NON-LEAGUE NEWS: Tough times at the Mayfield, while Croydon FC are enjoying their games on the road, as ANDREW SINCLAIR reports
Croydon Athletic have certainly picked up where they left off in the covid-abandoned 2019-2020 season, their 2-0 home defeat at the Mayfield Stadium on Saturday meaning that they have now gone 13 league and cup games without a win.
January 11 this year, before anyone had heard of coronavirus, was the last time Kevin Rayner’s side had the sweet taste of success, with only a 1-1 draw with Erith and Belvedere last week offering Athletic anything like some hope so far this term.
So far this month, Athletic are P4 W0 D1 L3 F1 A10, including being knocked out of the FA Cup at the first time of asking. The Rams stand 19th in the early season Southern Counties East Premier League table.
“I am concerned by the results,” Rayner said, “but it’s not difficult to put right.
“We have too many injuries at the minute and we haven’t fielded the same team twice. We had a few back on Tuesday for the draw with Erith and Belvedere and we were much better. I’m sure when everyone is back we will be alright. It’s very unfortunate but that’s the way it goes.
Things have been looking a good deal different at the Mayfield since the start of the season this month, including having one of the biggest crowds at the stadium for an Athletic game, as the Croydon public, starved of the chance to see live football since March, turned out in force for the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round against Sutton Common Rovers.
Once inside, the 174 who turned out encountered rows of the stand taped off, hand sanitisers at the gate and a strict one-way system in place to comply with social distancing measures. They also had to endure a poor display from Athletic as they limped out of the competition 3-0.
Athletic’s first league encounter was a 4-0 thumping to Punjab United. The draw against Erith and Belvedere saw the Rams’ Nahum Green’s opener cancelled out by Steve Springett’s second-half equaliser.
Athletic looked to be heading for another point on Saturday against Lordswood, keeping things tight for more than an hour before conceding two in the last 25 minutes. Of the goals conceded by Athletic in their first four games, five have come from the penalty spot.
Rams boss Rayner assures Inside Croydon that there’s no need to panic just yet.
“No one has scored a decent goal against us yet. All have been given away cheaply and we need to do better,” he said.
“Inconsistency doesn’t help but I’m sure we will improve with personnel back. You certainly won’t see any panic from me. Our squad will be good enough but if we need to change things, I’m sure we will.”
Next up for Rayner’s side is a trip to Erith Town in the SCEFL Premier Division before they head to the south coast to face Wick in the FA Vase.
It’s been a very different story for Croydon FC, whose opening two performances have justified the confidence shown by boss Liam Giles during pre-season.
With the council-owned Croydon Arena still not reopened, the Trams are unable to play any home games, but they’ve adapted well to being the SCEFL First Division’s road warriors.
Elmstead did the double over Giles’ men last season and they were 2-0 up early on before Croydon roared back, Andy Somo scoring twice in the final five minutes to win a point.
It was a similar situation at Rusthall, who are expected to be among the promotion-chasing pack this time round. The Trams again conceded early but they fought back to lead 2-1 thanks to goals from Jack Sims and Somo. With two minutes to go, Rusthall levelled, only for Sims to nab his second of the game deep into time added on for injuries to secure a dramatic win.
Giles has been very impressed with the fighting spirit shown by his players. “We worked hard for it and showed some real grit and team spirit. I feel we still are not playing at our full potential but we put in a great, hard-working performance to beat a side I feel are one of the favourites to go up.
“It’s pleasing to see we have a never-say-die attitude. We came back from 2-0 down last week and drew the game with five minutes to play and I feel we could have gone on to win that, too. At 2-1, we should have finished the game off but never took our chances, they equalised in the 88th minute with a cracking strike. For us to then go and win it deep in stoppage time was very pleasing indeed.”
Next up for the Trams is the FA Vase First Qualifying Round on Sunday against SCEFL Premier Division side Sheppey United, who have scored 13 in their opening four games and who include former Wimbledon striker Jack Midson in their ranks.
Although they enter as underdogs, Giles is optimistic ahead of the notionally “home” tie, which will be played at Glebe’s ground in Chislehurst.
“For me, this is a free hit against a much-fancied Sheppey,” Giles said.
“I believe we can win the game but nobody expects us too. It will be a very tough game and a real test for us and one we’re looking forward to.”
The other local non-league sides have also managed to get their campaigns off the ground in recent weeks. Croydon Women played their first league game in 20 years against Ashford Town, losing 5-2.
Croydon were without their Player of the Year from last season, Maya Reder, because the 18-year-old has just begun her university career, and they were forced to play their opening game in borrowed Carlisle United kit, as they still await the arrival of their new strip.
Speaking to Inside Croydon, CWFC chairman Jason Casey explained some of the other challenges of fielding a side at this level of football. “Two players cancelled on us and another pulled up pre-match, so we only had 11 players for the full game. The traffic to Ashford was bad and there were no facilities to warm up until 20 minutes before,” he said.
“Ashford had a great centre forward and one particularly strong centre-back but the rest were on par with ours, so I’m happy with the performance, if not the result. I’m very glad that the club, which has such a rich history in the women’s game, have now had their first competitive match back.”
Back in Thornton Heath, the side ground-sharing the Mayfield Stadium, Balham, have made a strong start to the season. They were unlucky to lose on penalties to Hassocks in the FA Cup and since then they’ve won two of their first three games in the SCEFL.
Balham – who were only formed in 2011 – did lose to Punjab after taking the lead, but they look well-equipped to make a decent go of it in their first season in the division.
Whyteleafe have to wait until September 19 to start their league campaign but the Isthmian league side, still managed by Harry Hudson, have started their season in style.
The Leafe made the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup last season and they’re looking to do the same this time round, scoring seven without reply in their opening wins over SCEFL outfits Glebe and Bearsted. Even if their run goes no further, those two wins have already netted the Church Road club more than £3,000 in prize money.
Sun Sep 20 FA Vase v Sheppey (H)
Tue Sep 29 SCEFL Div 1 v Stansfeld, (A)
Tonight SCEFL Prem v Erith Town (A)
Sat Sep 19 FA Vase v Wick (A)
Sat Sep 26 SCEFL Prem v Canterbury City (H)
Tue Sep 29 SCEFL Prem v Tunbridge Wells (A)
Sat Sep 19 Isthmian League SE v Herne Bay (A)
Sat Sep 26 Isthmian League SE v Chichester City (H)
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