2022/23 season

(updated monthly as we go along – links to external websites on match summaries may expire over time)

Bards now managed by Dean Holdworth renewed the contracts of several regulars from the previous season, but it was disappointing for many that Jordan Williams had moved away from the area. Also departing were Jimmy Fry (to Bromsgrove) and Kynan Isaac after 4 seasons. Paul McCone and James O’Neill were signed to form the central defence, with Josh Endall to play on the left side. Josh Hawker (central midfield) and attacker Dexter Walters also joined before the start of the season as did Jamie Molyneux returning to the club after 9 seasons away. They joined Will Grocott for a 7th season, Dann Vann (4th season), Ashley Sammons and Will Dawes for a 3rd season and keeper Liam O’Brien, Jack Storer, Dan Lafferty and Jack Turner all returning for a second season.

With Banbury Utd and Peterborough Sports (play-off winners) promoted into the National League North, there was a reshuffle with Mickleover and Basford transferring from the Northern Premier League step 3 across to our ‘Central’ division. Biggleswade (who beat us 7-1) and Lowestoft (the furthest away) dropped out of the league replaced by Bedford and Ilkeston (step 4 winners in their leagues). Barwell remained in the league on PPG compared to other bottom 3 sides at step 3. Kings Langley also returned after nearly being relegated from the Southern Section to make up the numbers to a full set of teams again (22). In theory, a slightly easier division than last year, Town were 20th favourites to win the league at 66/1. Let’s hope the bookies get it wrong.

Off the pitch, newly refurbished outside classrooms were constructed alongside the 4G pitch, and a new drive alongside the classrooms for extra car parking – the board fully backing the full time education programme giving youngsters an opportunity to learn alongside being coached and playing for Academy sides and invested a considerable amount of money into the programme and the infrastructure that goes with it.

Town announced 2 new directors – Paul West and Steve Sykes and a new man on the mic Stuart Morse who announces the 50/50 winners

Town had their usual pre-season fixtures against sides below them, football league select XIs and National League sides. All 10 friendlies scheduled for the whole of July were at home and started on the 2nd when The Bards hosted an Open Day to witness the 2 new seated stands by the dugouts, a new ‘fanzone’ and our only friendly victory – a 5-2 win over Coventry Sphinx. As usual there were plenty of trialists on show and apart from a 2-2 draw v lower-level Daventry all other friendlies were lost, some by considerable margins, although as they say it’s more about fitness!

AUGUSTBards in mid-table and according to the bookmakers, the league table is upside down!

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The Bards lay in 10th place in the table with 2 wins, 3 draws and a heavy defeat at St Ives in their 2nd game. If we had managed to hold on when winning in the last few minutes of those 3 draws, then we would be sitting pretty near the top of the table. As it is Bards were a couple of points off the top 5. Apart from the St Ives game (when going down to 10 men early), the results show The Bards have been competitive in the rest of the games and have played some good football at times particularly v Bromsgrove, the highlight of the month.

Bedford, who had been promoted from step 4, came to The Arden Garages Stadium for the first game of the season. Bards grabbed the lead against the run of play on 26 after Josh Hawker intercepted the ball and ran through to score. In the second half, clearances off the line from Grocott and Hawker kept the score to 1-0. Bedford, who according to Rod had twice as many goal attempts (20) as Bards, equalised on 88 firing in from close range. Bards had 11 attempts, 9 on target – Bedford had 8 on target so maybe a draw was a fair result. (Youtube highlights)

A heavy defeat at St Ives followed in the first away game of the season on one of the hottest days of the year. Former Bard, Nabil Sharrif bagged a hat-trick with another ex-Bard Kaziboni causing problems for the Bards defence. The first 2 goals for the home side came from the penalty spot in the first 20 minutes with the first on only 5. 7 minutes later, Storer was sent off and The Bards were up against it. 2-0 down at half time, it was 4-0 after an hour. St Ives made it 5 after missing a penalty. Stratford had the chance for a consolation but Grocott had his penalty saved on a day to forget

