NON-LEAGUE NEWS: Bumper Bank Holiday crowds and a bit of a cup run – the local teams have got through the first month of the season in reasonable shape, as ANDREW SINCLAIR reports
Photographs by CLARE BARNETT
Croydon FC drew their best crowd to the Arena for a decade on Bank Holiday Monday, but it was one man who they were missing in their line-up for their match with Holmesdale which possibly cost them their unbeaten league record this season.
The season may be young, but Andy Somo has already established himself as Croydon’s key player, so his picking up a red card and a two-match ban in a previous game at Horsham did little to help as his side lost 2-0 at home.
Somo’s “dismissal” had come after the final whistle in the FA Cup Extra Preliminary round at Horsham YMCA, which Croydon lost 2-1, following a decent performance at a club from a higher division than themselves.
Obviously disappointed to be knocked out of the cup at the first stage, Somo, according to someone close to the club, “gave the referee a piece of advice he clearly didn’t like”. The red card was duly brandished.
Croydon’s manager Liam Giles clearly felt that Somo might have made a difference against Holmesdale on Monday. “Andy is a special player,” Giles said.
“A lot of what we do goes through him, he’s our focal point, he pushes defences back.
“Today, we didn’t really look like scoring. We had some real talented lads out there that can do it, but Andy is a huge part of what we do. Against Sutton, the lads stepped up but in games like today you need someone like Andy.”
Without him, Croydon moved winger Richard Pingling into the centre and Hanif Charles-Berry from left-back to left-wing.
Those changes left them with an uneven shape and too often balls were played in and around the area with no one there to pick them up and make use of them.
Somo will be back for the club’s next game at home, this Saturday against Lewisham Borough, who are currently 16th in the SCEFL Division One table, with a win and a defeat in their first two matches.
Croydon will be hoping to get close to the 166 paying spectators who turned out in the blazing Bank Holiday sunshine – their best home crowd since 2010, and good enough to put the Trams in the top 10 of attendances for Step 6 clubs on the day.
Holmesdale, from just up the road, brought a fair few fans with them, but after the set-backs of last season and the three break-ins at the club house, Croydon’s local profile is better than it has been for some time, with the wags at the South Norwood Tourist Board doing their bit on social media to get improved turn-outs.
Jordan Eels, a former Croydon player, slipped through for Holmesdale after two minutes to open the scoring on Monday, and that lead was doubled on 78 minutes through Ryan Golding. The Trams delivered a rather toothless performance, which Giles described as looking like “men against boys”, with Holmesdale “working harder” to pick up their second league win of the season.
Despite the disappointing result, Giles seemed happy with the squad he’s currently got at his disposal as Croydon attempt to make an immediate return to the SCEFL Premier Division after last season’s disastrous relegation campaign.
“We’ve got 26 signed on with only obviously 16 we can field matchday. I’ve had two calls this week from two forwards, both playing at sort of Ryman level, that want game time and I know would be prolific at this level, but I’m fairly happy with what we’ve got.
“If you look at our squad’s CVs at this level of football, it’s a pleasure to have a lot of them but at the end of the day you need hard work as well. We’ll be working out what went wrong today and how we can improve and if that means we need to get some players in, we’ll try and do it.”
After Lewisham, the Trams face a trip to Gravesend to take on Greenways SC, who have taken seven points from their opening four league games.
Over in Thornton Heath, Croydon Athletic have already played seven games in SCEFL Premier Division and the FA Cup. Goals from Umaro Alpha and Jordan Knight helped Kevin Rayner’s side beat Canterbury City 2-1, with the club then losing 1-0 away to Erith and Belvedere three days later.
The club were seconds away from recording a big upset in the FA Cup last weekend against Herne Bay. After defeating Virginia Water 1-0 in the first round, the Rams raced into a 2-0 lead inside 15 minutes against their Isthmian League South East Division opponents, thanks to strikes from Alpha and Nahum Green. However, Herne Bay fought back and Zak Ansah grabbed his second in the third minute of stoppage time to force a replay at Mayfields on September 3.
Should Athletic win the replay, they will pick up a guaranteed £4,390 prize money for reaching the First Qualifying Round of the FA Cup for the second successive season. Isthmian Premier League side Haringey Borough await the victors in the next round.
The Rams enjoyed their best result of the season on Monday, when they won 3-1 at Fisher, with goals from Kevin Smith, Jon Paoluccio and Alpha.
Athletic, who are currently eighth in the SCEFL Premier Division with seven points from a possible 12, travel to Sheppey United on Saturday in their FA Vase First Qualifying Round game before the replay with Herne Bay on September 3.
Something both Croydon sides know for certain is that the annual Tramaramadingdong or El Croydon Clasico is not far away.
Although many thought it would be a while before the next Croydon derby, following Croydon’s relegation last season, the rivals were drawn against each other in the first round of the SCEFL Challenge Cup, although a date has not yet been announced.
Down at Whyteleafe, bolstered by funding from Croydon Council thanks to a councillor grant from Steve O’Connell, Harry Hudson’s side have enjoyed a strong start to the season, winning their league games against Chichester City and Guernsey 3-2 and 4-1 respectively, and moving into the First Qualifying Round of the FA Cup after beating Cray Valley Paper Mills 2-0.
Particularly impressive has been Ronald Sobowale, who has scored six times.
The Leafe are currently joint-top of the Isthmian South East Division with Haywards Heath Town and Cray Valley, and they return to league action on Saturday with a trip to Hastings United.
Sat Aug 31: SCEFL Div 1, v Lewisham Borough (H)
Sat Sep 7: SCEFL Div 1, v Greenways SC (A)
Sat Sep 14: FA Vase 2nd QRd, v Wick or Colliers Wood Utd (H)
Wed Sep 18: SCEFL Div 1, v Bridon Ropes (A)
Sat Sep 21: SCEFL Div 1, v Lydd T (H)
Sat Aug 31: FA Vase 1st QRd, v Sheppey Utd (A)
Tue Sep 3: FA Cup Prelim Rd Replay, v Herne Bay (H)
Sat Sep 7: SCEFL Prem Div v Hollands & Blair (H) OR FA Cup 1st QRd, vs Haringey Borough (A)
Sat Sep 14: FA Vase 2nd QRd, v Saltdean Utd or Lordswood (A)
Sat Sep 21: SCEFL Prem Div v Sheppey Utd (A)
Sat Aug 31: Isthmian Lge SE Div, v Hastings Utd (A)
Sat Sep 7: FA Cup 1st QRd, v Merstham (H)
Sat Sep 14: Isthmian Lge SE Div, v Ashford Utd (H)
Tue Sep 17: Isthmian Lge SE Div, v Burgess Hill T (H)
Sat Sep 21: Isthmian Lge SE Div, v Cray Valley PM (A)
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