After last weekend’s FA Cup excitement the Stones return to league action on Saturday to face one of the division’s form sides: Chelmsford City.
Preview: Chelmsford City v Wealdstone
Rod Stringer’s Clarets have gone seven league games unbeaten and sit third going into Saturday’s contest. And with six victories and a draw in that sequence it’s not hard to see why the bookies have priced Chelmsford as a front runner.
The 11/2 third favourites have come out the blocks flying with their only league defeats coming on the road against table toppers Maidenhead United (1-0) and St Albans City (2-1).
It’s at home where Chelmsford appear to be an immovable beast, a contrast to their blue and white counterparts, the Clarets have won four and drawn two and are yet to lose a league encounter at the Melbourne Stadium – though Dartford can boast a cup success there.
Despite that early cup exit the Clarets remain on course to meet the playoff target that was set for new boss Rod Stringer in the Summer and the manager admits he’s been happy with his team’s start.
Stringer arrived with a growing reputation in the game enforced by a CV that can boast title triumphs at both Aveley and Braintree Town.
Speaking about his start to life at Chelmsford, the manager who led Bishop’s Stortford to 11th place last term, said: “We’ve just got to try to keep playing well, winning games, sustain that and hopefully we stay there [in the playoffs] for as long as we can.”
And he isn’t known to suffer fools gladly either. In 2011 he infamously walked out of Braintree just three weeks after leading them into the Conference National. In what must rank as one of football’s most bizarre disputes Stringer claimed he was unhappy at being offered a 4k car by his then-employers.
Speaking to The Chronicle in May 2011 Stringer, who had just resigned, said “I’m gone I’m out of there, they’re a village club now operating in a professional league. In the end it all came down to the car. They wanted to get me one at auction for four grand – what sort of car am I going to get for that? It’ll be about as reliable as the weather.”
“I didn’t want to go to these clubs around the country and completely ruin my CV,” he said.
No chance of him ending up back there then. And despite lamenting a bad budget that he quipped “had danger written all over it,” Braintree, without him at the helm, finished respectfully the following season in 12th place, 21-points clear of danger –proof that money can often be the biggest excuse in football.
Off the pitch takeover discussions continue with club chairman Trevor Smith and potential investors, Jade Group Global. Speaking of the proposed deal Smith said: “There are still a few hoops to go through. With these things, just when you think you are nearly there, something else comes up, but they are very keen. I’m speaking to them on a daily basis now and we’ve got plans in place.”
It’s understood that should a takeover be completed funds will be ploughed into refurbishing the ground and facilities, particularly the club house. And despite City’s disappointing cup exit, their playing budget remains generous.
On to Saturday and despite well-documented problems in Chelmsford’s defence with centre back Adam Bailey-Dennis and left back Chris Bush both missing out through suspension, the transfer market has been kind to the Clarets and former Sheffield Wednesday defender Matt Young, who can play anywhere across the backline, is expected to debut. In midfield, there could also be a debut for Max Porter with the England ‘C’ international joining from Bromley.
Stones will travel in numbers Saturday for a fixture they’ve won by the same 2-0 scoreline in consecutive seasons. In fact, since promotion to National South level, Stones have collected 10 points from a possible 12 against Saturday’s opponents (including an entertaining 4-2 victory at The Vale, below).
This weekend’s Essex adventure will undoubtedly be made harder however with the visitors sweating on the fitness of Ricky Wellard. If the midfielder, who limped off against Banbury last week, joins Sam Cox, on international duty with Guyana, on the absentee list then Bartlett is likely to recall Godfrey to the engine room.
It’s generally been a good week for the blues and despite the initial deflation of failing to land an “easier” cup draw the anticipation is building for a mouth-watering cup tie at Dagenham – a side top of the National – and it’s away from home where Stones have been most impressive. At this level only two sides, Hampton and Maidenhead, have been better on their travels so there’s every reason to believe Stones can produce at Chelmsford on Saturday and cause Dagenham problems a week later.
Chelmsford, meanwhile, have enjoyed an extended break – there last outing saw them trail Dartford 3-0 at half-time before a rousing second half saw them narrowly succumb 3-2 – hitting the bar twice as they came within a whisker of earning a replay.
Key battle – Jeffers v Benyon
In former Coventry and England U19 international, Shaun Jeffers (pictured below), Chelmsford possess a potent target man. The 24-year-old, who was a regular at League 2 Yeovil last term, has already netted 7 in 12 in his maiden season at the Clarets and with pace to burn the often chastised pedestrian backline of Wealdstone could be in for a tough afternoon.
Jeffers could be joined in attack by last season’s top scorer Billy Bricknell and ex-Havant striker Shamir Mullings – who himself has struck 7 times in the league this term.
The visitors will again be reliant on Elliot Benyon, who has been in scintillating form for Wealdstone and is one of the few strikers to outscore both Jeffers and Mullings.
Last weekend Sahr Kabba stepped off the bench to sweep home a Benyon cross and send the home fans into raptures. It was effectively a golden goal, coming in the 88th minute, and it sent Stones on their way to a 2-1 victory against a stubborn opponent in Banbury United. It’s normally Wealdstone on the receiving end of late goals but a bit of mettle won the day.
This will be the toughest Chelmsford side that the Stones have faced at this level and for that reason, a third consecutive 0-2 reverse in this fixture is unlikely. Chelmsford have lost just three competitive games all season but two of them have been when big centre half Bailey-Dennis was sidelined.
With Wealdstone arguably having one eye on next week, in a fixture that may yet benefit from National TV coverage, Saturday’s match has almost been neglected on the controversial fans forum.
Next week aside, the current team’s performance is worthy of a B minus thus far.
Good on their travels (Ebbsfleet aside), unpredictable at home but on the whole a lot better than last season. For that reason, I see Stones nicking a point.
1-1. Kabba to grab the headlines again by stepping off the bench to grab an unlikely equaliser and remind everyone what a good gymnast he is.
Can’t wait til Saturday?
Why not watch Gordon Bartlett on FanTV on Friday night – Sky channel 212.