At Redditch Utd, 2 days after St Ives, Bards threw away a 2-goal lead in the last 7 minutes. Bards were on top with 2 goals from Hawker smashing in a rebound and a Grocott free kick going straight in, in a 5-minute spell midway through the second half. Redditch scrambled the ball in after 84 and another close range goal inninjury time denied Bards all 3 points. “We must see the game out”, said Dean again. (Youtube highlights). Again, Rod’s stats showed Redditch had more attempts 9 with only 3 on target. Bards had 4 on target from 7

Our only clean sheet came in our first win in our 4th game, a 1-0 win v Hednesford with an Ash volley on the half hour. Hednesford pushed for an equaliser, but O’Brien was largely untroubled.- (post match reaction).

Bank Holiday Saturday saw The Bards go to Kings Langley. “This was beyond doubt the most disappointing result this season for The Bard and a massive missed opportunity in a game of 2 halves.” stated the website. In another frustrating game, Bards failed to capitalise after the home side went down to 10 men after 35. They eventually took the lead on 88 through Rooney poking home after 88 but Kings Langley scrambled the ball home with the last kick of the game. The post match reaction talked about game management and scoring when on top.

As August drew to a close with the highly entertaining 4-2 win v Bromsgrove, at 2-2 with 10 minutes to go v Bromsgrove, who included 6 ex Town players and an ex-manager, the game could arguably have gone either way but 2 late goals from Town for a change – Paul McCone’s header and Dexter’s breakaway goal sealed the points. Bromsgrove took the lead on 15 through Ex Bard Jimmy Fry but and Josh Hawker slid in our first a minute later. Another Ex-Bard, Dan Sweeney scored from the spot just before the hour but 2 minutes later, Michael McGrath netted for The Bards slicing a cross into his own net. Both sides had 7 shots on target (Bards had 13 attempts to 11) according to Rod, but Bards had to defend 15 corners. “It was a credit to the boys that 48 hours after that tough game against Kings Langley, to come and do what we did today was outstanding and I’m immensely proud of them.” said Gav. Highlights on Youtube (Bromsgrove Sporting)

Town seem to have a settled team – Liam, the central defence and midfield, with 8 players making all 6 appearances, Jack Turner (5) and Adam Rooney starting the last 3 games up front. This time last year we had 9 points from 5 games and were 5th. Josh Hawker leads the goal scoring charts with 3.

League Table  in a turn up for the bookmakers and their odds at the start of the season, Nuneaton Borough (66/1) are the early pace setters with 5 wins out of 6 having struggled last year, taking over from Coalville Town who led the way until losing their last game. 2 of the teams who The Bards have played, Kings Langley (100/1 and strugglers last year) and St Ives are also in a play off position sandwiched between TamworthAt the other end, Rushden and Diamonds (18/1), Hednesford (8/1), Stourbridge (8/1) and much fancied Ilkeston (5/2 favourites!) have yet to win a game. Bards’ opening opponents, Bedford have conceded the most goals (17) in their 6 games (not helped by losing 8-1 v Tamworth).

Players In  Adam Rooney (“probably the biggest signing this football club has ever had”), winger Chris Lait (who played for us in 2012 and then in 2013 was part of the promotion-winning team under Carl Adams), Ryan Inman (midfielder returning from United States), the versatile Taylor Morrison (who was with The Bards in 2018 and scored at Needham Market on his only appearance before playing for Alvechurch, Redditch and Tamworth) and Felix Miles (attacking midfielder) and Brennan Denness-Barrett (pacey attacker) who both joined after being released by League One side Cheltenham Town

SEPTEMBER – Bards in mid table 2 points off the playoffs but are out of the FA Cup

