Player Focus: Jake Wakeling

In the summer, Jake Wakeling found himself in the same position as thousands of other 18 year-old footballers, hopeful of a career in the professional game. Released by West Bromwich Albion in the midst of a global pandemic that ground football and the world to a halt, you could be forgiven for cursing your luck. Wakeling, on the other hand, dusted himself down and now finds himself propelled into the Under 23’s Development Squad at Premier League side, Leicester City, after a spell with Southern League Central side Alvechurch. Following the confirmation of his move on Monday for a reported five figure fee, I was delighted to be joined by Church chairman Richard Thorndike to discuss the move.

Back in September, Thorndike took to Twitter proclaiming that people will start to know who Jake Wakeling is. It’s fair to say that he has had plenty of belief in the young forward, who he has known since he was 13. Following his release from WBA, how did he turn up at Lye Meadow?

“There’s more 16-20 year old’s without a deal this summer than ever before. They’ll do the rounds at all the local sides. It’s difficult to stand out when there’s five players in your position going for that one spot. I told Jake that would be no good for him. I told him to trust me.”

Church have a recent record of propelling players into the EFL, with Yusifu Ceesay moving directly to Blackpool in 2018 and just last year, Josh March to Forest Green Rovers, via a spell with Paul Holleran’s Leamington in the National League North. No surprise then, that Wakeling felt able to trust his chairman, who rightfully takes great pride in providing the platform for players to progress. Indeed, Wakeling credits Thorndike with “believing in him when no one else did.”

Ian Long returned from Stourbridge in February, having previously guided Alvechurch into Step 3. Sitting second bottom of the Southern League Central before the league was null and voided, it would evidently be a big summer as Church looked to climb the table in 20/21. So, when Thorndike recommended the young starlet to Long, how did that go?

“I knew Longy would love him. The manager wants his forwards to work hard. Jake is the epitome of that, he’d chase pigeons if he had to.”

With a double in the FA Cup against Shifnal backed up by goals against Royston and Stratford, it was obvious that he was more than just a runner. Finishing with 7 goals in league and cup competitions for Church, it could be said they were fortunate that Wakeling actually saw competitive action for the Lye Meadow side.

“We played Kidderminster in pre-season. They beat us 4-1 but he looked good. Going up against defenders like Lowey (Keith Lowe) was only going to help him. Post match, (Kidderminster manager) Russ Penn phoned me about him.”

That move didn’t materialise, and in a quirk of fate, Wakeling would score one of the penalties in the shootout as Alvechurch progressed in the FA Cup at the expense of, yes, Kidderminster. They weren’t the only National League North side interested though, as Leamington failed to convince Wakeling to join them. They were in good company though, as Solihull Moors and Cheltenham Town both tried and failed. By the time of his hat-trick against Barwell, people were starting to wake up to Wakeling, as Thorndike predicted in September. At that game, there were “scouts from the Premier League down. Derby were there, Cheltenham again, Forest Green and Leicester.” The Foxes would make their move, agreeing a trial for their Under 23’s side who were struggling.

A brace against Brighton’s Development Squad did no harm as it became obvious that he would be joining Steve Beaglehole’s side permanently. The second nationwide lockdown throughout November delayed the deal somewhat, but through it went. Already with 3 goals to his name for The Foxes, attention now turns to their Papa John’s Trophy game with Salford City on Tuesday.

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard” may be a cliche, but when a player has both of those qualities at such a young age, it would take a brave person to predict his ceiling. For now, let’s sit back and watch with pride as another Non-League prospect has found his way back to the professional game.

National League North Preview 20/21… if it happens!

Friday was a big day for news. Premier League funding was secured, meaning the season will start with the FA Cup tomorrow and the first round of league games on Tuesday. There was also some transfer news, including a double signing for Hereford in the form of two former Kidderminster players; Kennedy Digie and James McQuilkin. The standout signing is undoubtedly Jordan Hulme’s arrival at AFC Fylde from promoted Altrincham for an “undisclosed” fee. Wow.

Kidderminster

19/20: 15th

Manager: Russ Penn

Title Odds: 33/1

Harriers have been inconsistent on and off the pitch in recent years, but it is hoped that former player Russ Penn is the man to change all that. One of the few full time teams in this league, Harriers will feel that they are better than their midtable positions of the last two years show and will look to push on towards the top seven. They have undertaken possibly their most significant overhaul of playing staff in recent times, with the likes of Ryan Johnson and Declan Weeks moving on. Today, Max Taylor joined on loan from Manchester United, whilst Omari Sterling-James and Amari Morgan Smith form 2/3’s of what could be an exciting front line alongside Ashley Hemmings.

