playing his part in Boston United regaining some of the good will and good name it lost following its exit from the Football League. The respect he regularly receives from opposition managers tells its own story, as does the bridges that have been built with many pro clubs, none more so than Doncaster Rovers.

And when West Bridgford player Dylan Rich tragically passed away after collapsing on the pitch in his side's FA Youth Cup contest against Boston's under 18s, Elliott offered words of encouragement and sympathy to the young charges, even as it brought back the memories of watching his Shaw Lane defender Dan Wilkinson suffer the same awful fate in front of his own eyes.

Elliott always came across as human. Perhaps that played a part in his departure?

Football, from the top of the pyramid to the bottom, has its fair share of snake oil salesmen and survivalists. Those who are quick to pass the buck, blame an official or opponent and deflect blame from themselves by giving the supporters a perceived enemy and a chance to feel hard done by.

Elliott's honesty, although not to be knocked, perhaps put a target on his own back at times. He was also willing to defend himself and players with occasional spiky responses in post-match interviews if he felt the supporters were offering an unfair judgment. I never knew him to duck a question too, no matter how testing.

The noises coming from the Town End during Sunday's defeat to Alfreton suggested plenty in the crowd had had enough. However, the resentment - it's fair to say - was more about recent results and performances. Some suggested mid-season changes may reflect the 2018-19 campaign where a rebuild saw the club finish in 11th.

The new stadium and an exciting squad - plus two previous promising seasons - brought high levels of expectancy this term.

Elliott departs with Boston out of sorts but still in the play-offs and FA Trophy. Newton is not a trigger happy chairman, so the timing of the announcement - three straight games away from the dissenting crowd at the Jakemans Community Stadium including the Trophy tie at Morpeth - will raise eyebrows.

But Newton is also a chairman keen to keep the supporters in the know and more news will undoubtedly filter out in the coming days.

Elliott's first game was a defeat at Harrogate. His last a defeat at home to Alfreton.

But there were plenty of good times in between. And, let's be fair, a few forgettable games too.

Elliott leaves Boston having overseen 161 games, including 78 wins, 31 draws and 52 defeats. His side's have brought you 270 goals, and conceded 207. That's a win rate of 48.4% and a points per game average of 1.62.

Only eight managers have taken charge of more games yet, oddly, Elliott only had one full season at the helm. He arrived mid-campaign in 2017-18 and took charge for the full term the following season. Then came Covid, PPG followed by null and void. This season, of course, the manger leaves with less than half the league games played.

As he departs his role at the JCS, there has been mixed reaction from the fans. But after the dust settles I'm sure it's fair to say Craig Elliott will - and deservedly - be remembered fondly.

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