Wednesday, 31 July 2013

2013/14 Season Preview - Part Two

2012/13: 8th in Conference

2012/13: 5th in Conference North – “Strength, Battled, Determination
FC Halifax Town
We’ve lost Liam Hogan to Fleetwood Town. Liam played a vital role in the Shaymen’s defence since we signed him from Woodley Sports, but he’s now gone on to full-time football. The best signing I believe, as it stands, is Josh Wilson (from Guiseley). Josh was Guiseley’s top scorer last season and also earned himself a call-up to the England C squad.
Neil Aspin, what a manager! Since Neil signed for us he's done nothing but prolific things for us, as a team and as a club! He’s brought in some of the best players around in the likes of Jamie Vardy, Jonathan Hedge and Lee Gregory. A minority of supporters didn’t think he was the right man for the jobs, but as it stands from last season, I’m sure a few mouths are now well and truly sealed!
The Shay Stadium (also known as ‘The San Shayro’). For fans who haven’t yet been to The Shay, it’s easily Football League standard and the East Stand is now complete to top it off.

This season, the fixture I’m most looking forward to is Lincoln City home and away, simple because my old man is an Imps supporter.
To get promoted: Barnet (Champions) and Grimsby (Play-offs)
To get relegated: Aldershot, Welling, Lincoln and Hyde
Halifaxs finish: Midtable

2012/13: 10th in Conference – “Frustratingly inconsistent
Forest Green Rovers
Losing Jamie Collins could be key this season because whenever he was on the pitch we looked comfortable and in control. He brought a bit of muscle and maturity to our sometimes physically weak and quite eccentric midfield. However, the money of chairman Dale Vince has allowed us to bring in three class players this summer: Danny Wright from Wrexham, as well as Andy Mangan and Anthony Barry both from Fleetwood. Danny Wright will bring a strong, tall target to our quite small strike force, but I believe we will only see the best of him if we play him in the middle of our normal front front. Mangan, a fans’ favourite from a few years back has returned, if he can get firing from start of the season then he could be a major factor in where we finish. Anthony Barry is a small midfielder who is in to replace the loss of Collins so we expect him to do a similar job, to control and command the goings on in the middle of the park.
David Hockaday is loved and hated at our club. He isn't a 'tinkerer' with his formations and consistently plays his favoured 4-3-3 formation. A few tactical errors cost us valuable points last season and that got a select few of our fans wanting his head. Chairman Vince is going to stick by his man like he vowed when he took over as chairman but I believe if we are not in and around the play-offs by Christmas then Hockaday has to go!
The New Lawn has been what we call home since 2006. The best playing surface outside the football league without a doubt thanks to our eco friendly approach and the expertise of our groundsman Stuart who works tirelessly on his pitch. A no red meat law is in force in the ground so if you come on your away day expecting a pasty or a burger then think again, falafel wraps and a red veg burger will be on the menu! Parking within the ground of the stadium is advised otherwise you have a very long, steep walk to go on. The Green Man is our pub on site where both sets of fans can come and have a drink together and to converse with one another. Our ground just has an all round good feel, set on top of a Cotswold hill.
The last two games of the season are ones to look out for. These two games are against the 'giants' and expected promotion contenders Luton Town and Wrexham. If we are still in the race for the title or the play-offs then these games could possibly be some of the biggest in our history.
To get promoted: Wrexham (Champions) and Grimsby (Play-offs)
To get relegated: Gateshead, Welling, Southport and Tamworth
Forest Green Rovers’ finish: Top 10 – whereabouts? I don’t know!

