A year can be a long time in football. Just over a year ago Stones met Sutton conterminously placed in the league ladder; Wealdstone had the better of the play that blustery Boxing Day afternoon but had to settle for a point courtesy of a last minute Matt Ball equaliser. A year on… Stones find themselves in similar surroundings: 16th (two places lower than 12 months ago) – whilst Sutton sit second (13 places higher) and well placed to challenge for promotion come May.
Are Stones better than a year ago?
The statistics could have you argue either way for marginally and no. Two positions lower than last season though it appears, this time round, to be a far more competitive league – and the vigilant would point to two positions lower, but two games less. A fairer judge of how far Stones have come, if at all, would be after the Sutton game.
If you disregard the stats, however, even the most ardent Stones supporters would probably agree that it’s a collectively stronger side than 12-months ago.
Can there be an argument that the side has gone backwards?
Not really, no. Out of the cup against Concord at the first hurdle last term, the Stones managed to achieve a first round appearance for the first time in six years this season. But wasn’t that expected? Maybe, but you still have to beat the sides in front of you. Bognor in Qualifying Round Four were anything but easy, and although a level below, the great leveller that is the FA Cup could have conspired to count against the Stones. It didn’t, and we marched on…
The perennial disappointment will always be the manner of defeat against a Colchester side that have since gone from relative mid-table safety to propping up their own division.
Goals… more of them
Goals were averaged at just one per game 12-months ago whilst Wealdstone seem to have more attacking intent this term – goal ratios testify that… 1.35 goals per game in 2015/16. The side has a better balance too – Hudson-Odoi has been a solid addition and with a run of games Lucien is another earmarked as having the potential required to be a long-term fixture in the Stones XI. Scott Davies appears back to his creative best and is beginning to deliver the sort of performances that remind fans why he spent so long in the football league.
Elsewhere and whilst inconsistent of late, Louis had a terrific impact on his arrival – Stones earned 1.8 points per game following his debut at the back-end of last term, in nineteen games post Christmas to end of the season he had a hand in 17 goals – 10 for himself plus 7 assists. Had he been available from the start of the season Stones may have been more profitable in the early weeks of the campaign.
Surprisingly, it’s the back door where Wealdstone have been more leaky. Defensive acquisitions of Urquhart, who has rightly earned rave reviews, plus the likes of Cadmore have all added excitement on the terraces – but cracks continue to appear in the full-back positions. Last year Carl Martin played a prominent part, and when he wasn’t there, James Hammond reminded supporters of his value – both have been missed. Left-back, meanwhile, has proved particularly problematic all season with the surprise exit of Ryan Watts who quit the club due to work commitments. Binns, who showed promise pre-season, has been used as a makeshift full-back but his performances in recent weeks have raised doubts over his long-term suitability.
Stones recorded a remarkable seven clean sheets from 22 league outings at this stage 12-months ago; compared to just five this time round.
Next season BT Sport are investing more time and attention in grass roots football, extending their coverage to the National League North and South and featuring highlights programmes of member clubs. Should they choose to capture the action like Sky and run montages of season’s past (à la ‘the National League South years’), the Sutton game would certainly feature in The U’s montage of magic moments. They spanked the Stones 5-2 way back in August in a match that keeper Shane Gore will want to forget. His only appearance in a Stones shirt, stepping in for the suspended Jonathan North, he was at fault for several Sutton goals and was swiftly sent packing back to parent club Chesham – where he was dual registered. Funny game football as less than three months later he was keeping a clean sheet at Bristol Rovers as Chesham recorded one of the shocks of FA Cup R1.
Jolly boys outing
Stones starting XI against Hemel featured just two players (Parker and Godfrey) who started the game against would-be champions Bromley from the festive contest a year ago. That side played out an impressive 1-1 draw where Jolly notably netted his first and only goal on his return from hiatus.
