NON-LEAGUE NEWS: With an Easter Monday derby at the Mayfield Stadium and a late revival in form for the Trams, ANDREW SINCLAIR looks at what the remainder of the season holds in store
Croydon’s non-league clubs enter the final weeks of the season in very different veins of form.
At the turn of the year, Croydon Athletic were moving comfortably towards their best league finish since before the pandemic, but since beating Cobham on January 28, the Rams have only picked up 10 points in 12 games in the Combined Counties Premier Division South.
They’re now 13th in the table and with eight games to go, boss Kevin Rayner admits things haven’t quite panned out the way he hoped.
“We have a good squad but they have not been consistent and they have underperformed at times,” Rayner told Inside Croydon.
Consistency has been hard to come by because of the weather issues that have dogged their home pitch at the Mayfield Stadium in Thornton Heath, as well as other grounds across the division.
Repeated postponements meant that Athletic played only twice in January and they are now heading into the Easter weekend knowing that they’ve got to fit in eight matches in the next three weeks, including a bumper Bank Holiday Monday clash with Balham, their groundshare tenants.
“Not playing regularly stopped us from getting any momentum. As a team we look forward to playing every few days, so playing once and then having to wait 10 days for the next one doesn’t help”, Rayner said.
Only five of their eight fixtures currently have dates allocated, but the Rams will be hoping that they are able to build on last Tuesday’s encouraging draw with Horley Town as the season winds to a close.
“We just about deserved a point against Horley but we can play much better than that,” Rayner said.
“With a number of games in quick succession over the next few weeks, I think we’ll be able to get back to the levels we reached in the early stages of the season.”
Although their away form, which has seen them lose 11 of 16 on the road, has been their undoing, the Rams are vastly improved overall this season, with the attacking threat provided by Emiliano Lika and Tyrone Pink a real high point.
Balham sit seven points ahead of Athletic in 10th place in the Combined Counties Premier Division South.
Prior to a defeat to title-chasing side Jersey Bulls on March 15, Balham were unbeaten in 14 in league action and looked an outside bet for a late play-off charge. However, that Jersey game was the first of three straight losses that coincided with the departure of first-team coach Emil Kot to Kingstonian two divisions higher.
In addition to their meeting with the Rams, Balham’s run-in sees them face two of the bottom four but also two of the top seven. A solid return from those games would confirm a decent mid-table finish for the club.
It’s a different story for Croydon FC, who have begun to show real improvements in recent weeks after what had largely been a dismal campaign up until March.
Six weeks ago, the Trams were teetering just above the provisional relegation places in the Southern Counties East Division One. A stunning last-gasp winner against promotion-chasing Tooting Bec on March 4 appears to have been a turning point – since then, they’ve lost just one of their last seven.
“It’s a shame we couldn’t have gone on this run a month earlier as we’d have had an outside shot of making the playoffs,” said manager Liam Giles.
“Still, looking back on the five months since I came back to the club, I’m proud of what we have achieved as a group. We’ve secured the club’s league status for next season and we’re now only eight points away from the play-off places, which is a pretty decent turnaround.”
Most recently, Croydon were seen comfortably beating Staplehurst Monarchs 3-0. Scorer of two in that game and the winner against Tooting was teenager Errol Mundle-Smith, a 17-year-old Kinetic Foundation student who has been making real waves since linking up with the squad.
If Mundle-Smith’s “hard work” and “very bright future” have Giles purring, one of his biggest disappointments lately has been the extinguishing of their hopes at cup glory.
The Trams had come close during his first stint as manager and this season made it as far as the semi-finals of both the London FA Senior Trophy and Surrey Premier Cup before bowing out.
“Losing in any semi-final is always disappointing but the Petrocub loss [in the Trophy] was tough. Going out on penalties took a toll on us mentally and I think directly impacted our results as we lost the next two league games after that.
“It was a really good achievement to get that point from where we were when I came back in November, but it just wasn’t to be.”
The Trams have just three games left this season, with the first coming against bottom of the table Bermondsey Town tomorrow. Croydon’s last home game of the season at Croydon Arena is on Bank Holiday Monday against Elmstead, when they hope for a decent crowd to see the side chase a place in the top 10 of English football’s tenth tier.
Currently occupying 10th in the SCEFL Division One are AFC Whyteleafe. Kelly Waters’ side have got better as the season has gone on and go into their last three games having lost just once in their last nine matches.
In what is just the phoenix club’s second season, they’re the second highest scorers in the division. If they can keep the core of the squad together, they’ll be an interesting proposition for sure next time round.
Sat Apr 8: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Badshot Lea (H)
Mon Apr 10: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Balham (A)
Sat Apr 15: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Alton (A)
Tue Apr 18: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Camberley T (H)
Sat Apr 22: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Abbey R (H)
Sat Apr 8: SCEFL Div 1 v Bermondsey Town (A)
Mon Apr 10: SCEFL Div 1 v FC Elmstead (H)
Sat Apr 15: SCEFL Div 1 v Bridon Ropes (A)
Sat Apr 8: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Frimley Green (A)
Mon Apr 10: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Croydon A (H)
Sat Apr 15: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Badshot Lea (H)
Sat Apr 22: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Horley T (A)
Mon Apr 24: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Colliers Wood Utd (H)
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