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The Bards started off the month well with a 4-0 victory in The FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round at Cleethorpes. We’re told via the club website “it was an epic cup tie against formidable cup opponents, that had everything from an [Adam Rooney] hat-trick, disallowed goals, balls kicked off the line, balls hitting the post and the inevitable squabble.” “The goals we scored were brilliant” said Dean. Sounds well worth the trip! Cleethorpes, a step below Stratford, had started their league fixtures with 4 wins out of 4. Highlights on Youtube – (Owls TV)

The draw in the next round wasn’t favourable with a home game against 2nd in the Nationwide North Banbury Utd and in front of another large crowd at The Arden Garages Stadium, The Bards had plenty of chances to get something from the game but were beaten by a spectacular goal just before half time. Leon Phillips on loan from Alvechurch had a fine debut making some good saves. A day after it was announced Dean Holdsworth had stepped down as joint manager.

In the league The Bards started with 1 win and 1 draw to go 6 games unbeaten to lie just outside the top 5 but lost at Ilkeston to fall back to 10th, still only 2 points outside the playoffs. The Ilkeston game sounds like a bit of a nightmare with injuries during the warmup and 2 during the first half including what sounded like a nasty injury to Jack. All the goals took place in 7 minutes – despite taking the lead through Adam, the re-shuffled Bards quickly conceded 2 at the other end. Despite losing to a team below us, Ilkeston were the favourites for promotion and have picked up since changing managers including a recent impressive 4-1 win at Coalville. “it’s a tough pill to swallow” said Gav

September’s league games were delayed with the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll. After a minutes silence and singing the national anthem, Dan Vann’s header after 3 minutes at the back post from a corner gave The Bards a flying start in a new dark blue kit v Rushden and Diamonds. A 2nd through Dexter Walter’s tap in in the 2nd half from another Grocott assist sealed the game. Credit to Louis and the defence for a clean sheet after Liam was withdrawn before the game started. “I felt from minute one tonight the lads were in control” said Gav. Highlights on Youtube – (AFCRDTV)

The Bards then faced their toughest league test of the season at home to Nuneaton. We rode our luck at times in front of another large crowd but it was an excellent point in another entertaining game with Dan Lafferty getting our equaliser and Nuneaton again missing a penalty against us. Another excellent performance by Leon our loan keeper and Dexter had a fine game causing the Nuneaton defence problems down the wing so much so they were reduced to 10 men.

Players – Will Grocott and Josh Hawker have been ever present in midfield so has Jamie Molyneux (1 as sub). Jack Turner and Ashley (some as sub) and Dexter (some as sub) have only missed 1 game. The injury to Paul McCone in the last game ended the impressive season long partnership with James McNeill at the back. Josh Hawker tops the league scoring charts with 3 followed by Dexter Walters and Adam Rooney with 2.

League Table  9 games in and the league is fairly tight – Tamworth top and Nuneaton have 20 points followed by last year’s play off finalists Coalville (19) Needham Market (16) and Leiston (15) completing the play off positions. With 13 points, the unbeaten at home and winless away Bards lie in 10th 2 points behind 5th placed Leiston. At the other end Hednesford (2 points) now under Steve Burr have yet to win a game, Rushden and Diamonds (5) and Stourbridge (7) are in the relegation spots with 1 win each – Rushden losing 7-0 in their last home game v Coalville. Ex Bard Daniel Creaney is the first to double figures with 11 goals so far for Tamworth.

Players In  21 year old goalkeeper Leon Phillips and Lewis Wilson. Leon on loan from Alvechurch – more on the league website who has been impressive in goal and the versatile Lewis Wilson who came on as sub v Banbury. Lewis first joined the club at the start of the 2018/19 season and returned every year apart from the brief 2020/21 season.