Leamington

19/20: 18th

Manager: Paul Holleran

Title Odds: 66/1

Paul Holleran’s side usually do two things: have a good young striker who moves on in January, and start the season exceptionally well. Last season, it was Josh March who followed in the footsteps of Colby Bishop. Of their 35 points, 14 were obtained in August alone, giving them some breathing space early on. Eyebrow raising marquee signings may not be The Brakes’ style, but Notts County’s Young Player of the Season of the last two years, Sam Osborne, is exactly that. Rushall striker Danny Waldron steps up to the NLN with a 48 in 125 record for the Step 3 outfit as he bids to become the next front man off the Holleran conveyor belt.

Southport

19/20: 12th

Manager: Liam Watson

Title Odds: 25/1

By now, everybody knows what to expect from a Liam Watson side, and we should expect no different from this season’s Sandgrounders side. The loss of behemoth centre half Ryan Astles to Welsh side TNS leaves a big hole at the back, which former Sunderland youngster Jack Bainbridge will look to fill. Mo Ali, another centre half, joins from Curzon Ashton after an impressive campaign for The Nash. Port have been rattling in the goals during pre-season against lower graded opposition, but in Marcus Carver, they have a front man who is tried and tested at the business end of this division.

Spennymoor Town

19/20: 8th

Manager: Jason Ainsley

Title Odds: 8/1

Probably the biggest losers of the Points per Game settlement, dropping out of the play off positions, Ainsley’s Moors will surely enter the new season with a point to prove. Their transfer business lends credence to their desire to make a statement. Adam Blakeman will bring plenty to the side from left back as he joins from left back. Joe Tait and Adriano Moke join from title rivals York, whilst Frank Mulhern’s signing must excite the fans at Brewery Field as they savour the thought of his partnership with the prolific Glen Taylor.

York City

19/20: 2nd (lost in Play Off Quarter Finals)

Manager: Steve Watson

Title Odds: 2/1 favs

If Spennymoor thought they were mistreated by PPG, spare a thought for Watson’s York, who were two points clear at the break but finished behind Kings Lynn after the final calculation. To add insult to injury, they then fell at the first hurdle in the play offs. Cue the clear out. Gone are the likes of Moke, Steve McNulty and Jordan Burrow to name a few but do not think for a moment that York are weakening their squad. Jack Redshaw of Salford fame joins, as do Akil Wright, 6’4 centre back Matty Brown and former Dover midfielder Mike Woods. Former Stevenage striker Jake Cassidy also checks in as The Minstermen look for a successful first season in their new stadium.

National League North Preview 20/21… if it happens!

Thursday’s big news is that Steps 5&6 are seeking clarification on how to decide their seasons early, if required. For Step 2, it’s “as you were”. Here’s part 4/5!

Gateshead

19/20: 8th (lost Play Off Semi Finals)

Manager: Mike Williamson

Title Odds: 25/1

The Heed managed to put their well-publicised financial woes of 18-19 behind them with a strong showing following relegation to Step 2. Player-manager and former Newcastle defender Mike Williamson must surely expect more of the same this season, despite the losses of Liam Agnew(Blyth) and forward Scott Barrow. Three 20 year olds are among the new faces at the International Stadium, and former Newcastle youngster Kieran Aplin has already been drawing public praise from Heed assistant Ian Watson after joining from North Shields. They are also believed to be on the verge of completing a return for former Fylde goalkeeper James Montgomery, who would be an excellent capture.

19/20: 9th

Managers: Marcus Bignot & Russ O’Neill

Title Odds: 25/1

The Guiseley management duo did a good job last season of rebuilding and steadying a shaky ship and much like the other teams in that second quarter of last season’s table, will be hoping to make that jump up into the play offs. Jon Wafula joins from Boston to bolster their forward options, whilst Andy Kellett arrives from Notts County to replace the departing Jamie Spencer and Will Thornton. Kaine Felix has the potential to stand-out this season for the Yorkshiremen, whilst they will look to Stockport’s Dan Cowan to keep it tight at the back.