Stones v Bromley – 28 December 2014
Sutton the form side
With five wins and a draw from their last six games, Sutton are very much the form side and have risen to second in the table. Only top-of-the-table Ebbsfleet (28) have earned more points on their travels this season than Sutton (21), whilst just two sides – Oxford (40) and Whitehawk (41), have scored more league goals than Sutton (39).
When the sides met back in August, Wealdstone were second bottom, and Sutton would record their biggest win of the season to date (5-2). Stones have improved with only three defeats since, whilst Sutton last tasted defeat on 7 November when Hayes & Yeading won at Gander Green Lane – the same day that Wealdstone would get tonked by Colchester.
Season ticket sales
Sutton are doing a £49 half-price season ticket offer just four months after selling full season tickets for just £99 with the club claiming to have sold north of 600. The U’s have soared to fourth in the average attendance figures – 883. It must have helped?
The three amigos
The exciting Tom Bolarinwa is making headlines at The U’s with a style that has been likened to Crystal Palace winger Yannick Bolassie. Previously with Cray Wanderers, he was inspirational in their ten match winning streak – to put into context how dead and buried Cray were it wasn’t until their sixth consecutive win that they moved the safe side of the dotted line. At just 25 the pacy winger might be regarded as a journeyman having spent time playing football in Thailand, book-ended by spells at Barnet, Wycombe and Billericay Town. He has scored six goals this term and will have been earmarked as a danger man. Bolarinwa missed the return fixture but is very much expected to play a prominent role this time round.
It is up front where Sutton are also dangerous – former Conference Premier predator Dan Flitchett (8 goals) and Craig Dundas (7) mean that the trio have attributed to 54% (21 of Sutton’s 39) league goals. At 34, powerhouse Dundas is in the twilight of his career but his 7 goals have already more than doubled his disappointing tally of just 3 from last campaign – even more disappointing when you consider he netted 30 (16 & 14) in the two season’s combined prior to 2014/15.
Completing the trio is Dan Flitchett, who leads the line with 8 goals this term; the 24-year old former–Wycombe Wanderers striker netted in the FA Trophy early this month as Sutton earned a reprieve following an initial 3-1 defeat to Concord – sensationally the FA ordered the game to be replayed after The Beach boys were found guilty of fielding an ineligible player; Sutton duly won the re-match 2-0 to set up a January first round tie with Lowestoft.
Finally, we’ve started by talking about 12-months ago, so that’s how we’ll finish. Wealdstone are a club never short of opinion, particularly on the supporters’ forum – week in, week out… and particularly when results don’t go the Stones’ way. Bartlett has said he does not personally read the forum but is sometimes aware of comments and there were a lot aimed in the manager’s direction back in August, but perhaps that’s common at football clubs? It certainly isn’t uncommon at Sutton, either. 12-months ago Sutton gaffer Paul Doswell was slamming his own fans after he came under huge fire on The U’s own forum.
Speaking back in January the Sutton boss said: “The club have given me a budget, probably lower to mid-table, and in the seven years I have been here, I have added to that every single week and if there is an over-spend, then it’s my over-spend, I put it in.
“If mistakes are made with players, they are my mistakes, not the club’s mistakes.”
He added: “I am a non-League manager – I believe I have put in close to £1m into this football club over seven years.”
Doswell admitted back then he was close to walking away so it must be all the more sweeter for him that the legacy he seeks to create is on the right track. Speaking in January he said: “When I eventually leave, I want to leave a legacy where we have hundreds of children playing football, that we become the community club we all want to be, and I am going to put a lot of effort over the next two years to make that happen.”
His effort is certainly paying off this season…
Pitch inspection at 10.30am puts this game in the balance. If it goes ahead it’s the sort of festive fixture the home crowd will relish, if Stones can keep the front three quiet there could be an upset. A win for Stones will almost certainly push them up at least two places in the table – currently 16th, the Stones have not been higher than 15th this season so there’s every incentive. Home win. 2-1.