Three points not far away

Since 1st September and the re-start for Steps 3-6 in non-league football, the games have come thick and fast and continue to do so for the next few months in order to get the season completed in a timely fashion, this of course is not allowing for any postponements along the way.

Tuesday evening saw another local trip to the featured club, East Preston and with it more goals. Alfold were the visitors in the Southern Combination Premier Division, a very progressive club aiming to follow in the footsteps of Dorking Wanderers. Their facilities are improving every year and looked impressive when I visited with Wick two seasons ago, I believe things now have moved on once again and I might have to sneak in a visit over the course of this season.

EP were on the end of a narrow defeat to Eastbourne Utd at the weekend but having strengthened the squad with the signings of Callum Litterick, Scott Vine and Tijan Sparks a bit more experience has been added to what is still a very young but improving side.

The visitors were always going to be a stern test, a strong tall but mobile outfit who battle for every ball and after you know you’ve been in a game. EP are slowly putting together a side that should eventually finish in a higher position than where they are now.

A muggy September evening but welcome sunshine during the day, the game certainly had the feel of an early August summer night though. East Preston as per last Tuesday night’s game against Loxwood started the much brighter of the two sides and once again drew first blood.

The impressive Conor Bull gave the home side the lead inside 10 minutes, a bit of pinball around the area saw the ball break to Bull to slot home. Plenty of endeavour followed from the visitors but the defence marshalled by skipper Charlie Robinson held firm backed up by keeper Keelan Belcher.

Bull extended the home side’s lead on 42 minutes, a fierce shot from outside the box gave James Stallen no chance and a 2-0 lead for EP. That should have been the half time score, but Alfold had other ideas and in first half stoppage time Devon Fender slotted past Belcher to halve the deficit and possibly change the half time team talks for both managers.

Just past the hour mark the visitors levelled things up through substitute Kelvin Lucas whilst East Preston played very much on the counter attack, Bull had the chance late on to win the game and complete his hat-trick, but an outstanding save from Stallen to tip the ball around the post kept the scores level while at the other end Belcher and his defence stood firm for both sides to share the spoils.

Few things to note from an EP perspective, the return of Chad Milner up front gave the defence something to think about while Bull was a constant menace throughout the first half and deserved his two goals.

The introduction of Sparks into the midfield has given it more bite and determination and Robinson enjoyed a good ninety minute battle with Tiago Andrade, a good bustling centre-forward for this level. The biggest difference for me compared to last Tuesday night against Loxwood was better defending in and around their own penalty area, something learnt from last week which when you have a young team is the hope they don’t repeat the same mistakes.

It was a big ask for a full game press, it worked very well in the first half which contributed to the two-nil lead and although you could still see flashes of it in the second half it wasn’t quite as strong, but Rome wasn’t built in a day! Improvement week on week is all you can ask for and this was certainly a step in the right direction, a break from league action this coming Saturday with a trip to Division One Oakwood in the FA Vase and hopefully much needed income and a first win.

Dodd: We just need to keep working hard and results will come

Tuesday evening saw me and a couple of mates’ head to East Preston for their second league match of the season. For me a little unchartered territory, I don’t think I’ve been to so many games early on in a season when I’ve not been attached to a club, five so far and two more planned before we get to the end of the weekend.

This also marked the first home game where EP were using my paid for services, a programme article designed especially for them and a different one to be produced per home game unless they play two in a few days. They join Langney Wanderers as the second club on board for this and I’m open to any clubs reading this to get in touch, I can produce whatever you like for your programme be it in print or online and it just gives something more to read, I’ll add the email address in at the bottom of this.

Back to the matter in hand and East Preston vs Loxwood and of course some words from the boss Terry Dodd. EP went into the game on the back of a 2-2 draw at home to Little Common in their first league game at the weekend, having surrendered a two-goal lead.

Their visitors were aiming for their first points after a narrow 2-1 defeat at Saltdean and it looked from the first 20 minutes that back to back defeats were on the cards, Chad Milner scoring his second in two games to give the hosts the lead inside five minutes.

EP certainly looked the brighter of the two sides until Loxwood equalised when a bizarrely awarded free kick was despatched in the net on 38 minutes. I say bizarre because it appeared the referee dropped the ball for a re-start in the Loxwood half for them to play back to EP, a half-hearted lob forward fell short of keeper Keelan Belcher, bounced, and the return ball bobbled from a defender into his hands deemed a back pass by the referee with players very unsure as to what he had actually allowed to happen from that drop ball.

The visitors went into the half time break in front when EP failed to clear from inside their box and Luke Brodie slotted past Belcher.