2012/13: 17th in Conference

2012/13: 4th in Conference – “So. Bloody. Close.”
Grimsby Town
Although around a dozen players have left some of those were fringe players (Greg Pearson, Louis Soares, Frankie Artus) who, while giving 100% effort, weren't going to cut it in League Two. Ian Miller and Bradley Wood were surprisingly released when they were two of the best back five in the league regarding goals conceded. That said, some real quality has arrived. Scott Kerr is the midfield general we've needed for years, Scott Neilson is the best winger in non-league and (if he stays fit) will terrorise full backs, while Paddy McLoughlin adds a left foot to our midfield three. Liam Hearn is also fit after missing all but three games last season with a serious ankle ligament injury. We still need a centre half and another defender, but hopes are high this is the best squad we've had in years.
Managers – we have two! And yes – while Paul Hurst is the good cop to Rob Scott's bad cop (the latter is known to throw abuse back at home fans when it's dished out) – we've improved in each of the three campaigns they've had. If they improve on last year's 4th place we'll definitely go up. If we don't go up this season it will be classed as a failure.
To sum up, Blundell Park is old. It's over 100 years old now and is starting to look it. But it's a proper Football League ground with a capacity of 8,000-odd. Some of the Conference grounds are, well, quaint. We're all-seater too which is a rarity at this level. Capacity for the away end is about 1,400. Some sides literally brought 14 fans last season.
Most looking forward to Lincoln away on Boxing Day and home on New Year's Day, because we always seem to take six points against them. Last year's 4-1 win at Sincil Bank was very much a highlight in the season. In terms of footballing clashes Kidderminster played the best football last season and Wrexham and Braintree were good to watch too. Matches with Luton are always tasty as they tried to steal most of our players last season.
To get promoted: Luton (Champions) and Grimsby (Play-offs)
To get relegated: Hyde, Nuneaton, Salisbury and Aldershot
Grimsby’s finish: 3rd – up via the play-offs to put to bed the Wembley disappointment last season

2012/13: 6th in Conference – “Not bad considering
Hereford United
At the end of last season, we only had one player officially signed on. We offered another three players contracts, all of which were turned down. Two out of these three I believe would have been key: Marley Watkins and Sam Clucas. Both had pace down the wings and certainly brought something to the team. Something I feel any team would miss. However, Martin Foyle has made some good signings, a few of which will definitely be key. If I had to pick one out I would say Chris Bush –a  good solid defender, who is not afraid to get forward and has one hell of a throw on him.
Many Hereford fans were predicting a finish of around 10th but to finish 6th was higher than our expectations. Foyle seems to get the best out of his players and the fact players want to play under him shows what a good manager he is. I feel he is one of the best managers in the conference and can certainly take Hereford United forward.
Edgar Street is a traditional football ground which is in need of upgrading. 
To get promoted: Wrexham (Champions) and Forest Green Rovers (Play-offs)

To get relegated: Aldershot, Nuneaton, Alfreton and Welling
Hereford’s finish: I would hope for playoffs but being realistic I will say 6th again

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

2013/14 Season Preview - Part One

2012/13: 24th in League Two – “a complete mess
Aldershot Town
With relegation came administration and that removed any hope of retaining players for next season. However, the players who were out of contract in the summer would have left the club anyway. It came as a surprise to many of us that the majority of players who were in contract for next season would be made ‘redundant’ by the administrators, leaving us with around six players left on our books. Peter Vincenti (Rochdale), Danny Hylton (Rotherham) and Troy Brown (Cheltenham) are three who will be missed. Danny Rose (Oxford) and Sonny Bradley (Portsmouth) were both loanees but nonetheless, will also be missed. All of these players, when fit were ever present. As it stands we are still in administration, so we cannot sign anyone but one player we have kept hold of is midfielder Craig Stanley – who we missed last season through injury.
Andy Scott has been given a mammoth task this summer – to build a squad from scratch from little money with the objective to simply survive the drop this season. This will be no easy task. Many managers would have packed their bags and left by now but Scott has stuck by us in this difficult situation and is deserved credit no matter what happens. In my opinion, he is the right man for the job.
The Recreation Ground – atmosphere and character.
At last we can enjoy a proper local derby… Aldershot vs. Woking! I am also looking forward to visiting Barnet’s new ground.
To get promoted: Forest Green Rovers and Grimsby
To get relegated: Salisbury City, Southport, Welling United and Tamworth.
Aldershot’s finish: 18th

