A review of the opening weekend’s fixtures in the Isthmian Premier Division.
It began by the seaside, as all good tragedies do. A Hendon side, full of confidence and bravado travelled to sunny, sultry Margate and arrived, eventually, in time to pick up their annual three points from the Isle of Thanet. Matches between the two sides have taken a strange turn in recent seasons. Ahead of kick off on Saturday afternoon there hadn’t been a home win in RPL matches between the two since 2007 and a 1-0 last day win for the Greens. Drawn matches had interspersed away wins for both clubs and furthermore, each of the previous seven league meetings had seen the Greens awarded penalties. So those stuck on the coach for hours on end, and others who were basking in the glow of the Kentish summer, knew what to expect.
Someone didn’t tell the home side to read the script.
Goals from the outstanding Richard Avery and debutant Carl Rook in the second half gave the home side what in truth was a comfortable three points. Despite the unwelcome appearance of squad numbers (to this correspondent anyway), you couldn’t begrudge the Gate the three points. The Greens toiled and worked hard but with little success, and the hosts were better right across the pitch. Although there were a number of players missing from the Hendon line-up – both first choice goalkeepers, Scott Cousins, Casey Maclaren, Greg Ngoyi, Darren Currie, Carl McCluskey amongst those who would have been likely starters – as with last season, Gary McCann has managed to get together a squad that contains both a decent amount of quality and plenty of depth.
As I didn’t get carried away with our start last season where we won four on the spin, Saturday was but one movement in a forty-two piece opus. However, everyone concerned will be keen to start hitting the right notes sooner rather than later to try and get the #promotionpush going. The next chance will come on Tuesday evening when we host Hampton & Richmond Borough bidding to keep a home run that has seen us lose just once so far in 2012 going. (Yes, you’re right, the one was Margate).
So what of our rivals over the weekend I hear you cry? Well, the newly relegated Beavers kicked off their own challenge with a solid 1-0 win over Hastings United at the Beveree on Saturday thanks to a strike from the experienced Max Hustwick, who spent last season at Lewes. They have a strong looking squad which include the former Hendon duo of Paul Johnson, and Jon-Jo Bates. Their ranks also include one Joe Benjamin (not the former Surrey and England seamer) who began the summer at Carshalton Athletic. On the eve of the big kick-off he opted to leave the, erm, commune at Colston Avenue and join Mark Harper’s troops on the Thames. His comments surrounding his departure from the Robins both on Twitter and in various articles (see this from Football Exclusives) have been illuminating. I think it is fair to say that Mr Dipre will not be receiving any sort of tidings, glad or otherwise come late December.
Il Duce’s new look side actually claimed a decent point at much-fancied Bury Town with Paul Vines grabbing an equaliser within five minutes of John Sands’ opener. Of interest to Greens fans was the appearance on the Bury substitutes bench of one man travelling goalkeeping circus Will Viner. I expect he’ll have moved on before the Suffolk side arrive at Vale Farm on Saturday given his history. Fellow Suffolk side Lowestoft suffered a 5 and a half hour journey to the outskirts of Brighton and came away with an impressive 3-1 win against newly promoted Whitekhawk. Former Hendon youth teamer and all round lower league goal machine Scott McGleish gave the hosts the lead but Lowestoft underlined their credentials with an impressive response.
Whitehawk’s fellow new boys from Sussex and Division 1 South Bognor Regis Town enjoyed themselves on the Isle of Canvey with a superb 3-1 win at Concord Rangers, a result that I certainly didn’t see coming. The newly promoted sides from North of the River had a decent start to life in the Premier Division as well with Leiston gaining a 1-1 draw with Cray Wanderers and more impressively, Enfield Town led by Mark ‘Beckenbauer’ Kirby winning 2-1 at The Dripping Pan against Lewes.
Two former league managers enjoyed contrasting fortunes with Mark Stimson’s Thurrock side begin roundly hammered 4-1 by a rampant Harrow Borough side and Steve Tilson’s Canvey Island side also travelling to Middlesex but coming away with a 1-0 win. Also in God’s (or at least Russell Grant’s) own county, Richard Jolly began his one man mission to get Wealdstone promoted with the only goal against Metropolitan Police.
The final match of the opening day saw a meek 1-1 draw between East Thurrock and Kingstonian. With just the four disallowed goals, three red cards and 224 spectators looking on in general bemusement at proceedings on the field, the K’s felt hard done by as Wade Small’s late late strike was chalked off on the final whistle.
The beauty of the early Ryman League season is that the games come thick and fast. Early disappointment at an opening day reverse can quickly be turned into blind optimism with a midweek victory. Fans can begin dreaming of what might be as that excellent opening day win is added to with an unlikely away draw or even better, 1-0 win. And yet even if you lose your second match on the trot, you’re only going to be at most, six points off the top of the table so there’s plenty of time to make good that gap.
With that in mind, Tuesday can bring some solace for the mild sense of disappointment I felt on Saturday evening. With luck one or two of those missing from Margate will be back in the fold and we can get off the mark both in terms of goals and points. Hope springs eternal. Misery can wait for the dawn of September!