Saturday, 6 August 2016

Thoughts for the 2016/17 Season

Having floated around the Evo Stik and Ncel League's for a fair few years, traveling around Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, visiting some lovely clubs, taking in some spectacular scenery, meeting up with old acquaintances and making many new friends along the way; you`d think it would be easy as pie to make a prediction for who will be in the running for the top honours come next May.... but as we all know, it's a crazy old game is this football.!!

I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to the beloved game but accept you either have to have an unreserved pot of cash, drop onto a very good crop of talented and committed youngsters or you have to just 'win ugly', to achieve the highest accolades.

Some clubs are prepared to chuck money about like Confetti to try and reach the next level, where some prefer to "do what is right for the club", so to speak; taking things as, or when they come. For me, neither way is right or wrong, as long as the interested parties are prepared to accept the pitfalls of their chosen path.

So, here we go. Based on what I've seen in recent seasons, and...not being totally dismissive of the stuff I haven't seen, here's my predictions for the upcoming season.

Northern Premier League

Blyth Spartans I'm not even going to unconvince myself that after such a supreme spell of dominance that they will make a repeat performance of last season seeing the title whipped from under their noses by Darlington, compounded even further by seeing Salford go up by virtue of the play-offs.

Having watched Ashton United reach their third consecutive play-off spot, surely yet ironically, the club with the smallest attendances in the league has found a formula which simply works, and by my reckoning and the law of averages, it's simply got to happen one day for them.

For some reason I think Rushall Olympic are due a resurgence, the club is steadily getting over the mass exodus of management and players to Stafford Rangers and should be getting back on an even keel sooner or later. Stourbridge  are well capable at mincing it out over the course of a season and should be up there again.

Of the Newbies, The afore mentioned Stafford Rangers, looked a robust and physical outfit, which should serve them well at the next level. Warrington had a stormer of a season in Division 1 North, losing only two games and drawing one so their confidence about the upcoming season should be high. 

Evo-Stik Division 1 South

Taking all things into account, it's hard not to see Shaw Lane being there or there abouts again. Craig Woods determination to reach the next level is relentless, and with the money to do it, surely it's only a matter of time before the Club reach Step 3.

Stocksbridge Park Steels, Chris Hilton's 'Young Guns' just seemed to go from strength to strength as last season progressed, learning the league and adapting a style of play which was very easy on the eye. Dave Frecklington had an excellent campaign last season with Lincoln United, and if the club have managed to retain most of that squad they shouldn`t be too far off again come May.

Dave Frecklington has made the switch to Spalding Town for the upcoming season, and despite mixed opinions during the PSF`s, Frecks always seems to produce very competitive we will have to wait and see, but I wouldn`t be surprised to see them in the mix. 

With an array of newbies this season, Witton Albion and Northwich Victoria are the two sides who I would imagine are likely to be causing an upset.

Ncel Premier Division

The scourge of the North, a bottle-neck of a league with just one promotion spot which represents the only pathway to Step 4 for many sides in our area, countless hundreds of thousands of pounds have been chucked at the game in this league with all involved knowing their will only be one benefactor for such investment come May.

Following on from previous failed attempts to escape it, Handsworth Parramore seems to be the club on everyone`s tongues again; and although I subscribe to what people are saying; if, they can get off to a better start than they did last season, I really fancy Cleethorpes Town this season.

A series of unexpected defeats at the start of last season cost them dearly, but they finished the season in style, totally outplaying Tadcaster Albion in the final of the League Cup; a fine young side who have a great sense of togetherness, they work hard for each other as a unit and have an abundance of candidates capable of scoring goals.

Teams to run these two close are; despite Pete Smurthwaite's reluctance to take the club back up to Step 4.... Bridlington Town are always in and around and I can`t see this season being any different. After a speight of postponements last winter Liversedge made a profound surge up the table, so it will be interesting to see if they can carry that form into the new season. Afc Mansfield might be a surprise contender, speaking to Rudy Funk a couple of weeks ago, he was oozing confidence and full of expectation, having secured some decent signings recently.

Ncel Division 1

Probably the best source of entertainment for me last season, nine decent sides thrashing it out, two for automatic promotion and four battling it out in the newly introduced play-offs made for some fine tussles last season.
After a mare of a season last year, I just can`t see Brigg Town languishing at this level for long given both clubs history, so I`m putting them up for automatic promotion spot with Afc Emley, Hallam, Penistone or Knaresborough battling for promotion through the play-offs. 

