On the Pitch
2005-06 Season Preview
As is now traditional for WIE, we have cast our eyes over the competitors in Conference South for the new campaign and come up with the following predictions. There were some successes and some glorious failures in last year’s effort and apologies to anyone who thinks their clubs have been treated harshly.
WIE cannot see beyond the perennial underachievers of the last few years finally coming good this time around. They have the biggest fanbase in the league allied to strong financial backing and full-time status should give them a real edge over the other clubs. They seem to have adopted the ‘Mourinho method’ of two good players for each position that is way beyond the means of nearly all clubs at this level. The main difference this time around for us is that they finally have a manager who has been there and done it at this level (and higher) and knows non-league football extremely well. With INQ doing what he does best (i.e. coaching and not managing) everything points to a Muff triumph. They finished last season very strongly and it could easily develop into a one-horse race well before the end of April. If they do get promoted, it will be a sad day for Wings fans who have enjoyed many a good weekend in Dorset in recent years as well as maximum points in the last two seasons.
Play Offs: Thurrock, Lewes, Cambridge City, Yeading
A strong feeling of déjà vu as three of these sides finished in play-off positions last season. WIE feels that if anyone is going to push Weymouth for top spot this season it could well be Thurrock. They have bought in some interesting additions to their squad in the close season and WIE detects there could be a distinct change in the style of football there. Last year we tipped Lewes to be the surprise package and they didn’t let us down. Despite an excellent season there has been a complete overhaul of the squad with some big name signings, most of which have come from Conference National clubs. If they can gel quickly they should be a real force again although one wonders if the ground problems will continue to frustrate their ambitions. Cambridge went along very quietly last season and finished a comfortable second albeit a long way behind the champions. They now have recruited one of the best strikers at this level and held on to most of last season’s squad so the play offs should be a realistic target for them again this time around. For this years surprise package WIE has opted for Yeading who had such a great season in league and FA Cup last season. Although they have lost their main striker to Brentford in the close season, they seem to be a close knit club with a lot of good players who will be keen to impress. They won a very competitive Ryman Premier division last season, are used to success and could prove to be a real handful in Conference South this season.
Play-Off Contenders: Eastbourne Borough, Farnborough Town, Havant & Waterlooville, St. Albans City
WIE predicted last year that Eastbourne might struggle and yet they ended the season only 90 minutes away from Conference National! They have come a long way in a short space of time, have a good set up and will be looking for a play-off spot again this time. Farnborough have had a couple of very turbulent seasons on and off the pitch, which finally culminated in relegation from Conference National last season. There have been some massive changes throughout the club and they would probably be looking for stability as their main target for the season. However WIE has noted some very promising pre-season performances and believes that Farnborough could be a genuine play-off contender. Looking at the playing squads, WIE has always felt that Havant should be there or thereabouts but they must be the most inconsistent side in the division. From bottom of the league early in the year to a comfortable mid-table finish - I suspect that will not be considered good enough this time around. For the first half of the campaign St. Albans were on a par with our beloved Wings, rooted at the foot of the table. The arrival of Colin Lippiatt as manager signalled better times and their form over the second half of the campaign was play-off stuff. Therefore there is no reason to think they will not push on form the start this season although hopefully after next Saturday!
Mid-Table: Bishop's Stortford, Bognor Regis Town, Dorchester Town, Eastleigh, Hayes, Histon, Newport County
For a long time last season Stortford looked like a certainty for a play-off berth but their Trophy run and fixture backlog eventually put paid to that idea. They beat some good teams in that Trophy run and can be a match for most sides on their day but they have lost a few players in the close season and may take time to gel. WIE doesn’t profess to know too much about Bognor’s chances for the coming season although a lot will depend on the prolific Nightingale up front. Welling fans may see the game there as a possible beano trip but hopefully with a different outcome on the pitch after the extraordinary game of last season. Dorchester were on the brink of the play-offs last season but WIE feels they may find it tough to repeat that performance this time around. It is difficult to assess the chances of Eastleigh but WIE understands that they are quite well funded and whilst mid-table might seem like a decent finish, they may well be setting their sights a little higher. Hayes are a club that are sometimes overlooked as they never really threaten a play-off place nor do they ever seem to face a relegation battle so WIE predicts more mid-table obscurity for them. Histon is another club new to the Wings, one I think will try to rely on strong home form as their basis for survival. They will be a hard-working, competitive side that will upset bigger teams on a regular basis. Then we come to Newport who regular readers of this piece will recall that WIE always tips for a good season and they always disappoint. Therefore all Newport fans will be pleased that we have tipped them to be also rans-this time around! WIE would probably put another team in this category using the head but the heart would like to put them in the category above...
Strugglers: Basingstoke Town, Carshalton Athletic, Maidenhead United, Sutton United, Weston-super-Mare
Many may be surprised at the first side included in this category. To some extent Basingstoke could be considered as the surprise team of the whole league last season after scraping in through the back door. However the second season could be a lot tougher and they have lost a few players (this is not sour grapes because they beat us 5-0 on aggregate during last season!). WIE can see nothing but another season of struggle for Carshalton who survive on some of the smallest crowds and probably one of the smallest budgets in the league. Maidenhead were of course ‘relegated’ last season but managed to escape the drop in Wellingesque fashion. They will be hoping for better but, in reality, it looks like another long, hard season for them. Sutton lost a lot of players before they joined the Conference South and flirted with relegation for a large part of last season. They could potentially be one of the stronger clubs at this level but it may take a while for them to achieve that. Weston are another club with fairly meagre resources who may find this season a real struggle. Of course I’m sure Mr. Gregan & Co. will manage to avoid the drop by some means or other...