Having got nicely settled into the new Ryman League Premier Division I felt an early season edition of my Musings was probably overdue.
Our preseason was pretty much the opposite of the one we enjoyed the previous season but those who know me will tell you that I do not have much time for friendlies. Preseason is just practise and does not really have a huge bearing on when the real stuff starts.
After last season where we were very inconsistent (from exceptionally brilliant to exceptionally hapless!!) there was some freshening up to be done in the summer break. We said goodbye to Jordan Patrick (released), Ollie Brown and Regan Pelling (both to Leiston) and Ollie Mann (to Brantham).
Joining us this season (and still here) are Reece Dobson (from Norwegian Pro Club Flekkeroy) Emmanuel Osei (East Thurrock), Billy Clarke (Leiston, who is now side-lined with a broken ankle and we wish him a speedy recovery), Taylor Bannister (Needham Academy), on loan from Colchester United Jack Curtis and John Sands (Kings Lynn).
Dobbo clearly so impressive he's taken Kems breath away?!?!
Another new addition to our club this season is the very impressive ‘Dillions’ stand. This was constructed thanks to a lot of hard work from club members as it was what the old boy would have wanted; I am sure he is looking down on it with real pride! The supporters wanted a proper no seats stand and that is what has been built – well done to all concerned and thanks Dill!!
The David 'Dillion' Lockwood stand - A lasting memory of a real character!!
For me as 1st XI manager there was also the challenge of replacing the majority of my management team. It is very true that in business you are only as good as your staff and that is also massively true with a football team. I have been lucky to have had a fair degree of success in my 20 years or so in football management and that has been down to two things; good staff and good players.
Losing my Head Coach Steve Foley to our Academy was a massive loss to the 1st Xl albeit a move that I fully supported as his immense experience and influence will enhance all the good work done in previous years with our Scholars. It is a huge part of the ethos of our club going forward that we develop and integrate the products from the Needham Academy. With Steve ably assisted on the coaching side by Arron Hall and on the medical side Ian Jenkins means that we have raised our game in that area.
So that left my loyal sidekick and outstanding Goalkeeper Coach Nathan Munson as well as Top Man Trevor Barton to maintain the standards I expect, so that team needed to be strengthened. Over the years there are many non-league managers I have got to know; we share information on opponents, players and sometimes when things aren’t going well in what can sometimes be a lonely job its nice just to have a chat.
Barty the top man!!
Over the years one of these ‘good guys’ who has had great successes (probably the best manager in the Suffolk Non-League scene IMHO) was Richard ‘Wilks’ Wilkins so when he and Leiston FC went their separate ways I was on the phone to him (the next day in fact!!). After a couple of chats and a very productive meeting he accepted the position of Assistant Manager.
In addition, I wanted a Head Coach and last season when we advertised the role of coach at the club the former Brightlingsea Regent Head Coach Tom Rothery, applied and frankly with no disrespect to the successful candidate at the time, he was over qualified. However, something twigged in my head then and I kept in touch. He did some opposition performance reviews for me and the end of last season (which were of a Pro standard) so I knew he was the right man to join our club and when offered he accepted the Head Coach position.
Wilks - Bringing a wealth of experience as manager and pro player to Bloomfields
Last and by no means least was the role of Physio and it was a call by one of my ex members of staff who returned to a role he knew well. In fact, it was flattering that Stuart Bevis said he had no plans to return to football but there was only one manager he would do that for and he accepted that role.
So my ‘new’ team was complete and the early signs are that they are gelling well, certainly the ‘banter’ on the management group WhatsApp is more than entertaining. However, the real acid test will be next April when we know how successful we have or haven’t been.
The season kicked off strangely enough against the same team we met in our first Step 3 fixture a year earlier that being Burgess Hill Town. Last season it was an indication of the strength of this league when you consider that the winners of the two feeder leagues from the previous season finish 4th and 5th from bottom!
On the day the game finished all square and although their equaliser came very late I think a draw was probably about right with Jack Curtis opening his Needham account on the first game of his loan period.
One of the intriguing facts this season is the fact that there are 4 Suffolk clubs in the league so a few local derbies to look forward to and the first arrived on the first Tuesday match as we travelled to Lowestoft. The Trawlerboys had suffered the heart ache of a last day’s relegation from the challenging National Conference North Division that they have unfairly had to deal with for 2 seasons.
On the night another draw was achieved, having taken the lead in the first minute via a fine Luke Ingram strike and then we should have scored 2 more in the next 20 minutes with gilt edged chances missed. This often comes back to ‘bite you in the bum’ and a late equaliser sent us in all square at half time.
'Come on Kem - keep up!?!?
The second period was about how well we defended with our hosts getting more than the lion’s share of possession but never really troubling Danny Gay in goal. So a steady start but where was the first win coming from? Well, we didn’t have to wait long as the Saturday visit to Kingstonian saw us going behind against the run of play but another Curtis goal and then a Reece Dobson winner gave us the win. A long eventful trip to Folkestone saw us grind out a 1-0 victory and another Dobson goal set things up nicely for the next local derby on Bank Holiday Monday.
