Styles: We were down to the bare bones

Earlier this week I caught up with Tunbridge Wells boss Richard Styles after the government announced the return of fans to football after the end of the lockdown on on 2nd December:

TK: How frustrating has it been to have the four week break just when Tunbridge Wells had been enjoying a good start to the season?

RS: The four week lockdown and suspension to the season was always going to be frustrating for all teams, fortunately for us we were really down to the bare bones before the lockdown came in and the squad was really stretched.

This time off we’ve been able to put a positive spin on things and allow our medical staff to work with our players carrying injuries and knocks to recover whilst at home enabling the squad to be at full strength when we return.

TK: That sounds encouraging. Do you think it might take a while for sides to get back into the groove once again?

RS: I think it’ll depend on what clubs have done with their players during the break, it’s not a pre-season type situation when we return. As staff we came together as soon as it was announced the season was being suspended, we spoke to professionals within the industry and came up with a plan to use with our boys to maintain their match fitness levels whilst recovering from any knocks and fatigue.

I feel happy with what my players have done during this period and I think it’s been effective for us. I’d expect any club at this level or above to have the same input and thought process to be honest. If they haven’t then yeah it might take a while for some to get going again.

TK: Are you concerned with a cold start there will be a lot of injuries occurring?

RS: Not really, our players played 12 league games, plus FA Vase and FA Cup since the ‘later’ start of the season so we’ve adapted well to managing the players and the times between games.

I can’t see it being any worse than it was before the lockdown. I do think teams need to utilise their squads correctly with their workload though to ensure they limit the amount that might occur.

TK: Would you be in favour of the use of 5 substitutes per game or happy with the current 3 being allowed?

RS: I’d be happy to go to 5, these players are only part time, they have jobs, families and other commitments etc. so are more inclined to pick up an injury or two or fatigue. At the same time, if it remains at 3 it’s what we know so no major complaints.

TK: What are you looking forward to most when we resume the season in the next couple of weeks?

RS: Looking forward to getting the boys back playing and training again as well as back to some sort of normality. From the football side of things I’m looking for us to hit the ground running and to gain as many points as we can in the upcoming games.

TK: Bearing in mind we’re going to see more Saturday-Tuesday combinations in the coming weeks and months do you expect yourselves or others to add to their squads?

RS: Quite possibly, those with smaller squads will certainly have to look at it. I know we have identified where we felt we could strengthen and have explored some options.

TK: Are you hopeful we could see more than 300 fans allowed into the Culverden Stadium to watch the action?

RS: Certainly, I know I speak for all the playing and management staff when I say we always want as many of our fans as possible at every game. If we are allowed more than 300 supporters safely then I’d welcome it.

NB: Since the interview in midweek, Kent have been placed in tier 3 and with it the suspension of Southern Counties East League until Saturday 26th December.

Honours even

Another Saturday, another footballing road trip. Needing to be in Essex after the game, and a short window from leaving Sussex most games over the water were out of range so options were limited as to where I could spend my afternoon.

There are a lot of clubs I’m trying to get round to this season and quite a few I’ve already managed in the first month but I’m not adverse to getting to watch some clubs a few times with my newfound freedom. My choice of the afternoon was the early top of the table clash in the South Counties East League Premier Division between Tunbridge Wells and Welling Town at the Culverden Stadium.

My first competitive game of the new season was here back on 1st September when a 1-0 win sent the Wells through in the FA Cup. That particular journey ended on Tuesday evening at Haringey Borough, 2 steps higher in the food chain, but the early results in the league campaign have put the Wells on the front foot and this was seen as a good test of their credentials for keeping in touch at the top.

Their opponents in Welling Town came into the game as league leaders, four wins from four games. Just six years after being formed and only two years into their membership of the SECL their remarkable rise is looking like continuing this season, placed 9th before lockdown ended last season and already mixing well with clubs in excess of their budget.

Wells could and should have been in front before Town opened the scoring, chances for Euan Sahadow, Frankie Griffin and Richard Atkins unable to be converted. On the counter from one of these failed chances, Ryan Golding held off the attentions of a defender to put the visitors in front 10 minutes in.

A lack on incisive passing was also playing havoc with the Wells trying to get back into the game, Welling content to break when play broke down, Richard Jimoh a constant threat with his direct running. The remainder of the half saw Wells control a majority of the possession but unable to convert it into goals giving manager Richard Styles lots to contemplate with the visitors having the half time lead, a great close range save from Aaron_Lee Wharton kept the scoreline down to one.

Whatever Styles and his assistant Dan Morrin said at half time went out the window with three second half minutes, Jimoh beating the full back and crossing for Alex Nelson to head home from around three yards out and a 2-0 lead for the visitors.

In all honesty that looked to be it for the Wells, but this is football and sometimes it just doesn’t disappoint! Just after the hour mark the home side were back in the game, a surging run down the right hand side from substitute Regan Corke, his cross was met by fellow winger Sahadow after a deft flick on from Adkins to reduce the deficit.

Just a minute later and the scores were on parity once again, a free kick was headed into the box by Ryan Cheek and while the Town defenders failed to react Miles Cornwell sneaked in and lifted the ball over the keeper, under the bar and into the net, drama and something that didn’t look on the cards five minutes earlier.

Both sides then broke at ease trying to find a winner, Town the closest crashing one against the bar and a few half chances came the way of both sides before they had to settle for a point each, 100% records gone but still unbeaten in the early standings.

I was quite impressed with Town’s Alex Nelson, always available for the ball in midfield throughout the game whilst in all honesty the Wells never really got going despite the early chances expecting things to go their way. A draw pretty much the right result once the home side had levelled things up, the attendance watching what was an exciting game exactly on the maximum 300, all safely in, distances observed and plenty of room for all.

Just a quick mention for Wells coaching staff, great to see Richard Styles and Dan Morrin before the game for a quick catch up and standing first half  by the home dug-out was interesting just listening to coach Luke Carpenter and his insights into why things weren’t working in the first half.

The programme I bought yesterday as well, best one I’ve seen so far, granted I haven’t been able to find one at every game so far but this one looked good and might look even better if they’d like to get a column in there from me, we’ll have to see on that score………