Runners and Riders
So to a new league with some old and some new adversaries to face. WIE would like to point out that this is a prediction made with only limited knowledge on quite a few teams. Apologies to Ryman clubs in particular if you feel that your club has been treated somewhat harshly.
Champions : Hornchurch
This particular WIE correspondent can’t see past the Essex boys for the Conference South title this season. It has long been said that money can’t guarantee success but it can go a hell of a long way towards it, particularly at this level of the game. Of course it remains to be seen how long the money lasts but some of the numbers being bandied about at ‘Ornchurch are incredible and they have built a squad which would be the envy of most Conference National sides. Another major plus is the signing of manager, Garry Hill, who has been there, seen it and done it at this level and beyond although WIE is not too sure about his choice of coach. Clearly they may take time to gel and will be a target for all the other teams but, at the risk of upsetting all the CiG fans out there, I still think that the title is theirs for the taking.
Play-offs: Weymouth, Grays, Newport, Havant
Many fans are predicting a two-horse race for the title and Weymouth must be expected to go close. After a very limp finish to last season they have invested heavily in their squad, particularly in defence, and will expect more consistency this time around. However, thanks to their television appearances and the (over)exposure of their manager they are now very high profile and, like 'Ornchurch, will be seen as a big scalp for most teams. Besides which, I am sure most Conference South supporters would prefer to keep Weymouth on the agenda for a weekend visit next season! Grays are essentially a full-time outfit, which must give them the edge on most teams at this level. WIE believes they are basically a young squad; they have enjoyed some notable pre-season results and will be thinking very much of a play-off berth. They were unbeaten at home last season in the league but must turn some of those draws into wins. I have often tipped Newport to go well in recent DMPL seasons only for them to flounder: the only thing that has been consistent about them has been their inconsistency. They have recruited some notable players form senior Welsh clubs over the summer and WIE is predicting a good season for them. Havant were a major disappointment for the most part in the DMPL last season when many people expected them to go well. They have recruited some interesting players with plenty of experience and, if they can sort themselves out defensively, they will go well as goals should not be a problem.
Play-off Outsiders: Sutton, Thurrock, Lewes, Margate
Sutton may well have been in the above group but the spine of their team has departed to various Conference National clubs during the close season, including our old friend Tobi Jinadu who has returned to the full-time ranks with Aldershot. They have brought in three players from Creepy’s Championship winning squad but may find it hard to carry on where they left off last season. Thurrock have consistently finished near the top of the Ryman Premier League in recent seasons despite apparently limited resources and they will expect another good showing this season. I have a feeling that Lewes could be the surprise package of the new Conference South this season if they can adapt quickly to the step up. They have gone well in pre season and are another side that would appear to be full of goals. Margate could really be anything. If they can keep enough players together and with Kinnear at the helm they could be top five. However if their well documented ground and money troubles continue, the exodus may well increase and they will be looking over their shoulder. WIE would like to add another team to this list but, as ever, is rather reluctant to do so ...
Mid-table: St Albans, Cambridge, Hayes, Carshalton, Bognor, Bishops Stortford, Dorchester
Although they only scraped into Conference South via the play-offs I expect St Albans to hold their own this season. Some Wings fans may have a soft spot for the Saints, or more particularly, the old tree they used to have at their Clarence Park ground! Cambridge are one of those sides that amateur pundits always seem to predict will struggle but they do enough to get by. I was impressed by their defence at PVR last season and see another mid-table outcome for them. We haven’t run across ‘Ayes since our time in the Conference proper. Can’t say WIE knows much about their strengths or weaknesses although there would appear to have been a lack of goals in the Ryman last year so we’ll put them down for mid-table. Carshalton started last season flying under old Creepy boss Billy Smith and have recruited a couple of his former players. There was talk of money problems there during pre-season but WIE expects them to survive. Of course most people will relate Bognor to ‘Butlins’ and I’m sure they are on a lot of fans' lists for a weekend visit this season. My spies also tell me they serve a mean bit of bread pudding there as well! No real changes on the player front and a club I would imagine is looking to consolidate at this level. Again WIE confess that we know very little about Bishops Stortford but they qualified relatively comfortably for Conference South and, like Bognor, may be content with consolidation? Dorchester looked dead and buried after the Wings flattened them 6-1 at the end of February but a remarkable run took them to the play-offs and ultimately into Conference South. They will be looking for more consistency this term as well as a better result against their neighbours Claridgemouth.
Strugglers: Eastbourne, Basingstoke, Redbridge, Weston-Super-Mare, Maidenhead
WIE has no problem with Eastbourne (well maybe one of them) and there is no logical reason to see them struggling but I think they could suffer from "second season syndrome". After a surprisingly good season last year they may find it hard to repeat things this time around rather like Chippenham in the DMPL last year. Not may of the DMPL sides will lose any sleep if Weston struggle after their antics against Stafford towards the end of last season and it may well be a long season for them. I see Redbridge as a bit of an old Wimbledon-style club with good team spirit and fighting against the odds most weeks but it will be tough for them to compete this season with limited resources. Basingstoke got in by the back door when Hendon declined to take up their position and in spite of a heavy play-off defeat to Lewes. They have lost some players and, on that basis, you would expect them to struggle. The last of this group is Maidenhead who again just scraped into Conference South. For obvious reasons WIE hopes their season gets off to the worst possible start.