GREGORY IS A RECORD BREAKER AS TOWN LIVE THE SOUTHERN LEAGUE DREAM
THE STORY OF THE 2013/14 SEASON
from old Town website
Once the euphoria of winning the Baker Joiner MFA Championship and the longed-for promotion that went with it had died down everyone connected with Town began to realise the enormity of what had been achieved and the impact that it would have both on and off the field.
With Town being allocated a place in Division 1 South and West of the Southern League increased travel costs were immediately identified as a major off-field issue along with higher League fees and more demanding hospitality arrangements etc, while for manager Carl Adams the on-field task was all about assembling a squad with the ability to compete at Step 4 level.
And his first decision squad-wise was also probably his bravest as he decided to release leading scorer Tony Robinson. Near enough a cult hero with the supporters “Robbo” had been instrumental in Town piling up the points in the first half of the title winning campaign, but his form had tapered off alarmingly in the later stages, and with other issues also a factor the Town boss sensed that the time for a parting of the ways had arrived.
Another fans favourite made his own decision to call it a day. Town have surely had few more wholehearted and committed players than Mark Faulds, but he felt that with the increased travel to away games he could not guarantee to be regularly available due to his work and so after 333 appearances spanning eight and a half seasons he chose to hang up his well used boots.
Among the others from last season who did not reappear when the pre-season friendlies started in early July were Jamie Bailey, Lei Brown, Tyrone Fagan, Melvin Gourlay, Brendan Hazlett, Chris Lait and Aaron Stringfellow, while the new faces included Tom Bates, Rob Evans, Rob Freeman, Aaron Garvey, Richard Gregory, Ashley Jackson, Chris Sterling and Matt West.
There was also a change in the management team as Jason Lanns elected to revert to playing, with Carl Adams drafting in Kevin Sievwright to be his assistant, and shortly after the League matches began the familiar figure of Stuart Dixon was appointed Director of Football.
The first two friendlies against Conference North sides Solihull Moors and Leamington inevitably resulted in wide margin defeats, but worryingly the results didn’t improve when Highgate United and Coleshill Town provided seemingly easier opposition in the next two matches as Adams gave a number of triallists a chance.
In fact the game at Coleshill was depressing to say the least as before kick-off the travelling Town supporters discovered that inspirational skipper Joe Halsall was turning out for Leamington instead and that Jamie Molyneux was trying his luck at Redditch. And once the match got under way it was clear that Aaron Forde’s time at Town was up as well as after a petulant first half he didn’t reappear and a few days later played for Rugby Town before eventually going to Bedworth.
Next up was the Joe McGorian Cup Final played between the previous season’s MFA Champions and League Cup winners and as such it is a bit more competitive than the normal friendly. Loughborough University made sure that it was a good open game with Town putting in a more encouraging display before losing in a penalty shoot-out, but disappointingly another of the title winning side moved on afterwards as Josh O’Grady chose to link up with Bedworth although on the other side of the coin it was a debut appearance for Josh Shepherd.
And suddenly the results did pick up as Town won their next three matches against the admittedly modest opposition of Continental Star, Bromsgrove Sporting and a Solihull Moors Youth squad. Much to everyone’s satisfaction Joe Halsall was back for the Bromsgrove match which also marked the arrival of Phil Green, while Sam Brady was taking advantage of Chris Jay’s absence on holiday to establish himself as first choice keeper.
Over the course of the friendly programme in excess of 30 players had featured as Adams sought the necessary quality required for the season ahead, but the side for the final friendly against Aylesbury United had a reasonably settled look to it. With Aylesbury in the Southern League Central Division this was always going to be a realistic test and Town responded with a convincing 3-1 win.
So it was with more optimism than seemed likely a week or two before that they set off to face Thatcham Town in their first ever Southern League match, but not even the most optimistic Town supporter could have dreamed of the fairy tale scoreline as Town turned on the style to run out 5-1 winners !! (REPORT BELOW)
Shortwood United brought them back to reality three days later at the DCS winning 4-0 after Town had conceded three goals in a crazy seven minute spell halfway through the first half, but Carl Adams’ side were back to winning ways the following Saturday with a 2-1 success over North Leigh, and a Bank holiday Monday draw at Evesham United meant that Town had a more than respectable seven points from their first four outings at the higher level.
Next up though it was back to the grim old days of the MFA with Town being drawn away to Tipton Town in the Preliminary Round of the F A Cup. In a dreadful game on a dreadful pitch all the dross that Town had left behind following their promotion returned as a goal early in the second half was enough for the Black Country side to progress.