Players Who Departed – Will Dawes to Yeovil Town

OCTOBERA month of 5 goalkeepers, 4 league defeats, average 3 goals conceded – 2 goals minimum per game, 1 win

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The Bards clearly missed Liam this month and used 5 goalkeepers in his place conceding 15 league goals some of which were very soft and it was noticeable at times needing to use different goalkeepers affected the defending. We won’t win many points conceding an average of 3 goals per game and a minimum of 2 although we did manage to score 4 v Needham Market in a somewhat surprising result against the best defence after 5-0 and 4-0 league defeats. Despite being in 18th, Bards are 7 points off a play-off spot or 7 points from an automatic relegation spot and the game v Hitchin summed up how close the league is as The Bards went from 7th to 16th in their 13th game in the space of 23 minutes. Bards appointed a new technical director Simon Hollyhead at the start of the month. He was Assistant Manager at Malmo and Stevenage.

It is said there are 3 certain things in life – death, taxes and The Bards failing to beat Rushall Olympic. This time it was another thumping 5-0 defeat this season which ended our unbeaten home league record in emphatic style. It’s now 6 defeats out of 7 and 21 goals conceded against them! Jed apologised to the supporters after the game on behalf of himself and the players and it did seem some players were playing with knocks. Five goals of absurd simplicity stated the website, the 2nd was hotly disputed for a foul on Leon after a goal direct from a corner and the third past a clearly injured Leon resulted in his substitution by Callum Monaghan.4-star entertainment (Non-League Paper) it was not for The Bards fans! Rushall had 10 shots on target from 13 attempts to Stratford’s 5 from 9 attempts according to Rod but Bards never looked like threatening to end the hoodoo against them. “a really bad day at the office” said Gav – “conceding silly goals must stop’ was the headline in The Herald.

FA Trophy – losing 2-1 to Royston for the second successive season, The Bards exited the competition at the first stage for the fourth year running. Despite the Royston keeper having a busier time than our debutant youth keeper Luke Bell, The Bards only goal came from a fine finish from a Royston defender 3 minutes (on the new scoreboard clock) into the game under no pressure from a cross. Bards conceded another soft goal just before half time with maybe the aid of a deflection. A tap in for the visitors with 15 to go saw the Bards exit. Still, it was good to see more first teamers back maybe some not fully fit yet and it has been acknowledged the service to the front 3 needs improving. “We’ve switched off in both boxes and it’s cost us our cup run” said Gav. The new 40-page online programme included an insightful look at how sports clubs in the district are going to face the increasing energy costs with The Chairman, and an update on the club’s Academy.

After a 5-0 defeat in the league, The Bards shipped 4 at Stourbridge without reply at another unhappy hunting ground for The Bards now losing their 4 games there at this level conceding 14 Niall Maher became the 6th goalkeeper to be used by The Bards who were 2-0 down at half time – moving swiftly on…According to Rod, Stourbridge ha 11 shots on target to Stratford’s 4.

After 2 crushing defeats and no league wins in 4, against the meanest defence in Needham Market, Stratford scored 2 in quick time after a fairly even first 25 minutes with Jack Storer and Andre Wright opening their accounts for the season to make it 2-0 at half time. The Bards are still conceding sloppy goals and after we lost the ball in possession near the halfway line, Needham Market reduced the arrears. The Bards, however, hit back straight away to regain their 2-goal advantage – Storer finishing in the box again from a cross, one of many fine moves throughout the game. Once again, a sloppy goal was conceded but another fine individual effort from Andre won the game 4-2. Special mention to Will’s magnificent volley from outside the box which would have made the Goal of the Season shortlist had it not been for the offside flag! Many Bards fans were impressed with the slick passing moves throughout the game and there were a number of Man of the Match candidates – Dan Lafferty (tannoy), Andre (club award) and Jack Storer (Non-League paper). Sam Wilding also had a fine debut providing much needed defensive midfield duties. The front 2 benefitted from much improved service (compared to sometimes the striker(s) being isolated in previous games). According to Rod, Bards had 9 on target from their 14 attempts, Needham managed 4 on target from 11. The online programme had Articles by Martin Kenny on memorable games at Masons Road and an interview with The Bards new Business Development Manager Mick Parsons