Gloucester City

19/20: 17th

Manager: James Rowe

Title Odds: 20/1

The Tigers roared with their early lockdown business ahead of their welcome return to the city. Chester top scorer Akwasi Asante joined before the play offs had commenced and he is joined by Matt McClure who brings Step 1 experience and quality. The experience of Gavin Gunning is sure to play an important role in Rowe’s attempts at “going for it” this season. Solihull captain Liam Daly spent time at City on loan last season, and will be a colossal figure at the back. In midfield, they have a man of over 200 EFL appearances, Kevin Dawson, to lead this clearly ambitious team forward. There is concern though, as it was reported that the powers that be have had to run the football club “knowingly insolvent”, following COVID secure costs of 3x the awarded grant and the reneging of ground sponsors.

Hereford

19/20: 16th

Manager: Josh Gowling

Title Odds: 33/1

The Bulls meteoric rise since reforming has stagnated somewhat since arriving in the NLN, but the management duo of Gowling and the highly experienced Steve Burr could be the catalyst that the Edgar Street outfit need. Fan George urges caution though, with an apparently reduced budget on offer. The addition of Paul White from Kettering has provided some cause for optimism, although it is now unclear what this means for Brandon Hall. The retention of Lenell John-Lewis is also a positive move, according to George. Yan Klukowski’s experience could be vital, as could be that of Jake Wright, who was with Bolton on loan last season and Giles Coke, who has spent the majority of his career in the EFL.

Kettering Town

19/20: 19th

Manager: Paul Cox

Title Odds: 66/1

Somewhat surprisingly, Cox’s side are the longest odds for the title, which by definition, makes them favourites for the drop. I’ll say it now. I don’t see them going down. In fact, they will stay up comfortably. A motivated Cox is a very good manager at this level, and the signs were that the mojo he had at Mansfield had returned last season. The loss of Paul White may hurt, but his replacement, Adam Collin, brings batches of experience. The firepower of Dan Holman will frighten, whilst Lorne Bickley presents plenty of intrigue. Kings Lynn’s Ryan Fryatt will bolster their defensive options significantly. Do not be surprised if The Poppies frustrate your team!

National League North Preview 20/21… if it happens!

Another day, another announcement. This time, that the National Leagues will receive significant funding to play behind closed doors. The best of a bad situation potentially, but we now await the figures. Here’s part 3 of the preview!

Chorley

19/20: 24th (relegated in first season)

Manager: Jamie Vermiglio

Title Odds: 33/1

Much like fellow relegated side AFC Fylde, The Magpies are well accustomed to life in the NLN, having earned a reputation as a direct, tough, physical outfit. Fan Jake tells me that this didn’t work in the league above though, so it will be interesting to see if they try to move away from that style or stick to what works at this level. They’ll be targeting an immediate return at and would be quite content to do that through the play offs. The loss of stalwart Andy Teague to Lancaster leaves a hole at the back, but Vermiglio’s been busy, recruiting a raft of youngsters. The likes of Ollie Shenton (Stoke) and Mike Calveley(Curzon Ashton) already have experience at Step 2, whilst promising forward Harry Cardwell brings some potential and added quality as he joins from Grimsby Town.

Curzon Ashton

19/20: 18th

Manager: Steve Cunningham (Joins from Colne)

Title Odds: 50/1

The Nash are an established NLN side now, which is a testament to the work that has been done there back to when John Flanagan took them up and kept them there. Mark Bradshaw left the club in the summer, replaced by another local manager, who predicatably has turned to some of his old players deserving at a crack at Step 2 football. This is not a team of hopefuls and wannabees though. Despite the loss of Andy Halls to Chorley, the signings of Matty Waters (Chester), Craig Mahon (Altrincham) and Paul Turnbull (Stockport) stand out. Nash fan and personality @NashManBlues tells me staying up is always the aim, and who would bet against that? Can this season be the year that they begin to edge back closer to the top 12?

Darlington

19/20: 11th

Manager: Alun Armstrong

Title Odds: 14/1

The Quakers made a welcome return to front-foot football with the appointment of ex-Blyth manager Alun Armstrong, who oversaw something of an overhaul on his way to guiding the team to a mid table finish. Fan Andy tells me that there is a real appetite to “have a go” this season, with play-off ambitions probably the accepted minimum. Their signings have been impressive, including two former Premier League stars. Tony McMahon, formerly of Middlesbrough and Nicky Hunt, formerly of Bolton, have a combined age of 70 but bring eons of experience from a combined total of over 600 EFL/EPL appearances. They are joined by Luke Charman, who notched 16 times in 50 appearances for Newcastle U23s and Dan Maguire, who needs no introduction to NLN fans following his spells at Blyth and latterly, York. Write Darlo off at your peril.