Newly promoted, Bradford based side Campion are an unknown entity to me but they do come with a recommendation from those in the know, whilst Ollerton Town, who have worked their socks off, both on and of the field to achieve Step 6 status and seem to have assembled a decent squad with an array of young local lads with a few who have played at an higher level, so it will be interesting to see how these two sides fare at the next level.

Being usually a bit scepticle of of PSF results, I must admit there have been a series of results, which for me might give reason for concern for a few clubs, but I could be wrong....we`ll see!!

Good Luck to all, and hopefully there will be another great season is in store for all involved.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Staveley Mw 4 -2 Albion Sports Fc - Ncel Premier Division

Another decent Ncel Prem encounter, ignore the score-line...this game was a lot closer than the result would lead you to believe and could probably have been a different `Kettle of Fish` if Sports No2...Kamran Basi hadn`t picked himself a straight red for an alleged off the ball stamping incident early on in the first half.

(I`ll call it alleged because I didn`t see it, but those on the other side and the Lino who flagged the incident obviously saw something to warrant his dismissal).

Staveley got off to a flyer of a start, Kurtis Morley`s 4th minute penalty opened the scoring, only for Ferdinand Annor to score a beauty for the visitors just 10 minutes later.

Basi`s dismissal looked to have tipped the scales heavily in favour of home-side and as the Sport`s defender took the `walk of shame`, myself and those around me thought that it would be game over for the Bradford based side...far from it!!.

Despite the numerical disadvantage they made a terrific game of it and managed to take the lead via some great link- play between Brice Tiani and the excellent Daniel Facey on the half-hour mark. Staveley quickly restored parity as Morley scored another decent goal some two minutes later.

Morley then claimed his hat-trick from the spot in the 37th minute, only for Sports to be denied spot-kick leveller just minutes later as Steve Hernandez made an excellent save from Facey. What an incredible first half...five goals and a penalty saved.

I suppose to wish for another forty five minutes of such adrenalin filled footie would have been a little too much to ask, nevertheless the second half remained very tightly contested and at times you wouldn`t have bet against the visitors at least stealing a point as they made Staveley`s life very difficult up until the last ten minutes when tired legs started to buckle.

The game was finally sealed as a quiet Jahmal Smith broke through Sport`s defence and slotted home, giving Staveley that vital fourth goal. A nice win for Staveley as they knock on the door of second and third spot teams in the Premier Division.

A great advert for the Ncel Prem and if Staveley had not scored two from the spot, the two goals apiece from open play wouldn`t have raised too many complaints from both camps as a result, but on the day it`s goals that count.

A very credible performance from the visitors, despite being a man down their Skipper... Asif Hussain did a great job in taking control from the back and shepherded the side through a very entertaining ninety minutes.

Attendance – 147

Admission - £5

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Worksop Town 2 - 0 Handsworth Parramore - Ncel Premier Division

Despite a foggy/drizzly afternoon...nothing was dampening the spirits of an epic Ncel clash in front of an Evo-Stik Prem crowd, as 542 turned out to take in the battle of the Tenants v Landlords at Sandygate.

Parramore had a good opening fifteen minutes but as the game settled down, Mark Shaw`s side started to enforce the style of play which would win them all three points. Crisp, quality passing and a will to wait until the opportunity arose gave them the edge in an excellent Step 5 encounter.

Both sides enjoyed numerous chances in the first half, Conor Sellars ran his socks off for Worksop's cause with some excellent support from Tom Elliott and returnee striker Conor Higginson. Parra`s advances were mainly spear-headed by Danny Critchlow and the very durable Colin Marrison.

Despite a very brisk and entertaining first half, neither side managed to break the deadlock, although Pete Duffield`s side must have thought they had got the show on the road as the nimble footed Critchlow was clipped as he entered the box by Jack Barnett. Critchlow placed the ball on the spot only to be denied by an excellent save from Worksop's Jon Stewart.

Parramore enjoyed a brief spell of dominance in the opening minutes of the second half until Worksop scored their opener within five minutes of the restart through Jonathan Wafula, quickly followed up by a wonderful swiveling strike from `The Tigers` Conor Higginson just eight minutes later.

From this point the home-sides confidence seemed to grow and grow, their fluid passing game seemed to stifle Parramores more rugged approach to the game. Worksop`s skipper and wing-back wonder..Alex Pursehouse was once again in excellent form both in attack and defence.