Two League defeats followed at Swindon Supermarine – inspired by Swindon Town loanee Kayden Jackson – and at home to Godalming Town, meaning that Town were hardly in the most confident frame of mind when they set off to face the unbeaten League leaders Paulton Rovers.
The clogged-up Bristol traffic added to the sense of foreboding among the travelling supporters as did the loss of the inspirational Joe Halsall with a broken nose inside ten minutes, but from then on Town ran riot going in at half time leading 4-0 and surviving the late scare of two goals in added time to win 4-3
But even if it was early in the season the squad was already undergoing change. The likes of Bates, Garvey and Jackson who had featured prominently in the pre-season programme never appeared once the season proper got under way, while Jim Mutton switched to join his youth team colleague Molyneux at Redditch after the Paulton game.
Coming into the side were midfielder Sam Adkins from Leamington who made his debut at Tipton and Stuart Hendrie who did likewise against Godalming.
After a drab DCS draw with Didcot it was a potentially testing trip to Wimborne Town, and as at Thatcham and Paulton there were plenty of goals as Town headed home with another point after a topsy turvy encounter ended 3-3.
By now Dan Parker had returned from Halesowen, but after only four appearances Stuart Hendrie switched to join brother Lee at Corby while Rob Evans moved to Romulus citing travel problems as the reason and with Harry Donaghey apparently “retiring” it was very much a scratch side that faced Nuneaton Town in the Birmingham Senior Cup.
Unsurprisingly then the Skrill Premier side went through relatively comfortably, and Town were then able to concentrate on their first ever tie on the F A Trophy. The draw had pitted them against their old MFA rivals Coalville Town who had always seemed to have the beating of Town, but after half an hour of the game at the DCS Town were 2-0 up and cruising.
But that couldn’t last as Coalville came back to draw 2-2 and then steamroller Town in the replay
It was back to League action the following weekend and a long trip to Devon to face Tiverton Town. Two down inside nine minutes Town looked set for a thumping of cricket score proportions, but a spirited fightback saw them level the match at 3-3 with only eight minutes left only for Tivvy substitute Sam Malson – who had a brief spell with Town under Micky Moore – to hit a last minute winner with near enough his first and only touch.
Jamie Sheldon had followed Adkins from Leamington in time for the Coalville matches and the popular Tyrone Fagan made his belated return to action at Tiverton, but that same match marked the end of Josh Shepherd’s time with Town while the sad demise of Hinckley United opened the way for the arrival of Gary Moran.
Next up was the visit of Redditch United – including Jamie Molyneux and Jim Mutton – in the Red Insure League Cup, and in an astonishing match featuring kamikaze defending from both sides Town managed to lose 6-4 to make it two consecutive seasons of exiting all their Cup competitions at the first time of asking.
But at least it cleared the decks for the main aim of the campaign – survival in the Calor Southern League – and certainly the absence of any lengthy Cup run had been a positive advantage in their title winning campaign last season.
Nevertheless Carl Adams immediately had another problem to deal with as Joe Halsall again felt the he could do better elsewhere. In a bizarre sequence of events he turned out for Evesham and Barwell before ending up at Chasetown all inside a fortnight. Some time later he apparently had a change of heart but by then Town had a settled squad and last season’s Player of the Year was left to rue his lack of judgement.
A more comforting feature of the season so far had been the prolific strike partnership of Richard Gregory and Matt West with 14 goals between them in the League and another five in cups. But there were problems at the back with 24 conceded in the first 10 League games while six cup games had seen a further 16 hit the back of Town’s net.
So with the cup games out of the way Carl Adams moved to address Town’s defensive issues, and with Gary Moran established at right back he swooped on struggling Bedworth United to bring in the highly rated keeper Andy Kemp and centre back Callum Burgess who both quickly became firm favourites with the Town supporters.
And with Kemp and Burgess in the Town line-up two rampant DCS performances saw Guildford swept aside 4-0 as Town managed their first clean sheet of the season, followed by a 5-2 demolition of Bishops Cleeve which included a Gregory four-timer. His first goal arrived after just 36 seconds, but Matt West struck even quicker in the next match when on a near unplayable pitch at Fleet he netted within 16 seconds of Town kicking off with no Fleet player touching the ball !!
But having notched up a hat trick of wins which propelled them into the top half of the table Town immediately suffered a dip in results as the fixtures suddenly became tougher. A home defeat by eventual champions Cirencester was followed by a midweek away loss to a combative Mangotsfield side, and although a point was taken from an entertaining 3-3 draw at the DCS with Yate a third defeat in four outings followed at Taunton.
