My third season with Hungerford was an interesting experience. We set out to build on the good foundation we laid last year, and maybe to secure the final play off spot. As the season unfolded we shot into contention for the title and held the number one spot for ten consecutive weeks.
We couldn’t keep up the separation and were overhauled slipping first into second, then third. We held onto third place until the final week of the season when Gosport surprised the competition with a late surge to claim the title.
But more that later. Let us start at the beginning…
My plan for the season was to build on the gains of last season. Despite telling the board that ???? was acceptable, deep down I wanted to win the league. This was a very lofty goal, especially given that our squad was not as good as other sides in our Division.
I also wanted to go deep in the Southern League cup as this was a competition which we stood a chance of winning.
Building on the base we established last season I identified areas we needed strengthen. Right back, left and right midfield, and striker were all places I felt we were lacking depth.
Evans had bad luck with injuries last season and was lucky to get a chance this year. Sensing this, he proceeded to break the club record for most goals in the season with 15 from 38 appearances. The starting spot is his to lose moving forward!
Cory Phillips is a youngster who started his career playing for me at Slimbridge. I felt that we had unfinished business and when he was released from Slimbridge I decided to give him a chance. He has played 41 games for us, contributing ten goals with an average rating of 6.70.
Not bad but not great either. He has been playing second fiddle to Evans this season and 22 appearances were off the bench.
Owens made sixteen starts and nine substitute appearances bagging seven goals and six assists. With the decision to play only one striker he struggled to get game time so with his development in mind I decided to send him out on loan for the last two months of the season.
Lil Driver came in when I was searching for a striking alternative to Owens and Evans. Didn’t really pan out and only played a handful of games with an injury curtailing his involvement.
Young Ben Lancaster is a pacey winger who has been in a battle with Richard Lovell for the right wing spot. 19 appearances netted him one goal and six assists with a tidy average rating of 6.80.
The battle for the starting position on the right will continue next year, with Owens also being added to the mix. As the wings are a place I am looking to strengthen, it is quite likely that either one or both of these players may be replaced.
Lovell is a home grown right midfield player who has stepped up into the first team. Not as quick as Lancaster, Lovell is a better technician however, and is good with the ball at feet. He favours playing slightly further up the pitch which doesn’t suit quite the style of play.
He features in 37 games this year with all of those being starts. He bagged seven goals and six assists and boasted a 6.80 average rating.
New signing Richard Proctor hit the ground running and has been a first choice for most of the season. His participation was cut short by a hamstring injury which saw him miss the last five games of the season, and this injury ultimately hurt our chances of winning the title. His return of eight goals and ten assists was good for a 6.89 average rating.
Although his best position is as an attacking midfield player, he was a standout signing for the team in a more central role. Proctor formed a good partnership with Sutton in the central midfield and I am hopeful that the two of them can push on into the upcoming campaign.
Sutton spent much of the early campaign filling in in the Defensive Midfield role due to Beeney being injured. It wasn’t until Beeney’s return that he got to play in his more natural role of central midfield. His 46 appearances saw hin grab three goals and eight assists at an average rating of 6.78. What was impressive is the 17 times he featured at CM his average rating jumped to 7.18.
Nathan Tait’s appearances few and far between this season. This was mostly due to the move of Richard Sutton up into the central midfield and the arrival of Richard Proctor. This will be his last season with the club.
Danny Scott made 38 appearances for the side this season. 14 of those were off the bench and most of these were in the central midfield. His return of four goals and five assists was quite modest. With the drop in form of David McCall he may well move out wide next season.
It was a season of two halves for David McCall. His return of eight goals and 11 assists at 6.83 sounds impressive. However his production dropped off drastically with only one assist and no goals from 11 Feb and an average rating of only 6.53.
Ged Fitzpatrick didn’t get a real chance to impress due to my selection decisions. In hindsight I should have given him a few more starts, but he never stood out as being a better alternative to those players at the club. He did play in the playoff final games and acquitted himself well.
Kelvin Lovelock never got going with the side. He came in when I was trying to find options for backup to McCall on the left but was never able to kick on. He featured in only three games before going out on loan. This kind of signing will not be happening again.
Darron Beeney had a horror season. He broke his leg in almost the first game of the season and was out for five months. He returned to action just after Christmas and featured in 20 matches, during which time he bagged 2 goals and 2 assists. The two goals came in each leg of the final and were instrumental in us getting promoted so fair play to the guy.
Chris Hulbert only played 834 minutes this season and will be lucky to retain his place. He was used a mainly cover in the midfield and looked slightly out of his depth.