2012/13: 13th in Conference
Alfreton Town

2012/13: 23rd in League Two – “Finally we’re relegated
Our star player Ricky Holmes has unfortunately left for Portsmouth, but with his talent it’s no surprise he’s left us. Luckily we’ve kept our spine of Stack, Stephens, Davids and Hyde. Along with the signing of Welling defender Acheampong and Elliot Johnson breaking through from the academy last season I think we’re going to have a really strong defence. Hopefully Jake Hyde, who has been transfer listed, will stay, because he’s more than capable of bagging us 20+ goals this season. But we do still next half a dozen more players to bulk up the squad in all areas.
I know it’s been spouted a hundred times but if Edgar Davids had been our manager from the start of the season we would have been just off the League Two play-off places. After a string of managers who we’ve been quite frankly terrible under, having Davids in charge is a welcome change.
Even Barnet fans haven’t been to our ground yet! We left Underhill at the end of the season after a decade of nonsense with the council and moved to our newly built 5000-ish seater stadium by our training ground. I believe the seats came from the basketball arena from the Olympics. It’s really nice but won’t have the same charm as Underhill. Hopefully we can make it a fortress for the new season.
Luton Town at home on Boxing Day and away on New Year’s are the highlights given the rivalry between the clubs. Also looking forward to Gateshead to see Liam Hatch again who was with us when we won the Conference in 2005 and whom the fans still adore.
To get promoted: Forest Green Rovers (Champions) and Kidderminster (Play-offs)
To get relegated: Salisbury, Southport, Hyde and Gateshead
Barnet’s finish: 5th

2012/13: 9th in Conference
Braintree Town

2012/13: 14th in Conference – “Not good enough
Cambridge United
The signing of Adam Cunnington will be fantastic to go alongside Tom Elliott up top. Every club is searching for a goal scorer and hopefully he'll help us to be up near the higher places in the league come the end of the season. Greg Taylor and Ryan Donaldson are two players I've admired for a long time too. I'm disappointed with the departure of Tom Shaw to Alfreton and also disappointed with our manager’s decision to release our player of the season Rossi Jarvis.
I'm not convinced at all by our manager. Last season I spent most of it cringing at his dreadful press conferences, pitiful repetitive poor excuses and persistently playing players out of position. But hopefully with his own squad this season, things may be different.
The Abbey is your typical old school lower league ground – not one of those boring four squares, all-seater and no atmosphere grounds. It's got a lot of character. I love it.
Luton is always an exciting one for our supporters, although a few idiotic ones seem to class it as a derby because they signed a few of our players four years ago! From a personal point of view, living in north Wales I will be looking forward to the Wrexham and Chester games to renew rivalries with friends.
To get promoted: Forest Green Rovers (Champions) and Wrexham (Play-offs)
To get relegated: Salisbury, Southport, Hyde and Lincoln
Cambridge’s finish: between 7th and 10th

2012/13: 1st in Conference North – “Exciting, Entertaining, Champions.”
Our biggest loss will be Antoni Sarcevic. He was voted our player of the season, and recently scored on his England C debut. The complete midfielder, but our loss is Fleetwood's gain. Was also disappointed in seeing the likes of Matty McGinn, Wes Baynes and Tony Gray (who all recently joined AFC Telford United) and Dominic Collins (to Hereford) leave, as I feel that they would have been more than comfortable in the Conference Premier; due to work commitments, they couldn't stay. But, as good as players they were, there have been players coming in with a very good pedigree. Jamie Reed is one that stands out, joining his hometown team, and had a good spell at York, when they won promotion to the Football League via the play-offs and won the FA Trophy. Reed was an integral part of that side, and having him at Chester is a huge plus for us. Jason Jarrett ran the show for Halifax against us in our league encounters last season, and Gareth Seddon scored against us in an FA Cup tie last season. Danny Harrison was playing League One football with Tranmere last season too, and brings a wealth of experience. Kevin McIntyre, who played for Chester City during our Conference Winning campaign of 2003/04 is back, and Lee Pugh is a young lad, signed from Clitheroe, but sounds a very exciting, pacey full back.
Without a doubt, Neil Young is the right man for the job. His record at Chester speaks for itself. He was brought in as manager when the club reformed in May 2010, and without a single player on the books. In three seasons, he has managed to guide us to three championship titles, and back where Chester City were when it went pop. He gets the team playing good football, but it's his ability to mould teams together, plus with an astute knowledge of the non league transfer market, he wheels and deals, and always gets the right results. I don't know how he's done it. It's nothing short of remarkable. He's dismantled three squads but has always rebuilt them with quality, and look where it's got us. The same is happening this season, and I'm sure it will all lead to another positive campaign at the Exacta Stadium. Put simply, Neil Young is an absolute genius, and he will guide us to the Football League one day, no doubt about it.
Whilst it doesn't have the "wow" factor, the Exacta is functional and tidy. It's a small ground, but since the club was taken over by the fans, tiny improvements have been made to make the place a bit more colourful. Away fans will be seated in the corner of the Centurion Community Stand (west stand) - for larger away followings the Swansway Peugeot End (south stand) will be opened, again though, this is seated. The Exacta doesn't produce a very good atmosphere, due to the low roofs on the stands. Refreshments are not the best either, I have to be honest. You'll always get a warm welcome though!
Looking most forward to Wrexham – we have our derby back, and after years of them goading us after our decline, we are back on a level playing field. Also looking forward to the games against the likes of Luton, Grimsby, Lincoln and Hereford. Reminders of our encounters during our Football League days. First up is Barnet, and that is one I'm also very much looking forward to: ex Football League team, a brand spanking new ground to visit, and there is the Edgar Davids factor too!
To get promoted: Luton (Champions) and Barnet (Play-offs)
To get relegated: Aldershot, Southport, Welling and Gateshead
Chester’s finish: a respectable 14th