Farsley Celtic

19/20: 10th

Manager: Adam Lakeland

Title Odds: 40/1

Aside from Kings Lynn, the most impressive newly promoted side were the Celts, consistently being in and around the play offs thanks to a storming start to the campaign. To talk about the upcoming season, I was incredibly privileged and grateful to speak to the owner of 33% of the football club, Rob Winterbottom. He is effusive in his praise for his manager, and rightly so, as the upwardly mobile club target a play-off place. Their transfer business seems to have been clincial, which is certainly a word to describe former Stafford striker Jake Charles, who, at 24, presents them with good resale value if he realises his potential. At the other end of the age bracket, Stevenage’s Joel Byrom brings a blend of experience and quality to the middle of the park whilst Steven Drench joins from Altrincham to be a very good number one. Expect Farsley to bloody some more noses in the upcoming campaign!

National League North Preview 20/21… If It Happens!

In part 1 yesterday, we took a look at the first four clubs in this preview. Today (Tuesday), it was announced by the powers that be that Step 2 fans would not be permitted at their team’s game in the FA Cup on Saturday. The wait goes on…

Boston United

19/20: 4th (losing play off finalists)

Manager: Craig Elliott

Title Odds: 10/1

The Pilgrims had a great season last time out, but came out just short against Altrincham. Speaking to fan Scott(@ScottyWaldon), the atmosphere is one of a quiet confidence in a repeat performance this time around. Elliott has been busy, with the likes of Frank Mulhern (Spennymoor) and Simon Ainge (Gainsborough) departing. A mixture of youth and experience has come through the door, including Tyrell Warren from Salford and Terry Hawkridge from Solihull. The standout signing though has to be Jordan Burrow from title rivals York, as they look to compete at a higher level than Step 2 for the first time since 2006/07.

Brackley Town

19/20: 3rd (Play Off Quarter Finalists)

Manager: Kevin Wilkin

Title Odds: 14/1

The Saints are a model of consistency, finishing 3rd in each of the last three seasons. When, then, will they kick on and get that promotion that has painfully eluded them so far? It is not for lack of talent, with the likes of Gaz Dean and Lee Ndlovu in their ranks, one suspects that getting up would be harder than staying up. Notable signings include Wes York from York City, who will add yet more forward threat, whilst Kidderminster’s Ashley Chambers almost guarantees another 10-15 goals. Amidst all this uncertainty we currently face, could this actually be their year?

Bradford (Park Avenue)

19/20: 22nd (Reprieved through Step 3 Null&Void)

Manager: Mark Bower

Title Odds: 66/1

Avenue’s season could not have started any worse last year, conceded 13 in 3 games under Garry Thompson before Mark Bower was tempted back to the club. Despite what appears to be some progress off the pitch regarding the ground and the pitch, on top of the feel-good story of Adam Nowakowski playing for a £1 this season, Bower will have his work cut out once again. Bower’s recruitment seems to consist of local prospects released from higher academies, although Guiseley’s Dan Atkinson and experienced centre back Luca Havern, signed from Ashton, will bring some much-needed National League North experience.

Chester

19/20: 7th (Lost in Play-Off Eliminator)

Managers: Anthony Johnson & Bernard Morley

Title Odds: 14/1

The curious case of the Cestrians. Lockdown was not kind to them, with the play offs being played for free and uncertainty regarding start dates and budgets given their status as a fan owned club. Having said that, and even accounting for the loss of top scorer Akwasi Asante to Gloucester, it is difficult to write Chester off. Johnson and Morley are winners, and even after disappointment and uncertainty, that winning mentality will rub off on their players and make them very dangerous indeed. Left back Joel Taylor has stayed at the Deva, following public interest from Harrogate, and he will team up with ex team-mate Declan Weeks, who today joined from Kidderminster. His passing range will prove dangerous, especially with George Waring up front. Do not sleep on The Seals.

National League North Preview 20/21… If It Happens!

As we all know, the season is due to start on October 3rd, but Step 2 fans are stuck between a rock and a hard place. In a bid to keep some normality, let’s begin our look at how the league is shaping up.

AFC Fylde

19/20: 23rd (relegated from National League)

Manager: Jim Bentley

Title Odds: 9/2 second favs.

