Last season was a disappointment. When I arrived at Hungerford I believed that the nucleus of the side was solid and only a few changes were needed to turn the clubs fortunes around. This illusion was shattered early on as we struggled for consistency. Obviously we lacked the players to compete at this level.
My goal in the off season was to strengthen the squad. I had signed a couple of good central defenders in my first season so this year I concentrated on bolstering the midfield. The way the results played out I think we succeeded.
The board obviously didn’t expect miracles, and that consolidation was all we could hope for. Deep down I wanted more, however good things take time.
Luckily the board agreed with this sentiment and so I set about building a solid base. As the season played out I think I have succeeded ans with the bulk coming back next year I feel confident I am on the right track.
Tactically I alternated between the 4-3-3 and the 4-1-4-1 formation. The narrow diamond was not used due to a basic problem with very limited full backs. One factor which contributed to the turn about was the adoption of a totally defensive back four. I had tried to play with more adventurous roles, however the quality of the players was lacking.
No team is ever finished. There is always a better player out there. With a side with our reputation, getting them to come join you is always the battle. In the end I have gone with a policy of signing youngsters and looking to build for the future.
First thing on my agenda was to address the lack of depth in the midfield positions. The addition of Richard Sutton from Old Altrinchamians and former Slimbridge players youngster Danny Scott and veteran Nathan Tait went a long way to addressing this issue.
Richard Sutton was signed towards the end of last season. He was a solid player throughout the midfield and played a big part in this season.
Danny Scott was a youth intake player from my very first season in charge of Slimbridge. He started out as a left winger however I successfully trained him as a central midfielder. When I saw he was released I snapped him up.
Nathan Tait was another ex-Slimbridge player who I had a lot of time for. He added maturity to what was essentially a youth team.
Ian Parmenter was origionaly signed to be my right winger. He was not in the same league as Jamie Pilgrim and the consistency problems we experienced in the strike position he gravitated to lead the line.
Ben Lancaster was signed as a backup right wing however he couldn’t break into the first team and has not mad much of an impact.
James Evans was signed in January as we attempted to resolve the issue of the lack of goals. He bagged two in his first game and was injured in his second which ruled him out of all but the last game of the regular season.
Mortimer joined us on loan to cover an injury crisis. I probably should have afforded him more game time.
We were destined to lose Jamie Pilgrim as he didn’t want to sign another deal. Jason Cullen was quick but lacked the necessary skills to be a regular starter. Daren Mitchell and Glenn Colwell were youngsters who were never going to develop further.
After the first six weeks we were out of both cup competitions and languishing near the relegation zone. I was starting to resign myself to my worst season in management. What followed was a fifteen game undefeated run lasting from 5th October through to 4th December.
In this picked up nine wins and six draws, moving from 20th spot all the way up to a season high 3rd spot. After a slight dip in December we clawed our way back up to third, a position we which we occupied for thirteen weeks.
Sadly we couldn’t hold onto a playoff spot, as injuries conspired to see us drop out of the playoff spots and finish the season in 6th place. While I was disappointed with how it turned out, there were lots of positives.
Paulton and Tiverton secured promotion, meaning that we will continue our battle with Slimbridge for another season. Bishop’s Cleeve and Hayling are going down, having both narrowly failed to secure enough points to stay up.
Expectations : Reach the First Qualifying Round
Manchester City won the cup this season.
For our part we didn’t manage a good cup run. We beat Skelmersdale fairly handily, before receiving a solid thumping at the hands of the eventual league champion Paulton side. While the revenues from a cup run will be missed, the early exit allowed us to focus on the league.
Southern League Cup
Expectations : Reach the Second Round
This result was very disappointing. To lose to Slimbridge is never good, but to be thrashed by them just plain hurts! As the season played out it would become apparent that they have a good side and we still have some way to go to pass them in terms of quality.
Team of the Season
Two surprises – Harrad and Mulvany make the starting lineup.
Players of the Year
Nathan Tait lived up to expectations and despite his advancing years put in some top quality performances. While six goals and twelve assists may seem a little light, he was in part a victim of the teams inability to finish. Next season I expect us to create better chances and it will be interesting to see how he performs.
Richard Lovell is a product of our youth intake system. Thrust into the limelight with the departure of Pilgrim he acquitted himself well. He does need to work on his consistency moving forward. He looked better playing in more advanced roles
Danny Scott is another import who has lived up to the hype. His most effective position has been in the central midfield role of box to box midfielder. At 20 years old there is still room for him to grow and I am confident that he will continue to improve.
Mark Owens had a great start and finish, with a flat spot in the middle. He managed 14 goals across all competitions. When he was forced out of the last match of the season with a serious injury the team suffered.
Not the same threat as last season. He missed the assists out of the right wing channel which blunted his effectiveness. His passing was also not as good as we need it to be – 68% completion is not good enough.
I celebrated the personal milestone of 100 games in charge of Hungerford. If I stay employed for the whole of next season I will be bringing up my 300th game in charge.
The improvement from the previous season is plain to see. We played three less games and still managed the same number of wins. However we managed to halve the number of losses and convert them into draws which saw our points tally go up.
I have brought back most of the first team for next season. On my shopping list is a right back, some more depth up top, and some depth (and pace) on the wings. I am also considering another central defender if there is one out there.
Not much more to say about this lad. He is all class and I am happy to have him on board.
Dan Harvey continued to impress and his shot stopping ability kept us in some games.
Richard Sutton suffered when played in the more advanced positions due to his lack of finishing skills. I have decided that he will be retrained to play as a holding midfielder, a position which he is better suited for.
I was originally training Lovell to be a left sided inside forward. I have reconsidered this decision and am instead looking to work on him in the left midfield role.
David McCall may be reaching the limits of his abilities. He is a solid player and I have the luxury of time to find a replacement.
Owens is a player who I am planning to build around. He will benefit from a strike partner to work alongside – someone to take the pressure off him.
Oliver Boulton joined last season and never really made an impact. This season he has put in the hard yards and improved as a defender. It will be interesting how he performs with out Warbey alongside him.
Club captain Darron Beeney has had only a modest season. I was not sure if I wanted him back, however I decided that for £90 a week I could gamble on him.
Luke Billings has yet to play a first team game for the club. I was hoping to blood him towards the end of the season, however with race for a playoff spot I couldn’t afford to take the chance. He will feature in all of our cup games next season.
Jon Essam is another homegrown player who made an impact this season. He played second fiddle to Joe Berry, but acquitted himself well when called upon to do so.
Chris Hulbert didn’t get many chances this season. He is at best a journeyman and is probably not up to this level. Again he is kept on as cover but will not be a first choice player.
Joe Berry had an average season. It was hard to separate Essam and him for the starting role.
Robin Harrad had a shocking first season for us. Easily our most gifted technical defender, he lacks the mentality to deal with the pressure at the back. I was on the verge of releasing him until I observed that he was playing much better as an Anchorman. There were times when we needed to run a double defensive midfield formation and he was a good fit. I will give him another season.
Nathan Tait has been superb. I delayed signing him until late due to me not being sure what he would ask for. In the end I need not have worried as he stayed on for a drop in pay.
This lad is a pretty good prospect. With the departure of Warbey he has the potential to get some serious playing time.
Peter Boden is another who should get some minutes under his belt next season.
There is still a lot of work to be done. While I have the nucleus of a good side, we have areas which we need to strengthen. Striker, right back, and both wings need to be bolstered with better quality players. Tactically I am considering changing how we play, and this may affect the way I recruit going into summer.