*Long standing commitments (and frankly a lily-livered unwillingness to travel from London to Cornwall and back on a Tuesday night) have meant I have not seen either of H&W’s opening two fixtures in this campaign. My return to action will come away at Bath City on Saturday, but in the meantime I thought a ‘catch-up’ piece might be in order.
Here at Destination Havant ‘Ville we’ve hunkered down over the last few months unwilling to post any new content so as to keep those last moments of 2011/12 on view and thus hold onto that literally last-gasp escape from relegation feeling for as long as possible.
However it was also partly motivated by me strait-jacketing myself into not hammering out knee jerk reactions to the less than ideal aspects of football club life that were coming out with worrying regularity at the start of the summer break. So let us just catch you up like this:
We have a new manager, Stuart Ritchie, a former Hawk (playing 53 games, mostly in our first season as a merged club in 98/99), and certainly the most obvious candidate given his successes over eight years at nearby AFC Totton. Our new vice chairman Jim Fallon was heavily involved at Totton for a great deal of that time, so hopefully their working relationship will continue to prosper now they find themselves reunited at Westleigh Park.
Ritchie came pre-packaged with his own assistant, which meant no further role at the club for our heroic caretaker in that great escape, Steve Johnson. This was understandable, given the sense of a new broom being put about the place, but to say regrettable would be understating it hugely. Farewell Johnno, consider this a cap doffed.
Said new assistant manager, however, came with baggage in his private life, an obstacle that eventually became insurmountable and thus he swiftly departed the scene, allowing us to take on the experienced Barry Blankley in the assistant role. This was like removing a noose from around our collective neck, and replacing it with a floral garland; from hangman’s ligature to Hawaiian luau.
We were also accused publically of shady practices by a player we had tried to sign, but this accusation has been rebutted to the satisfaction of the FA. The player in question, Tom Davis, has now signed for Tonbridge Angels and, as such, our home game against them on the 8th of September is unlikely to play out beneath a reverential hush.
However, beneath all of this less than ideal stuff, Stuart Ritchie has been beavering away re-shaping our squad so as to a) not have to be dealing with last-kick-of-the-season escapology and b) have a good crack at having some fun in the higher echelons of the Conference South table.
We now have goalkeepers coming out of our ears (Dan Thomas, Matt Pegler AND Clark Masters), the defence has been firmed up with Sam Page and Ed Harris (formerly of Sutton United and The Truman Show respectively), while Sahr Kabba and Ryan Moss will be joining Scotty Jones and Ollie Palmer in the striking ranks. Sahr was highly regarded at previous club Weston-super-Mare, while Moss was apparently known as ‘Ryan Miss’ at Dorchester. Here’s hoping the ‘Mare are better judges of a player than the Magpie mob.
Needless to say some players have departed in all this, Bobby Hopkinson’s inability to shift his excess timber means he is moving on, as are ‘Dutchy’ Holland, Sammy Igoe, Jon McDonald and Joe Dolan. The latter might feel particularly aggrieved given he provided one of the great goal moments of all Hawk time in that 3-2 win over Staines back in April. However as one iconic scorer departs, another returns, with Tony Taggart back in the ranks after some time away with Sutton and Eastleigh. The Bin Man, or Taggs as he probably prefers, was of course part of our famous Cup run squad and scored the 87th minute winner at Notts County, propelling us to our first League club scalping.
However, it was widely felt that what we missed last season was a bit of quality in the centre of midfield, someone who could pick a pass and dictate play a bit. Late in the pre-season we signed Stefan Bailey, and during our season opener against Chelmsford City, he was held up by several in attendance as the answer to our prayers in this area.
These are of course early days, being merely two games in. However it does appear from the games thus far (and the one at the climax of last year) that we have taken the concept of injury time, drugged it and made it our bitch. Three games in a row now have seen us change the result at the death, last season’s 93rd minute winner from Joe Dolan being followed by two up-past-their-bedtime strikes by Ollie Palmer to snatch draws from the jaws against Tickle Me Chelmo on the weekend, and last night away at Truro City, a game in which we were 3-1 down at one stage.
The fact that we are being required to battle hard so early in the campaign might be seen as troubling, but if we’ve taken an ‘on the beaches and landing grounds’ attitude as our main learning point from last season’s swashbuckling denouement, then I’d say it bodes rather well.
Bring on the Bath.