The NLN are no strangers to former champions AFC Fylde, who return to the division after 2 seasons away. Fylde fan Jack Connor (@JCComms95) spoke to me about The Coasters, telling me there was a quiet confidence that they could’ve stayed up, given the opportunity. This season’s target? Promotion, with a 2022 shaped target on their back. However, with the recent public spat with a former player, and a raft of departures, will we find AFC Fylde a club full of confidence, or a club in crisis? Recruitment wise, Bentley has opted for experience, bringing in Salford duo Nathan Pond, 35, and Chris Neal, 34, but it is former Macclesfield Town winger Ben Tollitt who should excite the fans at Mill Farm whilst the losses of Ryan Croasdale, Dan Bradley (Alfreton) and Tom Walker (Harrogate) are sure to be keenly felt.

AFC Telford

19/20: 13th

Manager: Gavin Cowan

Title Odds: 25/1

I was fortunate enough to speak to The Bucks’ matchday media officer, and NL Full Time podcast member, Rich Worton(@BucksWriter), for this section of the preview. Following what could be seen as a disappointing campaign, Rich tells me that the target has to be a return to the top half of the table, with a view to troubling the play off positions. Gav Cowan’s side replaced Dan Udoh with Marcus Dinanga and following his move to Stevenage, the next number nine is a well-known one; Jason Oswell. Alongside the return of fan favourite Lee Vaughan, the arrivals of Courtney Meppen-Walters and goalkeeper Russ Griffiths suggest that AFC Telford will be a tough nut to crack. It is the flair of James Hardy, however, that excites, following his foray into the EFL with Walsall. The dynamic attacking midfielder should be key to The Bucks’ ambitions, and with Oswell sure to feature in the goalscoring charts, fans at the New Bucks Head could be in for a very good season indeed.

Alfreton Town

19/20: 14th

Manager: Billy Heath

Title Odds: 33/1

By all accounts, last season was a decent season for Alfreton and this seems to have generated a promising amount of goodwill as season ticket numbers appear to be at their highest point for a few years. A feature of their recent campaigns has been the ability to compete against more illustrious opponents and they will no doubt play “Kingmakers” again this season. Speaking to fan John (@HuntyladJohn), the loss of top goalscorer Amari Morgan-Smith was to be expected, although it was still a disappointment when his move to Kidderminster was confirmed. This has been tempered, however, by the return of the talismanic figure of Dan Bradley from AFC Fylde, whilst the arrival of former Liverpool youth goalkeeper George Willis from Boston United gives plenty of hope for a comfortable season.

Blyth Spartans

19/20: 21st (reprieved through Step 3 Null&Void)

Title Odds: 66/1

Manager: Michael Nelson. In his first season at the club and will also be coaching the U19s.

Where do we start with the curious case of Blyth Spartans? It was only 2 years ago when they finished 6th, looking for promotion through the play offs, but amid reported financial issues at the end of that season, a season of struggle was expected. The loss of Callum Roberts to Notts County after an impressive start in a struggling side only comprehended their misery, which was occasionally placated by club legend Robbie Dale. Boston’s Simon Heslop has joined, adding experience to what may be another young side, but with allegedly the lowest budget in the league, the struggle again will be positively uphill for one of Non-League’s most famous names.

John Pemberton – We Hardly Knew Ye

Remember the pre-season optimism when he was appointed? Remember the early season optimism that we had, when he was doing ok? I do. The question is, how many people called for his head? I certainly didn’t see many, if any, serious calls for him to lose his post. So how did today’s events come to pass?

It’s easy to look at the last game played, the abject 3-0 defeat to Curzon Ashton in the FA Trophy. Other lowlights include the humbling at the hands of Stafford Rangers by the same scoreline in the FA Cup and the early season 2-3 reverse at home to Gloucester City, although decisions certainly didn’t go our way. I think it’s important though to strip it all back and revisit when he was first appointed, especially in light of his revelations carried by the Kidderminster Shuttle today in response to the club’s statement.

He arrived from Chesterfield Academy to much fanfare by then chairman Colin Gordon. The Non-League Paper carried an interview where Pemberton claimed he was a winner and was targeting promotion. So far, so good. We were expecting a squad capable of achieving those targets, and naturally a budget to suit. Rumour soon abounded that the lack of transfer activity was symptomatic of a wider issue; the money had run out. Let’s fast forward to the club statement today, where it is mentioned that the club has a “significant budget”. Pemberton’s retort accused the club of lying. Who’s right? Well, what other excuse can there be for having 9 senior contracted players, 2 loanees, and relying on the academy to fill the squad? We also know that Ashley Hemmings was due to sign well before he actually did.

