Thursday, January 06, 2022

Match preview - Brackley Town vs Hereford FC

Covid-allowing, Hereford FC make the relatively short trip across to Northamptonshire on Saturday for a tasty little encounter with the National League North leaders, Brackley Town.

Brackley are a very good advert indeed for the benefits of squad continuity. Striker Lee Ndlovu, goalkeeper Danny Lewis, captain Gareth Dean and several others have been at St James Park for four years or more, and must by now have a telepathic understanding. Admittedly you need the resources to persuade the players to stay at the club each season rather than be lured elsewhere, perhaps higher up the food chain, but nevertheless that continuity does suggest that the club is a good place to be for players.

Contrastingly, and of course often through necessity, the annual Edgar Street clear-out more resembles a revolving door policy, with obvious implications in terms of continuity, and perhaps offers a partial explanation for the slow start this season. Josh Gowling spoke about this very thing earlier in the week in the context of concerns about having the budget to prevent the annual summer exodus, and indeed to start building for next season now, in January. I’d say his concerns are well founded, and his point was well made.

Brackley currently sit proudly at the top of the table, with 40 points from 18 games, an impressive haul made even more impressive by the fact that, for some reason, they’ve played a good deal more games away than they have at home so far. Ndlovu is their top scorer, with nine goals this season. Ex-Bull Jordan Cullinane-Liburd, who always looked like he might have more in him than was extracted by the ‘coaching’ of Tim Harris or Russel Slade, is now fulfilling his potential in central defence for the league leaders, forming an excellent partnership with Gareth Dean, who, it must be said, looks very uncompromising in his photo. To lessen that intimidating impression, he seems to be known more commonly as ‘Gaz’, which is obviously silly.   

A rare slip-up at Kettering last Saturday perhaps suggests that they may be slowing down at just the right time. They lost the big Northants derby 3-1, with Cullinane-Liburd getting the visitors’ goal. The suggestion that their momentum may be on the wane is further supported by a loss at Gateshead just before Christmas, meaning that Saturday’s hosts have only won three of their last five, which isn’t even averaging two points a game, so they’re clearly on the ropes.

That continuity mentioned above has no doubt contributed to the Saints finishing third three times in the last four seasons, which is admirably consistent, but if one were to be a right nit-picker one could impishly suggest that they’re chokers. Their play-off appearances in 2017/18 and 2018/19 ended in disappointment, rather than the glory and honour of being promoted to play in the same division as Maidenhead United, which is every young footballer’s dream of course, growing up.

The Bulls’ record against Saturday’s hosts is patchy, but improving. In their first NLN season, they got beaten three times by Brackley, and the gulf in class was terrifying. Last season, however, Hereford won 2-0 at Edgar Street.

Presumably there will still be a few residual Covid absences in the Hereford squad, but a spine of Hall, Chief, Haines and Storey would at least give a competitive base on which to hang a team capable of getting something out of the game, even if one or two usual first teamers aren’t available. It would be nice, incidentally, if James Vincent could put in a few performances in 2022 to convince supporters that he should be a candidate to join that Spine Club too.

One player who will be missing is Mitch Hancox, who is staying at York on loan for the rest of the season. It won’t be easy, but the club must find a way of soldiering on without him. More good news is that young defender Toby Raison is back from his loan spell at Merthyr, now presumably a more battle-hardened player ready to push for a place in the first team.

Another absentee will be striker-turned-winger Dan Smith, who has gone back to parent club Eastleigh, presumably for financial reasons. I came to appreciate Dan as he adapted to playing out wide. His touch seemed to improve along with his contribution, and he seemed to enjoy being part of the club. Oh well.

With Vic Sodeinde also recently departed, options up front are suddenly looking a little limited again, so an awful lot of faith is being put in newcomer Jaanai Gordon’s promising start blossoming still further.

It would be good to think that the Covid postponements are now a thing of the past and the Bulls can get back to playing and winning each week. They don’t come tougher than this in 2021/22 in the NLN though, apart from perhaps facing Gateshead, and hold onto your hats because that’s next week folks.