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

My first trip to The Hive – Barnet v Ipswich

The entrance to The Hive
My first trip to The Hive could not have come at a better time – coinciding with a pre-season friendly against Ipswich.
With the Jubilee line down, it was a mission to get to and find – arriving at Edgware on the Northern Line! Having jumped on a bus, the driver didn’t actually know where we were supposed to get off and we were dumped (with an Ipswich fan) outside a church around a mile away. Not the greatest of starts!
Met by the training pitches on arrival
The Hive observations
Finding The Hive was also difficult as it’s not signposted and it isn’t until you’re between the two houses that you’ll see it. Although when you’re on-site, it’s all very impressive – immediately in view of the training pitches, the stadium is in the background.
Main Stand seats
The kick-off was delayed, apparently due to crowd congestion at the turnstiles – we arrived dead on 3pm and there was practically no one to be seen. That said, we were directed to the wrong turnstiles by someone with “help” on their back (not much help) and I heard a lot of other people also complaining about being told wrong instructions (both Barnet and Ipswich fans). After making our way inside, we bought a drink at the kiosk (£1.50 for a bottle of water, by the way) and the service was just as slow as at Underhill – bear in mind this was only a friendly! That said, the food on offer already looks better!
View of the East Stand
I was impressed with the ground, but having already seen pictures on Twitter I knew what to expect. We sat in the Main Stand (I’d definitely choose to sit here throughout the season) which was very smart. Only three rows from the front, we were very close to the pitch but still had a very good view. I’m not a fan of the East Stand, as it looks very warehouse-esque – I don’t like the grey. However, I think terracing either end of the goal is a good idea, although I’m not sure how good the view would be. There are plenty of options though, dependent on what you’re after.
The pitch itself was also in immaculate condition and if it can be upheld like that throughout the campaign, we’ll definitely have an advantage. I suppose compared to what the Underhill pitch looked like at the end of the season (after the snow and other bad weather), anything would look good! The sprinklers are also a great touch – but expect to get sprayed at half time if you’re pitch-side or sitting towards the front.
South Terrace goal

North Terrace goal
The game observations
Ipswich played a fairly strong team, and despite being three divisions higher, I think we matched them. We played it around well, picking up from the way we played at the back end of last season.
Acheampong (from Welling) looks a decent acquisition and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him. His partnership in the centre of defence with Stephens could be deadly!
A position we seem to lack is up front. I think we need another striker. Crawford needs a partner, because despite the wingers getting forward (as well as Johnson and Yiadom at left and right back, respectively), he can’t play up front on his own. If Hyde does leave us, we will also need a replacement for him – someone who can bag 20 goals a season.
There were two trialists playing: Luisma and Roberto – sign both of them! We saw a lot more of Luisma and he looks like a Dani Lopez type player. Your architypal Spaniard really – full of pace and flair, great first touch. Watching him week in, week out would be mesmerising.
It’s going to be a season to shine for the youngsters. Johnson and Gambin looked very good, despite playing against players with more experience and at a higher level. Johnson in particular seems to get better every time I see him; I think he’ll be vital.
Back in the Main Stand where I belong!
At £10.50 a ticket (bought in the BOGOF offer), it was a good day, despite all the earlier disasters. I don’t recommend walking from Edgware station though. I’m hoping come the beginning of the season, everything’s a bit more organised or else there are going to be a lot of disgruntled fans!