Friday, October 08, 2021

Match preview - Darlington FC vs Hereford FC

Hereford FC return to National League North action on Saturday with a long trip to Blackwell Meadows, Darlington. York then Surrey then Darlington - just the three back-to-back matches you need during a petrol crisis.

Both of these clubs will think they should probably be a step or two higher in the football pyramid given their histories (yes, I know, I know), but neither has had the sort of start to the season to justify any such fanciful notion. However, Saturday’s hosts have often only lost by the odd goal in their matches to date, and the visitors now seem to be hitting a rich vein of form (and are unbeaten away from home this season), so this could be a bit of a cracker despite it being a bottom-eight encounter.

An admirably rock-solid Cup win for the Bulls last time out saw them progress to the next round, and an intriguing looking home tie against Solihull Moors. This followed that excellent away win at York, and the club is now unbeaten in four matches, a run that needs to be taken with a pinch(ard) of salt given that three of the four games were against lower-league opposition, but you can only beat what’s put in front of you etc.

Promising performances are now being turned into wins, and potential is now becoming progress. However, there’s still an awful lot of work to do and matches to be won to recover from that slow start to the season, when what looked to be an unfinished squad struggled at the back and the front, two quite important parts of the pitch.

That squad has now been added to, with Josh Gowling making good use of the loan system (it’s been a while since a Dutch loanee was employed to quite such good effect at Edgar Street), and the new players coming in seem to have galvanised those already signed in the summer.

Harry Pinchard, post-Covid, is proving to be a real asset, both as a box-to-box midfielder and in his long-range shooting ability, and with Maziar Kouhyar alongside there’s real talent and mobility in that central area. Whether there’s enough physicality within that partnership to work in an NLN game is open to debate. Tom Owen Evans, who also started the season recovering from coronavirus, is also flying now fully fit.

Reiss McNally, left out last weekend to avoid being cup-tied (with his parent club ironically next up in the Cup), should come back in to partner fellow loanee Levi Andoh in central defence here if Krystian Pearce is still out injured. Behind them, it’s assumed that Brandon Hall will be back after missing last Saturday’s Cup match with an injury picked up in his heroic display at York. If that’s not the case and Nykah Liburd-Hines retains his place in goal, he can expect to be a bit busier this week, and it’ll give supporters more of a chance to assess the cut of his jib.

If Gowling sees fit to tweak the formation for this match and revert to a solitary striker, Ollie Hulbert has looked lively enough in his performances so far to get the nod in that role, especially as Dan Smith has put in quite a shift lately.

The club is still hampered by a lengthy injury list, but a decent showing in this match coupled with the prospect of several good players being on the verge of a return to fitness should give cause for a great deal of optimism in the run-up to Christmas.

As mentioned, Darlington look to have been a bit unlucky so far, scoring freely but narrowly losing out on several occasions. An excellent 3-1 victory at Brackley had been very much the exception rather than the rule for them this season.

However, they put those narrow defeats behind them last Saturday with a thorough and impressive dismantling of a Telford team that admittedly hasn’t set the division alight this season, winning 3-0 at home. That win lifted them to 15th in the table, one place above Hereford.

Ex-Newcastle striker Luke Charman has six goals this season, including two in that win against Telford, and despite never starting for the Magpies looks like he’s a handful at this level. Portuguese winger Kevin Dos Santos is another Quaker to watch out for.

The two sides didn’t get the chance to play each other last season, but the season before saw this fixture end 0-0, with the Edgar Street encounter also drawn, finishing 2-2. The Quakers have hobbled along to mid-table finishes over the last four seasons, and now, after what could politely be called a lengthy period of consolidation following a few years in the early noughties of being a circus act under the colourful chairmanship of George Reynolds, they’ll be looking to push back up towards the Football League.

The Bulls can take heart from the fact that they haven’t lost to Saturday’s opponents over the course of their time in the NLN. A win here would set things up nicely for that Cup game against Solihull, which is followed by league games against Alfreton, Kettering and Boston, all of whom are in good form.