Parramore did have some serious spells of bad luck as they pushed on in search of a reply but Stewart put on a great, if not at times risky show to deny the visitors any chance of scoring. Several changes were made in the latter stages of the game, but as far as goals went, that was it for either side.

A great advert for everything Non-League. A game which saw a saved penalty, two decent goals, three last-ditch clearances off their line, but on the day, Worksop's crisp clean football grasped them all three points,

“All of this for the princely sum of £5”....Excellent..!!

Attendance - 542

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Stocksbridge Park Steels 1-1 Coalville Town - Evo-Stik Division 1 South

With games dropping like flies due to ongoing overnight rain, it wasn't so much of a case of where shall I go...but what realistically will be left on.!!

My initial choices of Ilkeston v Frickley, Staveley v Armthorpe, Shaw Lane v Bridlington all fell foul of the weather as kick-off approached, all having passed earlier pitch inspections. A last gasp message to Martin Salkeld at Stocksbridge confirmed that last seasons £50k investment on the drainage system seemed to money well spent as todays game against Coalville was in no doubt whatsoever.

The M1 was an absolute nightmare due to the roadworks around Sheffield and an humungous queue waiting to get into the Meadowhall Shopping Centre, I eventually hit the turnstile at 15:04....not quite as late has I had initially anticipated given the traffic situation.

I must say, that of all the grounds I visit...Bracken Park is still one of the best vantage points groundwise for taking in a game, the large stand not only provides excellent shelter from inclement weather, but has a perfectly elevated view of the pitch.

Having suffered relegation from the Premier League last season, the obvious exodus of players has meant that a major rebuild was needed for life at Step 4 for Steels. Coalville on the other hand, were probably one of the Clubs expected to be jostling for promotion having knocked on the door in recent seasons.

I think Steels situation might have been half expected this season..but the Coalville faithful certainly weren't expecting to be scrapping it out just above the relegation zone this season.

Tommy Brookbanks and Mark Harvey have been drafted in to refloat Coalville's season after leaving table topping Loughborough Dynamo due to financial issues.

Brookbanks has a good bunch of quality players who have stuck by him through thick and thin from his early days at Hucknall, they then followed him to Stamford, Loughborough and are now donning the black and white stripes of 'The Ravens'.

Despite this fixture not initially being my game of choice, I honestly left Bracken Park fulfilled as both sides produced some excellent football in both halves.

Tommy's loyal regulars...Nat Watson and Bradley Munn were at the heart of Coalvilles advances whilst Steels' new blades crafted some excellent moves to keep all in attendance more than entertained, especially through some terrific work from left wing-back...Jacob Lever, Rory Coleman, Harrison Biggins, skipper Lee Garside and striker...Chris White and could have made an early headway if not for some excellent work between the sticks by Flynn.

It took until the 40th minute for the deadlock to be broken by Munn's mazey run as he picked up the ball just outside the 18 yard box and beautifully picked out his spot in Flynn's goal.

If anything, the second half produced the best opportunities of the ninety minutes.The introduction of Jake Woolley looked to have given Coalville a distinct advantage in regards of a cutting edge but Stockbridge's defence remained composed and managed to thwart some excellent advances by the visitors as well as some excellent work between the sticks by skipper..Sean Bowles.

Having rode out a good fifteen minute spell for Coalville, the home side started to regain there footing and squared the game through their skipper Lee Garside with ten minutes of the half remaining. Both sides continued to push but failed to find the goal in the remaining minutes.

An excellent afternoon's entertainment and a fair result given both sides commitment.

Ironically I bumped into Coalville's Nathan Watson in Clowne Tesco on the way home, the poor lad was walking like he was on hot coals and he said his ankles were in bits. We discussed the game and although that he thought that they had the better of the play in the second half he agreed that the draw was about the right result. Nice to see a bit of honesty for once from an opposing player.

Admission £7

Attendance 103

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Sheffield Fc 0 - 1 Witton Albion - FA Vase

As a neutral, this is definitely the worst game of footie I've had to endure this season, such a shame as I love cup-ties.

Sheffield were woeful and lacked any direction whatsoever and its not hard to see why Witton are languishing second bottom of the Evo-Prem although all concerned with Witton seemed very relieved too see a win today.

