2006-07 Season Preview
Well it's that time of year again when WIE gets out her crystal ball and looks at the forthcoming season and predicts who will be where come the end of April 2007. As usual this is only a personal opinion so apologies (or perhaps not) to those who I have predicted to struggle this season and commiserations to those clubs (and their supporters) who I have predicted to do well!
I thought that with Weymouth out of the equation that it would be a much more level playing field this time around but there is still a very definite split between the Ďhavesí and the Ďhave notsí in this division for 2006/7. Lewes most definitely fall into the first category and their recruitment over the summer has been most impressive (and probably very expensive). They already had a leading marksmen in Sigere and have now added ex-Wing Boothy who is usually good for 20 goals a season at this level. If they can get things working defensively then they will definitely be a major force. The only drawback might be the possible exclusion of their manager from the dugout, which could well cause a few headaches. There are always the ground issues lurking in the background, which have prevented them from entering the play-offs in the last two seasons. However, from a purely footballing perspective, they could well go on to justify favouritism with the bookies.
Play Offs : Fisher Athletic, Havant & Waterlooville, Eastleigh and Salisbury City
I have a feeling that three of the four promoted sides are going to show up well this season but if I had to pick one to really shine it would be Fisher. Their squad is certainly impressive on paper and includes former Wings in Riviere and (Quiche) Lorraine. They do not have a fan base to speak of but with their rich backers they will certainly be targeting successive promotions. Havant were there or thereabouts last season and again are a team who look packed with goals. I believe they have secured quite a lucrative sponsorship deal that may enable them to strengthen their squad still further. Eastleigh are another club who have been throwing their money around in the summer and recruited three of last seasonís victorious Weymouth squad. Iím not sure if taking on a couple of Southampton old boys is necessarily the way forward but it may attract more locals to come out and support them. Salisbury are my dark horse to do well this season (sorry to all their supporters for that tip) They won the Dr Martens Premier division quite comfortably in the end and are a side that is used to winning matches. If they start well they could be a play-off contender and let us not forget how well Histon did last season in this league after winning the Dr Martens Premier the season before.
Play Off Contenders : Braintree Town, Eastbourne Borough, Histon, Newport County
Another of the newly promoted clubs are Braintree who won the Ryman Premier league last season. Their arrival also means we will get to cross swords with the wonderful Mr Borg which is usually quite entertaining! Again they are a side that are used to winning games and will have plenty of confidence coming into the season. I think they have lost one or two big players from their squad but should still go well. Eastbourne struggled a lot last season after nearly making the Conference National the year before. I am predicting a better season for them this time around as they have made some decent-looking signings and have the potential to draw big crowds if they get things right on the field. Iím not sure that Histon can repeat their heroics of last season and it might be a case of Ďsecond season syndromeí this time around, which affected Eastbourne last year. I have given up trying to predict what Newport will do and Iím sure their own fans are probably none too sure either. They are a club with big potential (and potentially huge support at this level) but they always seem to shoot themselves in the foot in one way or another. They have suffered a few injuries pre-season but I think the play offs is a realistic target for them if they get some good home form going.
Mid-table Obscurity : Basingstoke Town, Bishop's Stortford, Bognor Regis Town, Cambridge City, Dorchester Town and Farnborough Town
Now some of these clubs might be relatively pleased with mid-table obscurity but some will definitely not be. Basingstoke struggled right to the end of last season but I am expecting a better showing with Francis Vines at the helm. He did well at this level with Crawley and has already made a number of personnel changes. I donít know a great deal about Bishop's Stortford or Bognor but I expect them to avoid a relegation struggle, especially the latter that have managed (quite surprisingly) to hold on to their prolific strike force. Cambridge have been play-off material for the last two seasons but have lost a number of players due to off the field problems. Their manager is experienced at this level and may have to find one or two new stars to keep his side in the top half of the table. Dorchester have a very good set up and ought to be looking towards the play-offs. There is a new management team taking over but I donít see them pulling up (m)any trees this season. I suspect that a lot of Farnborough fans will just be glad that they still have a club to follow. A lot of changes have been going on there on and off the field and the ex-manager has taken some of the squad with him to Grays. Of course they start the season with a ten-point deduction as well and they will need to clear that as soon as possible. If they start poorly then it could be a long hard season for them.
Strugglers : Bedford Town, Hayes, Sutton United, Thurrock, Yeading and Weston-super-Mare
Now I must confess that I knew precious little about Bedford Town so it may be a bit harsh of me to include them in the strugglers. They did finish a fair way off Salisbury last season but made it through the play-offs with fine away wins at our old adversaries Bath and Chippenham. They will be looking for a fast start and early points on the board. Hayes went right to the wire last season in their final game and there is little evidence to suggest that things will change dramatically for them. Sutton have a good tradition in non-league circles and started last season in great style. However they tailed off rather dramatically and will hope the new management team can inspire them to a better season this time. Thurrock have continually punched above their weight in recent seasons but I think this could be a tough campaign ahead for them. The heart of their team has been ripped out over recent months and a new unproven manager may find it hard to gel them together quickly. I was expecting good things from Yeading last season but it never really materialised. Like Thurrock they have traditionally suffered with poor attendances and could find it a long hard season this time around. I would think that Weston have one of the smaller budgets in this division and survival at this level would, in many ways, be an achievement for them. Gregan always seems to drag results out of them (hopefully not on the first day of the season!) but they could find this campaign tougher than ever.
So there you have it. On the basis of the above I expect Salisbury and Lewes fans are now quite worried and a title shoot-out between Hayes and Sutton could well be on the cards! Observant people reading this would have spotted by now that one team is missing from this appraisal. However, people who have followed my predictions before will also know that I very rarely forecast anything for the Wings. I am expecting a strong showing from us defensively again this year and if we get the right balance in midfield and attack then we could well improve on last season.