On the pitch, Harriers won just 5 out of Pemberton’s 19 games in charge, and with only 4 points taken from Harriers’ last five league games, performances were not inspiring. There was a questionable persistence with the 3-5-2 formation and the seeming inability to change the game; Kettering away excepted. The extent to which the former boss can take the blame is down to individual opinions; was it because he didn’t want to change things, or because he literally was unable to? In any case, the squad building aspect is highly questionable, and with many moves in motion or tied up before his arrival, how much of this squad could be considered his? Pemberton cannot be blameless, and as has been pointed out correctly on my Twitter, some of the blame for poor performances has to be laid at his door. If he was expecting funds, and was essentially sold a dream, was his greatest mistake simply believing Colin Gordon?

Personally, I wasn’t overly surprised by the news, but certainly feel that he should have been afforded the time and given the backing to try and turn things around. Remember, the club’s protracted takeover process took up a significant portion of his time at the club, so the question has to be asked. Did he ever get a proper chance to show what he could do?

Where now then? Russ Penn is interim manager, at least for the next 3-4 games, according to the club’s official statement. Already, speculation abounds that this will be the preferred route for the club, and cheapest. Who could come in? Out of work managers who immediately spring to mind include Peter Beadle, Gary Hackett, Neil Aspin and Gary Waddock. Marcus Law left Kettering in pre season and could also be a consideration. Another name on the early fans wish list is Adam Lakeland of Farsley Celtic notoriety. It goes without saying that most out of work managers have that status for a reason, before even thinking about whether they would want to take what appears to be a poisoned chalice at the moment – the next appointment will be our fourth of 2019 after we’ve chewed up and spat out Neil McFarlane, Mark Yates and now Pemberton.

This appointment is vital. It’s time to bite the bullet and appoint an experienced manager, back him and, surprise surprise, let him manage. We don’t ask for much do we?

FA Cup : Stafford Rangers (H)

As we all know, tomorrow signals the beginning of Harriers journey into the FA Cup, once again at the second qualifying round. We reacquaint ourselves with a historic local rival, Stafford Rangers, in what will be the first meeting between the two sides in over a decade. The Marston Road outfit currently sit 21st in the Northern Premier League, with three points from seven games, scoring twice and leaking nine goals. To find out more about our opponents, I spoke to Fans Rep Alan Gee.

Q: Whilst this is our first game in the FA Cup, NPL teams entered in the previous round. How did that go?

Alan: The FA Cup game with Mickleover proved to be the exception to our league form, with Rangers’ finishing proving to be particularly clinical.

Q: You mentioned your poor start to the season. Was this something you could see coming?

A: We actually showed so much promise in pre season, winning 5, drawing 2 and scoring 25 in the process. The campaign so far though has disappointed. We’ve looked fairly solid in most games but we have struggled to hit the target.

Q: With that pre season promise in mind, what were your expectations for this season?

A: The play offs were a realistic aim but that task is now a lot harder. Mid table is now a more realistic target but it has to be said there is still a strong belief about the place that the league form will turn and we will finish way above where we are at the minute. A run in some of the cup competitions would be great as well!

Q: To the game tomorrow then. Who do you expect to play an important role?

A: Jake Charles (grandson of John Charles) is a player with a lot of ability and is getting plenty of faith shown in him. He came through at Huddersfield and can play up top or out wide. In goal, Lewis King has been a very strong addition to the squad and scooped the Player of the Month award for August.

The excellent @FACupFactfile on Twitter has, as always, previewed every game in this round. His findings on our games:

-The visitors have progressed past this round once in 11 years

-There have been 11 previous FA Cup meetings, with 5 wins apiece.

So, we know the opponents, we know the history. All that remains to find out is the result.

Vi har vunnet hjemme!

That’s right, we’ve won at home! What a performance and what a welcome for the Norwegian branch of the Harriers supporters club it was on Saturday against a surprisingly poor Altrincham side.