I was stood beside one of Witton's dignatories throughout the game and heard how the Club had had it's playing budget cut and have had a few changes of manager so my heart does go out the supporters, but on today's showing it's hard not to see them competing in the Evo-Stik 1 North next season.

Sheffield's recent performances are starting to reflect on the gates....they usually get 200ish on a match day but even with the lure of a cup game only 154 passed through the turnstiles today with a decent contingent from Witton.

The unconfirmed word on the vine is that Mick Wadsworth has been relieved of his duties at the Coach and Horses....not surprising really as even the diehard Sheffield lads I was stood with seemed to have lost the faith.

Attendance - 154

Admission £8

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Staveley Mw 1 - 2 Athersley Recreation FA Vase 1st Rnd Qualifying

Despite early morning rain the tie was played out in near perfect conditions. Athersley took control of the first half, yet despite their early dominance they seemed to lack that cutting edge up-front which saw them cruise to a four nil win at Inkersall Road last season in the league.

Whether Joe Thornton`s departure to local rivals Shaw Lane was the difference....I’m not sure, they did have a few good shots on goal but Steve Hernandez was on top of his game, creating a couple of fine saves keeping them at bay.

The first half did even itself out a little as the game developed, Staveley started to create a few chances for themselves primarily through Ellis Wall, Matt Thorpe and the excellent Sam Finlaw`s midfield work but Staveley`s finishing was `flat as a fart`, so it went into the break all square.

The second half initially started as the first had finished with Joynes, Moore and Bennett forging forward for the visitors in an attempt to break the deadlock and after a few decent charges towards Hernandez`s goal they got their opening within the first five minutes of the re-start through Josh Moore.

A goal down, Staveley decide to make a change, replacing the very quiet Jack Poulton for Michael Trench. Almost immediately the change had turned the game on it`s head transforming the game into a peach of a tie, wave after wave of chances for both sides made for an excellent end-to-end spectacle for the 212 in attendance.

Bolstered by Trench`s presence, Watt`s, Thorpe and Wall were starting to force the visitors onto their back foot as Staveley enjoyed their first real spell of dominance in the game. With everyone singing off of the same Hymn-sheet for the home-side it wasn`t long before Ellis Wall found the opening he so desperately sought in the first half, squaring the game just after the hour-mark.

At this point Staveley were rampant, but as in the first half it was the Keeper who made the difference, Athersley`s Shaun Penn had a `Worldie` of a second half, producing a string of excellent saves to thwart the resurgent home-sides advances.

The Rec lads did do a fair bit of moaning at the Ref but Tbf, he gave them very little for the bulk of the game until the deciding moment when he awarded Athersley a bit of a soft penalty against Fisher`s challenge. Despite Hernandez`s heroics in the first half, Lee Bennett gave him no chance from the spot with minutes left on the clock.

An excellent game which no doubt will have left both Camps with mixed emotions, Staveley will have felt aggrieved by losing to a soft penalty whilst Athersley would feel as though they got a bit of luck from Ref.. Mark Dwyer who gave them very little over the duration.. Top Game though lads..!!

Attendance – 212

Admission £5

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Ilkeston Fc 1 - 1 Curzon Ashton Evo-Stik Premier League

Despite both Clubs getting their respective season`s off to a decent start, the first half was a pretty tepid affair as far as the home-side was concerned. Curzon passed the ball around the better of the two sides and hardly gave `The Robins` a sniff of the ball.

Ilkeston gifted the visitors the opener with as good a Goalkeeping howler as you`re likely to see, Jordan Smith dilly dallied with the ball on the edge of the eighteen yard box instead of hoofing it clear, handing Ryan Brooke a thankyou very much moment as he strode away with the ball and trickled it into the empty net.

Ilkeston came out for the second half in a much more positive frame of mind and eventually got to grips with the game and began to present Curzon with a few problems, finally equalising through Rob Duffy`s header off of another excellent James Reid cross.

Ilkeston were awarded a penalty as Luke Shaw was bungled down in the area, Duffy took the spot-kick somewhat half-heartedly and managed to place it wide right. Curzon were forced to hang in as Shaw, Richards and Reid continued to press on as Ilkeston began to dominate but lacked that little bit of luck to enable to grab all three points

A decent afternoon`s entertainment and a draw on the day for me was about the right result given Curzons first half performance, Tbh though...I think Kevin Wilson would probably disagree..!!

Attendance - 410

Admission - £9