Leiston arrived unbeaten and clearly with the intent of achieving promotion to the National Conference league. Following their most successful season under Wilks last year his squad has been strengthened somewhat and on the day we were well beaten with some impressive attacking play. Despite having a decent spell at the end of the first half and beginning of the second the Blues were worth all their 4 goals
This lull in form continued with a very bad day in the FA Cup at Uxbridge where we were beaten 2-0 in a game that our performance was dire against a team that we should have dealt with and gone on to win. Fair play to them though as they worked hard and deserved the win.
Thankfully we were soon back in action on the Tuesday with the re-arranged home match with Canvey Island (following a floodlight failure a fortnight earlier). We needed a positive performance with all involved needing to improve dramatically. An excellent start was spoilt by a bit of a fluke goal where a heavy deflection helped a shot fly over the despairing dive from Gaysee in goal. Soon after we were 2 down and an uphill task confronted us, a real test of our metal.
The rest of this game showed how far we have come since last season where, if confronted with the same set of circumstances we would have undoubtedly capitulated!
Bruvs - the one-man entertainment show
Michael Brothers scored his first of the campaign to reduce the arrears and then Kieran Morphew unleashed a 30-yard pile driver to level things up. We started the second half really well and Jack Curtis put us ahead only for the Gulls to equalise leas than 10 minutes later. For the neutrals this was great entertainment and I have to say I enjoyed the match immensely with it being a bit like a tennis match flowing from end to end and the draw being the right result.
This put us in good heart for the away trip to Harrow Borough where we played some excellent football to score three goals without reply in a blistering 20-minute spell in the first half. It was that man Curtis who opened the scoring following a scintillating run from Reece Dobson and then the one-man entertainment show (Michael Brothers) took over proceedings with two great strikes.
The second half was about being solid and dealing with what the Borough had to throw at us which we did very well.
A League Cup match was next away to Soham Town Rangers and although we gained a 4-3 win thanks to two headed goals from Ian ‘Dusty’ Miller and Luke Ingram plus a brace for Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Osei but the Greens gave us a bit of a scare. Add to that a nasty head injury to Dusty due to a goal saving headed clearance meant this was not an ordinary run of the mill match.
Last Saturday we had a blank day so I was able to enjoy the hospitality of the Ipswich Town Boardroom to watch the game against Aston Villa. It was quite nice to have a free weekend but I also had one eye on last night’s home league fixture with Grays Athletic.
Without Messrs Izzet, Nunn, Miller and Clarke I gave the latest product of our Academy Max Booth his league debut and he had a real impact when he put us ahead after only 10 minutes finishing off a fine run from Reece Dobson. Grays are a club in transition as they are now owned by their supporters and having a number of new recruits to bed in we felt when could benefit from the lack of familiarisation. However, they finished the half very strongly and could and maybe should have equalised.
With a pitch that was extremely slick due to the rain we had not kept possession well enough and that was the point that Wilks and myself needed to make during the break. Credit is due therefore to the players who took this on board and gave the decent sized crowd a real masterclass of finishing. Another Curtis goal, plus one from Manny and two from Reece Dobson (one of which was very Cantonaesque and an early candidate for goal of the season) gave the result the sort of feel our second half performance had warranted.
This coming Saturday we travel to Leatherhead to what, I suspect, will be a bit of a media frenzy as Jimmy Bullard, their new manager has his first home game. Jimmy can only be described as a bit of a ‘Marmite’ character and for me I am a fan. His appearances some years ago on Soccer AM (when it was funny) stick in the memory as does the goal celebration relating to the infamous half-time team talk that Phil Brown gave his Hull team on the Manchester City pitch. But I also remember seeing how proud he was when he had his England call up and that should be as memorable as all the comedy moments.
Jimmy Bullard getting in some practice for half time this Saturday (hopefully?!?!)
However, whether he finds the challenges of Step 3 Non-League football are able to fit in with his fledgling managerial career only time will tell. I for one hope he is a rip roaring success apart from September 24th 2016 and December 3rd 2016 between 3 and 5 pm!?!?!?
Away from the 1st team our Academy goes from strength to strength with it now being at its largest in terms of numbers. With a fine education proposition offering NVQ’q and BTEC’s run by Academy Director Rob Peace backed up by outstanding coaching supplied by Steve Foley and his staff, the foundations of Project Needham Market are certainly in good hands.
The marriage between developing our young ‘Marketmen’ and established 1st team players is the direction that the club want to take and it one that I fully support and buy into. It should be pointed out that sometimes this approach will create some inconsistencies something I am keen to stress to all of our supporters.
Both myself and the club are looking at the longer term and our development will be, at times, a bit of a slow burner. However, that does not mean we are not looking to push on this season but the first target is to get to 50 points and then build from there. That is not negative that is realistic, affordable and achievable which is the blue print at our club.
All the best MJM