The latter defeat was particularly disappointing as Taunton had their keeper sent off halfway through the first half with Town frustratingly unable to test the outfielder who took over between the posts.
And the match had a real sting in its tail as Carl Adams put himself on for the final few minutes and straightaway was involved in a totally accidental collision with a Taunton player which resulted in broken ribs and several nights stay in Taunton hospital.
All the time the squad was continuing to evolve. Another of the MFA winning team Richard Robinson moved on while around this time there were brief appearances from the likes of Stuart Adamson, Jamie Clarke and Michael Williams.
But the most significant departure was Matt West who after the match at Mangotsfield suddenly announced that he was leaving for a six month visit to Australia. Ten goals in 17 appearances were impressive enough statistics but they didn’t tell the whole story as his selfless running and eye for a pass had also contributed to many of the goals netted by his more prolific strike partner Richard Gregory.
Town got back to winning ways with a midweek win against Clevedon with Alex Price making his debut but they then ran into a worrying sequence of four straight defeats. Table toppers Merthyr Town nicked the points scoring the only goal of what was arguably the best game seen at the DCS all season in the fifth minute of added time, and this was followed by another home defeat to a physical Bridgwater team and a narrow away defeat at Shortwood.
With the season now at its halfway mark Town had 25 points from 21 games – with Gregory now on 21 goals plus 4 in the Cup games – and many Town supporters anticipated that Town collect three more from the DCS Boxing Day clash against local rivals Evesham United, but having dominated the first half without scoring Town fell to a sucker punch late on as the Robins added to Town’s gathering gloom with a 1-0 win.
Town had now slumped to 15th in the table but that however was to mark the low point of the season. Although next up – and their last match of 2013 – was a daunting trip to play-off contenders North Leigh, just when they needed to Town turned the form book upside down with a performance full of character and commitment, and with Chris Sterling at last rediscovering his old Rocester form they destroyed North Leigh with four goals in the second half to head into the New Year very much on a high.
But the early weeks of 2014 brought only frustration to Carl Adams and his squad as it rained and rained and rained. The first three matches were off due to waterlogging before Town were able to play at Didcot where they continued where they had left off at North Leigh with a 4-1 win.
But the monsoons continued with the next three games also off before the weather relented enough to allow a midweek DCS game against Wimborne. Even then though it was played in thoroughly unpleasant conditions of first a gale force wind and then after half time rain as well Town made it three wins on the bounce with a 4-2 success after being behind twice.
Those three wins had seen Callum Burgess and Loyiso Recci establish themselves as Carl Adams first choice in the middle of the backline with Guy Clark also being added to the defence and as a result Dan Parker switched to join ex-Town boss Rod Brown at Stourport Swifts with his final Town appearance being in the defeat at Shortwood.
Another trio of postponements followed the last of which was the away match at Guildford City which meant that in 2014 nine out of eleven fixtures had been washed away, but while there was no on-field action there certainly was off it with a new covered stand being erected at the Golf Course End in order to comply with ground grading requirements.
Action at last resumed on Saturday February 22nd with the short trip to Bishops Cleeve – where Mason Rowley made his Town debut – which saw Town turn on the style in the second half to run out 4-2 winners, and they followed this up two days later under the semi darkness of the faltering Clevedon floodlights with a 5-1 scoreline to extend their winning sequence to five.
These two results together with the win over Wimborne gained Town the Division 1 South and West Team of the Month Award for February, and also took Carl Adams’ side past the 40 point mark which virtually guaranteed safety with a quarter of the season still to go, while Gregory had now come through to be the Division’s leading scorer.
With basement side Fleet Town due to visit the DCS next Town were confidently expected to make it six wins on the bounce but they had to come back from being two down at half time to force a draw before returning to winning ways with a hugely satisfying success over Mangotsfield.
Town then ran into a particularly demanding set of fixtures as Cirencester Town, Paulton Rovers and Yate Town all proved to be that crucial bit too strong and streetwise, but sandwiched between those three setbacks was another totally committed performance when Town emerged from a tempestuous encounter at Cinderford with their 8th away win of the campaign.
Even though six games had so far played in March there were still two more to go, and they were to provide breathless entertainment for the DCS faithful as Town rattled in no less than twelve goals in destroying Thatcham 7-1 in the reverse of their opening day fixture and then hitting five against Taunton which set them up nicely for their trip to face table topping Merthyr on their 3G pitch.
