Sunday, December 27, 2020

Match preview - Leamington FC vs Hereford FC

Another one? Already? Hereford FC travel to Leamington just 48 hours after the Boxing Day clash with Kidderminster Harriers as the fixtures continue to come thick and fast in the National League North. At least it’s a relatively short journey across to Warwickshire for this Monday afternoon encounter, kick off 3pm.

These two last met on the same date, 28 December, last year, with Leamington leaving Edgar Street with all three points and Russell Slade's tenure as manager hanging by a thread. All in all the club seems to be in a much happier place one year on.

Leamington are one of the smaller clubs in the division, and that’s been reflected in their league finishes since promotion three seasons ago. They tend to do enough each season to avoid relegation, but are showing signs of being a bit more of a handful this time around, with ex-Bull Lance Smith enjoying a good season. Injuries prevented Smith from showing what he might truly be capable of at Edgar Street, but he was universally popular for his excellent attitude and apparent affection for the club. Other than in this match, most will wish him well, I’m sure. Another ex-Hereford player now at Leamington is Simeon Maye, who looked really very good at times during his brief spell as a Bull, but wasn’t deemed good enough by the football geniuses in charge at the time and was released. Sam Osborne has scored the best part of half the Brakes’ goals this season, with only Matt McClure at Gloucester more prolific in the NLN, the difference being that Osborne is a midfielder.

Last time out the Brakes lost 1-0 at a resurgent Gloucester, but before that held Hollywood plaything Wrexham to a 0-0 draw in Wales in the FA Trophy, beating them 6-5 on penalties to join Hereford in the next round. Generally though they seem to specialise in 1-1 draws.

For the Bulls, Luke Haines’ return on loan from Swindon adds a much-needed body to the squad, but he’s shown enough in his appearances so far to be considerably more than just a makeweight. The squad he joins for the second time is a good deal more ‘bonded’ than it was in his first stint too, so his contribution should be enhanced by those around him now knowing their jobs, which wasn’t always apparently the case before. Fellow newcomer George Forsyth could be anything: a Gavin Mahon de nos jours or a surplus midfielder in an already midfielder-heavy squad. The former option would be nice, and is entirely possible as the management team clearly have it in them to ‘spot a player’.

It’s four wins in a row now following that Boxing Day victory over Kidderminster, with the two league wins coming against teams sitting in second position as the matches kicked off - wins therefore not to be sniffed at. Josh Gowling again opted on Boxing Day to push for more goals rather than sitting back defending a narrow lead, and it paid off. As a result, the Bulls are now climbing the table, all of a sudden just three points outside the play-off positions but with two games in hand over seventh-placed Gateshead, and in fact the same number of points behind York in fifth. Things really are starting to look quite promising.

Incredibly there are nine games scheduled for January, and all of them, without exception, look unpleasant. Even Darlington, currently sitting second bottom, are only down in the relegation places because they’ve barely started their season. Going up there midweek on 19 January will be no picnic, unless your idea of a picnic is to travel for a million hours to somewhere really cold, dark and probably wet and to run around for 90 minutes, rather than sitting on a rug in the sun with some nice cheese.

I wish I could say that this match, the last of 2020, offers some respite and a relatively easy route to three points before that January onslaught, but it doesn’t, not by a long chalk. That said, the Whites are on the up!

Happy new year everyone.