The second half belonged to Loxwood with Fraser Trigwell not forced into a single save. Belcher on the other hand made several fine saves to keep his side in the match but two superbly hit strikes from Lewis Westlake, his second of the game and substitute Bradley Campbell-Francis gave the scoreline a very uneven look and leave Dodd’s side still searching for their first win of the season, but he wasn’t too disheartened afterwards:

‘Tonight was a bit frustrating, I thought for the first 30 minutes we were different class and had we got a second goal in that time I think we would have gone on to win the game, but all of a sudden we switched off and let them get back into the game.’

‘Keelan (Belcher) worked hard to keep us in it and we just need to protect him a bit more as he’s done well over the last 180 minutes. I thought Chad (Milner) coming off injured hampered us a bit because he was looking really sharp and was causing their defence all sorts of problems.’

‘I don’t think we’re too far away as a team, we’ve got the players to do well in this division, they just need to believe in themselves. It may take us a few more weeks but we’ll get there I’m sure of it.’

‘I expect us to head to Eastbourne on Saturday for the players to give it a real go, those sides are always strong, so we’ll be in for a battle but one we’ll be up for.’

‘I’ve made a couple more signings to strengthen us and give us some more bodies, both are available on Saturday and I have another two I hope to complete in time for next week as well, so things are looking a bit better, we just need to keep working hard and the results will come.’

To get in touch regarding any programme queries email me

Double dose of action

This moment had been a long time coming, live football on a pitch in front of my very eyes! My last game was back in March, a wet Tuesday night at Woking watching Barnet win 3-1. Three days later or so, we were heading towards a lockdown and that was that!

Now it’s fair to say that while for most lockdown wasn’t the best of experiences, I was lucky enough to still get out to work and had a captive audience for this blog which is still going strong months after (at the time of writing I’ve had over 3000 visitors this month after 2000 each consecutively).

I’ve a whole list of clubs to head to this season, some I didn’t get to last season and some whose managers have been very good and forthcoming during the last few months and feel it’s only fair I pop along and support them as they did me in getting these figures as high as they are.

I had it suggested to me during this period to do a regular feature on a manager with a club and thought that’s not a bad idea to be going along with, something new, something different and a commitment for the season.

Terry Dodd and East Preston FC, who play in the Southern Combination Premier Division, are that subject for the 2020/21 season. Terry, I got to know well during his and my time at Wick FC last season, he parted company with the Crabtree Park outfit during the lockdown period and not long after agreed to become player-manager at The Lashmar.

Not surprisingly as across grassroots football, the shutdown period has hit clubs very hard and Dodd is currently working without a budget until the club is able to allow mass gatherings in their clubhouse which is the goldmine for clubs at this level and similar to keep the football side running, having done my own stint as Secretary and Treasurer at Wick I fully appreciate and understand it.

With fans now allowed back in EP can now start to rebuild slowly and begin to get their club back on track. Saturday saw their first spectators back in the ground since March, 68 of the allowed 150 attended. This midweek saw the club stage two games and I made sure I was at both!

A rather windy Tuesday night in Sussex for the Under 23’s taking on Step 7 Rustington, track and trace done, plenty of room for everyone, I would say around 50 at least inside the ground, maybe a few more. EP are a very young side given the lack of budget, but there were a couple of stand out players, one of whom made his way into Dodd’s squad for the first team Wednesday night game, playing together will give these young guys some good experience and are likely to be needed throughout the season with games coming thick and fast. Like so many people, it was great to be back watching live football again, very safe, and not an issue I could see as to why we haven’t been watching games since early August!

Bognor Regis Town from the Isthmian Premier were the visitors on Wednesday night, designed to help the club gain some much-needed gate receipts with 150 maximum allowed again and a good test for Dodds’ team. The Rocks raced into a 3-0 half time lead but didn’t find the net until the final ten minutes when fitness started to tell, and three more goals duly followed for a 6-0 final scoreline.

I caught up with Terry on Thursday morning to see how he felt the game went:

‘I was disappointed with four of the goals, felt they were avoidable, but they are a particularly good team. We had a game plan and we wanted to stick to that as much as we possibly could, but the level they play at with the players and movement they create, it’s always going to be tough. For us though it’s about getting our boys to a good fitness level and playing minutes, hard minutes is the best way to do it.’

‘Considering seven of our starting eleven could still play Under 18 football I thought everyone worked really hard and all I want is for them to take this as a massive learning experience in their development and keep pushing to be better every game.’

‘I’m hopeful we should have a couple of players back from injury before we take on Chatham Town in the FA Cup next Tuesday at home (KO 7.30pm) and one or two others available as well.’

Lots more to come throughout this season from Terry and East Preston from hopefully a reasonable campaign.

What’s also been crucial in happening is to get a game in to host 150 allowed spectators, that has meant the club can now host 300 people on Tuesday evening having ticked the box on the first exercise. If all goes to plan clubs should be able to increase beyond 30% by the time October comes around and with games happening at such a pace it won’t be long before the winter nights come rolling in.