But it all went wrong for Town inside five minutes at the Cigg-E stadium when keeper Andy Kemp suffered a season-ending knee injury as Town went on to lose 5-1.
Kemp’s injury meant a recall for Sam Brady for the final six games, and he kept a clean sheet in the first which was a dreadfully untidy 1-0 win at bottom club Guildford City. This was followed by a far more satisfying 4-3 DCS extravaganza against Swindon Supermarine, and although Tiverton Town showed their class with a 4-2 win at the DCS on Maundy Thursday Town made it three wins from four games with a narrow 2-1 win at Godalming on Easter Saturday.
Gregory had continued to find the back of the net with stunning regularity as he broke Town scoring records going back 60 years and stretched his lead at the top of the Division’s goalscoring charts, with his late spot kick winner at Godalming taking him to 39 League goals and Town to 99.
The Town faithful confidently expected Gregory to make it 40 and Town to achieve their century when Cinderford visited the DCS for Town’s last home game of the season on Easter Monday but frustratingly it was not to be as a third game in five days was one too many.
Injury prevented Gregory reappearing after half time, and although Town did reach the magical 100 it was hardly a cause for celebration as it was an own goal by a Cinderford defender in the 90th minute by which time Town were three down and soundly beaten.
Another tired performance followed in the final match at Bridgwater where the home side dealt with the galeforce wind far better than Town to win 4-3, but at least Town had the last word with Tyrone Fagan’s injury time strike taking their League total in a hugely entertaining campaign to a remarkable 103.
But in spite of ending with two defeats Town still finished in 10th spot in the table having picked up 37 points in the second half of the season which represented a near 50% improvement on the first half.
Considering it had all been a learning curve from start to finish a top ten finish was in many ways a greater achievement than winning the MFA a year earlier, and surely at the top end of most supporter’s expectations when the season kicked off back in August.
Carl Adams deserves immense credit for dealing with the increased demands of the Southern League football as well as he did, and there is little doubt that he succeeded in strengthening his squad as the season progressed as shown by the difference in points gained before and after Christmas.
And 10th was an accurate reflection of Town’s season since a breakdown of their points shows that they only took 16 from matches against the nine teams that finished above them compared to 46 when facing the 12 teams which finished below.
So all in all everyone connected with Town can look back on a hugely satisfying debut campaign in the brave new world of the Southern League when they lived the e dream after so many years of waiting.
There were some tremendous games at the DCS with the standard noticeably higher than the fare of previous seasons, and those supporters who followed Town to their away games experienced new grounds with welcoming atmospheres as Carl Adams’ side invariably made a positive impression with their open style of play.
But it is bound to be different next time round as Town will no longer be the new boys and expectations will inevitably be higher. Carl Adams knows this as much as anyone – in particular he is aware of the need to tighten up defensively – and in his end-of-season interview with the Herald he tellingly referred to the need for “a Joe Halsall type player to strengthen us in the middle of the park where the good teams tend to dominate us.”
Town supporters would surely agree totally with this assessment, and that’s just one topic which will no doubt occupy their thoughts during the summer break !!
Review compiled by Bryan Hale
FIVE STAR TOWN STUN THATCHAM (First game of the season)
Thatcham Town – 1 – Paterson 58
Stratford Town – 5 – West (2) 23 & 87 Green 39 Gregory (2) 70 & 90 + 2
For so long it had seemed to be an impossible dream, but promotion at last became reality for Town at Waterside Park on Saturday when they began life in the brave new world of the Calor Southern League only four short months after clinching the Baker Joiner MFA Championship.
And Carl Adams’ side turned in a performance far beyond the expectations of even their most optimistic supporter as they ran in five goals to get the season off to a fairytale start and send the sizeable contingent of Town fans who had travelled to witness their Club’s debut at Step 4 of the Non-League pyramid back home surely pinching themselves to see if it really was true.
With the majority of the title winning squad having gone their separate ways Town’s team for this history making occasion had a distinctly new look about it, and of the side which started last season’s final MFA game only Harry Donaghy, Simeon Tulloch and Joe Halsall did so here.
Not surprisingly Town made a cautious start, and in the opening minutes teenage keeper Sam Brady – who was preferred to last season’s regular stopper Chris Jay after impressing in the last few friendlies – showed his bravery by coming out to punch clear as Callum Willmoth chased down a through ball, and soon after confidently held a snap shot from Kalief Madden.
