But for five minutes in the Cantilever Park sun, Paul Carden and Warrington Town would already be in National League North.
In any other season, as play-off champions, the Yellows would have earned promotion.
The re-structure of the football pyramid meant that instead, for one year only in 2019, a “super play-off” would take place.
Warrington were just five minutes away from beating King’s Lynn Town, but conceded a late penalty and then went down in extra time.
King’s Lynn would go on to earn a second successive promotion to the National League, and the pandemic has meant no relegation for two seasons anyway; while even this year, only one will go down.
The disruption caused by the pandemic means that Carden has managed just two full seasons in his five years in charge – and for his career, it was perhaps time to take the step up.
He has a more than realistic chance of becoming a full-time manager, and just as he encourages players with the same ambitions and prospects, it was only right that Warrington Town didn’t stand in the way of his own progress.
There has, as yet, been no way to recover from the hangover from more than two years ago, and the departure of Carden now makes it ever the more painful memory.
One look at the facilities at AFC Telford United is enough to show you just why it was a step that Carden had to take now in his career.
While Warrington clearly has huge potential as a football town, it is still punching above its weight in the Northern Premier League.
Carden has been able to take a club that probably sits mid-table in terms of stature, fanbase and budget, and consistently challenge at the top of the table.
He has raised expectations perhaps beyond what’s sustainable, and that remains a challenge for the Yellows not only for the rest of this season, but in future too.
The play-offs are very much still a realistic target for this season, though the big budgets of South Shields and Buxton will have them as heavy favourites; without even taking in to consideration the excellent form of Matlock Town and Bamber Bridge.
On a personal level, Carden has always been more than accommodating and helpful when it came to media duties and interviews.
When we both arrived at the ground early for a midweek match earlier this season, he was probably unaware that he was the first person I had seen since a pretty traumatic day at Alder Hey Hospital with my son. I’ll be forever grateful for him listening to me wittering on for a short period and helping me to be able to make sense in my own head what was going on.
It’s been a pleasure to hear some of his stories from his playing career, including when he inadvertently starred on TV as part of the Big Ron Manager series while playing for Peterborough.
Likewise, learning about his approach and attitude to football and relationships has been eye-opening and fascinating.
His man management, professionalism and principles are best reflected in how he has consistently been able to attract players of a certain calibre to Cantilever Park.
No doubt several of those players will thank Carden for their development, not least Ben Garrity, who became the first Warrington player in more than two decades to earn a move to the Football League where he continues to flourish.
The play-off final win at South Shields will probably stand out as Carden’s finest hour, though the FA Trophy run in the previous season is also worth noting.
The Yellows consistently performed against teams from higher divisions, with notable wins over Ebbsfleet and Tamworth, and they were unfortunate in defeat at Wealdstone.
The FA Cup fourth qualifying round performance at home to FC Halifax Town in 2018 was arguably the finest I’ve seen by the club, and though the replay didn’t get the result we all wanted, it was still an occasion for the fans that travelled to The Shay.
A solid defence has always been the key component to success, and the run of clean sheets at the start of 2018/19 was extraordinary.
When things haven’t quite been going as well as he would have liked, returning to those solid foundations has always been a fall back – and that’s been evident in the Yellows’ recent unbeaten run too.
Carden’s final signing as boss, the return of striker Jamie McDonald, may prove to be a parting gift that helps address any issues at the other end.
Taking interim charge will be assistant Mark Beesley, and it would seem logical that he would get the chance to take it to the end of the season at least – especially if the squad of players remain dedicated to the Yellows cause.
An agreement is in place that prevents Carden coming back for players to take to Telford this season, though there may be concerns that his moving on prompts some players to look at their options elsewhere.
Handing the job to Beesley may minimise any prospect of overhaul or breaking up a squad that has the components to push for promotion.