With the return of Rhys Williams to the backline, the defence looked far more organised, even with regular custodian Cam Gregory out injured. You could tell that the international break worked wonders for Rhys, going away with England U19s and he kept Jordan Hulme under wraps all afternoon. As we have so often seen at Aggborough, if the ball cannot stick up top, mistakes can happen in the midfield. The returning Milan Butterfield saw to the Alty ambition to play through the lines, and although it is an obvious thing to say, our midfield is so much poorer without the Bermudan international. Up top, Ashley Chambers was, well, Ashley Chambers; his two goals taking him up to 8 for the season now. His partner, Rich Peniket, had probably his finest game in a Harriers shirt and really seems to be benefiting now from the step up to full time football. Sure, he may never be a 20 goal a season striker like his predecessor Joe Ironside, but we are in a different market now. What he will do is offer an aerial option, see Kettering, and his partnership with Chambers scampering onto the second balls will hopefully only continue to flourish.

The performance was much improved, as was the atmosphere. Call it looking for a narrative, call it a coincidence, but was that because the players have been told this takeover has been done? With announcements to that effect, we’ve obviously been here all to often, but could Monday be THE day? Saturday seemed to suggest so. All we can do is wait.

We needn’t wait much longer for our FA Cup journey to start, however. Last Monday’s lunchtime draw saw us paired with old foes Stafford Rangers at Aggborough this Saturday for a first game in over a decade. They are currently languishing second bottom of the Northern Premier League, the immediate step below us. Looking at their squad, there are some familiar names. Midfielder Alex Rae Harvey came through at Burnley and had a spell at Barrow, whilst Harriers fans are very familiar with Luke Jones and Louis Briscoe, for different reasons! Of course, it was Briscoe who rendered Anthony Malbon unconscious when he was at Mansfield seven years ago, whilst Jones obviously had two spells with us. One of Steve Burr’s old backroom team, Andy Fearn, is also involved. They’ve only scored twice this season, conceding nine so you’d expect the passage to the third qualifying round to be simple, but this is the FA Cup…

And breathe…

This piece took a little break but fear not, we are back and I was at each game. Let’s sum up August.

August. The most frantic month in the non-league calendar. So, how did Harriers fare? The answer to this really depends on your expectations. For me, we have done fine. Sure, some performances and results have not been good, especially at home, but we have managed to string together three consecutive away victories (Bradford PA, Curzon Ashton, Kettering) to bolster the points tally. Arguably there have only been two games, being AFC Telford away and Chester at home where we have been severely outclassed and anything less than a defeat would’ve been an aberration. Looking back, a sense of perspective is required. We can look at ourselves with rose tinted glasses and expect a strong start because we’ve been at the top end of this league and should have got out by now, or we can look at what we have at the minute and be thankful that we have accumulated points.

The winner vs Curzon Ashton, courtesy of Ashley Chambers

We are in disarray off the pitch, with the protracted takeover. At the time of writing, it is near completion and an announcement could be made as soon as Wednesday lunchtime, confirming that Colin Gordon has sold up. This links to the on field stuff as well. John Pemberton has very few options, very few players and even fewer players to bring off the bench, so it could be said that the fact we are sitting 11th with 10 points is something of a miracle. The home form then. Can it be as simple as a young, thin team, no doubt fatigued, feeling the pressure of a crowd who are half expectant but angry at the owners? Potentially. We will only really find out once the cause of the supporters angst has been removed. We have the second best away form in the league though, so that’s something.

The Future

Tuesday night sees another tough game – the visit of Brackley Town. They’ve made something of an inauspicious start, losing on the road to Leamington, York and Gateshead whilst drawing to Hereford. Throw in our similar home form and it’s 0-0 all over isn’t it?

When you look at Brackley, though, you know it will be a difficult game. Players of the ilk of Danny Lewis, Gaz Dean, James Armson… Town are no mugs and perhaps a victim of one of the tougher starts to the season. Make no mistake, if we avoid defeat tonight, I suspect we will have done very well indeed.

Brackley's Danny Lewis during his Harriers days. Halcyon, indeed.

Saturday sees the long journey up to Blyth Spartans. Over the last couple of seasons we have had some excellent battles with one of the doyens of northern Non-League football so it is with a heavy heart that you look at the complete mess they are in. Rumours abounded at the turn of the year that they could not sustain a promotion push, Alun Armstrong departed in the summer for Darlington, taking the best players with him, leaving Lee Clark to pick up the pieces. Conceding 15 in 7 to date, coupled with our away form, a comfortable win on Saturday should surely be in the offing.

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