Gradually though Town settled down with Joe Halsall and Rob Evans making their presence felt in midfield, and they took the lead on 23 minutes when Phil Green headed a Simeon Tulloch right wing cross into the path of Matt West who from 12 yards out drilled the ball beyond the left hand of Thatcham keeper Ashley West into the bottom corner of the net.
Thatcham tried to hit back with a rasping Willmoth effort being deflected behind off a defender before Town doubled their lead on 38 minutes with a cleverly worked free kick a couple of yards outside the penalty area. Matt West deceived the Thatcham defensive wall by looking as if he was going to shoot and instead rolled the ball to the unmarked Green who neatly slid it past the helpless Ashley West to send Town in at the break two up.
Town had an early chance soon after the start of the second half when Chris Sterling worked his way to the byline down the left to set up an opening for Green who hit his shot straight at the relieved Ashley West.
But Thatcham were now upping their tempo in an effort to get back into the game, and Alex Charlick let fly with a fierce effort which Brady only held at the second attempt before they pulled a goal back on 58 minutes in hugely controversial circumstances.
It stemmed from a Charlick free kick which was floated into the Town six yard box where it was touched on by Chris Paterson only for Brady to smother the ball apparently on the line. Thatcham appealed that it had crossed the line before being grabbed by Brady but the referee initially waved play on until seconds later, with Town in possession on the halfway line, he was alerted to some frantic flag waving from his assistant.
After stopping the game to consult with the assistant he then bizarrely reversed his original decision and awarded Thatcham the goal.
On the day when the Goal Decision System was launched in the Premier League it would certainly have been interesting had it been in operation here.
Town were temporarily knocked out of their stride by this setback as Thatcham cranked up the pressure. Charlie Hull went close from distance and the dangerous Charlick finished a run from inside his own half with another well struck effort which was spectacularly tipped over by Brady.
But with twenty minutes to go Town regained their two goal advantage with arguably the best move of the match as Simeon Tulloch and Josh Shepherd exchanged passes down the right for Shepherd to deliver an inch perfect cross which was turned in by substitute Richard Gregory from close range.
Soon after only the crossbar prevented Thatcham falling further behind when a Sterling special rebounded to safety with Ashley West well beaten, but then at the other end Brady continued his outstanding form as he produced a tremendous double save when Thatcham mounted what turned out to be their last meaningful attack.
His first save was smart enough as he plunged to his right to parry another fierce drive from Charlick but his second was even better as he recovered instantly to block Hull’s follow-up as well.
From then on the result was never in doubt, and Town emphasised that it was very much their day by scoring twice more in the last five minutes.
The first came when Town won a penalty after Paterson was red carded for bring down Matt Gasper. Although the keeper saved Matt West’s spot kick Town’s Man of the Match thumped home the rebound, and in added time he turned provider by helping on a long throw which was volleyed in by Gregory to complete a memorable and special afternoon.
TOWN : Sam Brady, Josh Shepherd. Harry Donaghy, Liam Reynolds, Jim Mutton (Loyiso Recci 46), Rob Evans, Simeon Tulloch (Matt Gasper 78), Joe Halsall, Matt West, Phil Green (Richard Gregory 61), Chris Sterling.. Unused Subs – None.
THATCHAM : Ashley West, Ben McCready, Matt Bowler, Chris Paterson, Gareth Thomas, Jordan Seward (Tom Lockyer 57), Callum Willmoth, Charlie Hull, Kalief Madden, Sam Hamilton (Adam Wallace 74), Alex Charlick. Unused Subs – Peter Raines, George Stirland & James East
Referee – Robin Cox
Assistant Referees – Paul Maxwell & Thomas Moisey
Attendance – 66
Town Man of the Match – Matt West
The View From The Dug-Out – Carl Adams is all smiles after a winning start
“That was a tremendous performance and a great result.
We look like a team that can score goals and that was proved today. We are also a developing team with a lot of new players – we have a nice blend of youth and experience and they are increasing in confidence and understanding all the time.
But although there are plenty of positives to take from today we mustn’t get carried away – it was only one game.”
Match Stats by Rod Abrahams
Town – GA 11 OT 7 HW 1 CW 3 FC 13 OS 2 YC 2 RC 0
Thatcham – GA 11 OT 6 HW 0 CW 2 FC 10 OS 2 YC 1 RC 1
Town Yellow Cards – Halsall & Reynolds
Thatcham Yellow Cards – Hull Red Card – Paterson
Match Report by Bryan Hale