Aaron McGreevy was the first choice right back until his form took a dive. This coincided with the campaign reaching a climax and I suspect that he does not handle pressure well. He is definitely lucky to be retained for next year.
Luke Vine came in as an alternative to McGreevy. Sadly he was only an equal to McGreevy and doesn’t offer enough to the side. I think there is only room for one of them in the squad moving forward, and as bad as McGreevey played, Vine played worse.
Oliver Bouton has been one of our two top center backs this season. He started 52 games at an average rating of 6.73 and was never substituted!
Extending his contract required little thought on my part! It remains to be seen whether he can make the step up. We will not know until the games start in earnest.
Gareth Wyn Jones
A product of last years youth intake, Jones made 46 starting appearances for the first team this season. He averaged a 6.72 average rating with a 6.88 rating in the playoff matches which augers well for his mental development.
I suspect he may struggle next season against better players however so I am looking to strengthen the central defense and employ him as cover while he matures.
Young Ramsay spent a lot of time on the bench due to his ability to play in any position in the back four. Not really good enough for the side but is kept on the payroll for another season.
Peter Boden was another youth candidate from last season. He didn’t impress and only featured in 17 games with a poor rating of 6.53.
Joe Berry was a permanent fixture at left back this season. 45 games with an average rating of 6.70. He managed a 6.88 rating in the playoff’s.
Youngster Wood is only cover and I expect he will be replaced next season. He only played two matches this season.
Goalkeeper Dan Harvey had another strong season and was one of the first players who I considered when it came to the next seasons side. I have a feeling that he may come under pressure from youngster Luke Billings who is developing well.
Gerry Harris spent the season on the bench and never featured in the first team. With Billings now firmly the number two keeper, his opportunities will be limited.
I felt it was important that Billings got some game time under his belt so sent him out on loan to Leatherhead for the season. He played 29 games with an average rating of 7.08. He will be back challenging for the first team next year.
Here are the players who joined the side for this campaign.
Nine players left the side. Of these the departure of Simon Warbey was the most disappointing. The fact that he went to a side in the Skrill South was an indication that he was above the current level of Hungerford.
In hindsight the releasing of Tom Harker-Smith might have been a poor decision. A better move would have been to keep him and then replace him with someone better.
Expectations : Consolidation
Gosport were surprise winners, coming from behind to win a threeway tie on goal difference. Week 46 was the only week they were in first place. They were helped by all of the top three teams being unable to win any of their last three games.
We exceeded expectations in beating both Slimbridge and then Merthyr Town over two legs.
Both wins were by a single goal on aggregate, with us winning the opening leg and then hanging on in the return fixture.
Expectations : Reach the First Qualifying Round
We had a great run and exceeded the targets set by the board. In the end we were bundled out by Bristol Rovers in the fourth qualifying round.
Southern League Cup
Expectations : Reach the Second Round
Sadly the same couldn’t be said for the run in the Southern League Cup. We put in a poor performance and exited in our first match in the competition.
Team of the Year
After careful consideration, this is the team of the year. For a team which was promoted, our numbers were not that great. This doesn’t auger well for next seasons campaign in a higher division.
Darron Beeney gets in on the strength of his performance at the tailend of the campaign, while David McCall is lucky to be included as his form tailed off badly towards the end of the campaign.
James Evans was a little fortunate to be in the squad following an injury affected campaign last season. This year he made up for that with a club record 15 goals across all competitions.
I passed the 300 career game mark this season.
The end of my 6th full season in management. During this time I have bagged one title and two promotions.
The upcoming season will be a challenge for me. Can I take a side which was regarded as a lower half side last year and keep them winning at a much higher level.
As discussed elsewhere, my squad building philosophy is based around retaining the first eleven and then go out into the marketplace to recruit someone better who will push the incumbent down the pecking order. Obviously this is not an exact science, and in situations where the best player is not obvious I have kept a couple of candidates.
We had six candidates who show some promise. Of these, Dawson and Brice are the pick of the litter.
Whichever way you look at it, we have out performed this season. If you evaluate the players through the eyes of my assistant manager, a high percentage of our side are only good enough to play in the division below. That we have made the playoffs with this squad is a positive achievement. We are nowhere near the finished article, however.
Moving forward I will be changing the way that I approach building the squad. I have extended the contracts for the core of the team for next season. This provides a solid foundation and will be the basis for maintaining our position in the league. The objective is to be at least as strong as we were this year.
Into this mix I will be looking to add additional players who have the ability to add to the team. Currently our average is only 20.59 which is rather low. I will be looking to add one or two older players with experience, but only if they improve the squad. This is the key point – a player must only be signed if he is an improvement and will seriously challenge the incumbent in his position.