BRIAN GRANVILLE, our veteran non-league football correspondent, previews this Saturday’s Mayfield Road fixture where the stakes are high-ish
There is still a chance of glory for Croydon FC in yet another very difficult season, with a chance to make a cup final, and – probably more importantly – on Saturday local bragging at stake in the league with a non-league derby against Croydon Athletic.Croydon have been hampered by having to play their home games in a stadium, Croydon Arena, surrounded by building works on the neighbouring Oasis Arena Academy that creates a challenging maze to find the entrance to the ground. And meanwhile, Dickson Gill, the influential club owner, has been cursed by illness that caused a period of hospitalisation.
Good cup form in the FA Vase and the FA Cup has not been matched by the team’s league performances that sees them in 16th place, just three places above the bottom of the Southern Counties East Football League. Completing the league double over Deal Town at home at the weekend reflects some improvement over dire results earlier in the season.
Fortunately, only one team is going to go down this season to what will be the newly created lower division, following the very recent agreement to merge with the one-step lower Kent Invicta League. New Addington-based Holmesdale, 19th in the league, look doomed to relegation to Step 10 on the football pyramid being a substantial 15 points adrift of Croydon and 12 points behind 18th-placed Rochester United.
Croydon’s good cup form has been extended into other tournaments, and seen them progress to the semi-finals of the Southern Counties East League Challenge Cup (formerly the Kent League Cup). The Kent League Cup was the last piece of silverware that Croydon senior team won, back in 2009.
In the two-leg home and away semi-finals, Croydon will face league leaders Hollands and Blair who, as a newly promoted team, have been the season’s revelation in the division. Only 12 years ago, the Kent coast clubs was five leagues lower, in the obscure Rochester and District League.
When Croydon have met the division’s high-fliers in the league this season, they’ve drawn both matches 1-1, which offers some hope for a chance of winning a place in the final.
Last night’s semi-final home leg was postponed due to a water-logged pitch, sparing Croydon an energy-sapping encounter ahead of Saturday’s short trip to Mayfield Road for the final Croydon derby of the season at AFC Croydon Athletic.
On Croydon FC’s last visit to Mayfield Road in October, an unusually lacklustre Athletic lost 3-0. At the time, Croydon FC were rooted to the bottom of the league.
The glory of being Croydon’s top non-league team will be more important to the two teams than any cup match. Croydon are particularly sensitive about being overtaken again by the phoenix club Athletic, which regained league parity with Croydon FC after a promotion last season.
Athletic pushed up the table in February with two wins and a draw out of four league games, including a win away at Hollands and Blair. Now in ninth place, seven places above Croydon FC, seven points separate the teams. So there’s all to play for, not least some local pride and revenge, after Athletic won the previous league encounter, 2-1 at the Arena on Boxing Day.
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