Next up, playing Hitchin Town who were without a win in 6 and the 2nd lowest scorers gave The Bards fans hope of another victory under the new brighter floodlights. Jack Storer’s fine control and shot looked to have given Bards the lead after half time only for the offside flag to be raised late and after consulting the assistant, the referee disallowed the goal. Dan Lafferty’s pile driver on 58 minutes after another fine move did put us ahead and moved The Bards close to a play-off position. But another defensive mix up (the sort of goal that makes the Christmas ‘blooper’ DVD’s with defender heading past their own keeper after a punt upfield) drew Hitchin level. Hitchin scored their 2nd with 10 to go – they only had 2 on target from 5 compared to Bards 5 on target from 8 according to Rod. There were a couple of scrambles in the Hitchin box and what looked like a foul on Sammons in the area waved away by the ref as frustration grew with Bards also collecting 4 bookings. Hitchin held on as the game neared the 100th minute and leapfrog us scoring from both their shots on target. As Gavin said – “As a Manager I was really happy in how we played, how we created and how we kept our shape but if you’re not clinical in both boxes you won’t win a game you won’t even draw a game. For 85% of the game we dominated the game and played some great football but we beat ourselves“. On-line programme

In their final game of the month, Stratford again lost to a side below them at Barwell . It was encouraging Liam was back on the bench but with just 2 minutes gone, another ‘calamity in defence’ saw indecision from the keeper leading to Barwell nipping in and opening the scoring. That said, Louis made some fine saves in the game. The game began to swing after Jack Storer came on and Andre Wright drew the Bards level with a crisp shot outside the box with fans now expecting a win. That lasted 2 minutes as Barwell scored a winner after slack marking. “If you’re not clinical in both boxes you won’t win football matches.” said Gav in what was becoming a recurring theme. According to Rod, the shots on target were fairly even, Bards 9 from 18 attempts to Barwell’s 8 from 15 attempts.

Players – James O’Neill and Will Grocott have been ever present, Sammons and Molyneux (sometimes coming on as sub) have missed 1 game. The 3 goals Andre Wright scored in his first 3 games mean he is now joint top league goal scorer alongside Josh Hawker.

League Table  Tamworth have opened up a 10-point sizeable gap at the top of the table with 35 points after Nuneaton (25 points) failed to win their last 3 games including a surprise defeat at Rushden and Diamonds. Leiston join Nuneaton on 25 points with both having a game in hand, Redditch (24) and Coalville (23 with 2 games in hand) make up the play off positions. Leiston had the biggest win of the month, 7-1 at Bromsgrove. Bards are 18th with 16 points but Alvechurch (15) below us have 3 games in hand. The bottom 2 are Hednesford (8) and Rushden and Diamonds (9 points and with a minus 26 goal difference). Hednesford beat Rushden 5-0 for their only victory so far. Bards have kept their only clean sheets in the wins against the bottom 2 sides. Kings Langley (13) are in the relegation play-off spot. Needham Market still have the meanest defence in the league conceding 12 goals with 4 coming v The Bards. Ex Bard Daniel Creaney is top of the scoring charts with 18 goals (half of Tamworth’s total) – Ex Bard Leroy Lita is joint 2nd with 10 goals out of Hednesford’s 18. The 2 promoted sides last year Banbury (2nd at the start of the month) and Peterborough Sports are mid table in step 2.

Players In  goalkeeper number 5 Niall Maher after Leon was injured after replacing the injured Liam. Goalkeeper number 6 Luke Bell also signed the same week. Andre Wright was brought in up front to replace Adam Rooney. Andre has bought in much needed presence up front, linking up play well and scoring fine individual goals. Former Sunderland Under 23 captain defensive midfielder Sam Wilding also joined and the league website announced Jesse Akubuine joined from Rushden and Diamonds.

Players Who Departed – Adam Rooney left to go to Brackley Town after the FA Trophy game.