By Jacob Greenwood
Woking return to league action on Saturday when they travel to The Impact Arena to take on Alfreton Town.
Garry Hill has once again worked wonders during the transfer window and the signings of Scott Rendell, Joe Jones, Theo Lewis and James Clarke, just to name a few, have given the fans an added feeling of optimising going into the season.
With Alfreton finishing just one point behind The Cards last season, Saturday’s game could be a tight affair. We talked to Town match reporter Ashley Wilkinson to find out what has been happening with The Reds over the summer.
Can you tell us what has happened at ATFC over the summer. John Akinde, who was one of your key players last season has now left, what other significant changes have been made?
It’s been another summer of enforced wholesale change at Alfreton. On the sort of budget available to Nicky Law, the only way to entice the right quality of player is to offer one-year deals and this inevitably leads to a deluge of exits in the summer. The same has been true this year with 14 players leaving the Impact Arena in 2014. So once again, on a further reduced budget, Law has been required to once again work wonders in the transfer market to build a capable squad.
Only Tom Shaw, Dan Bradley and Paul Clayton were contracted for the upcoming season…and Bradley initially left for Barnet. Thankfully, he is now back at Alfreton after a mix-up over living arrangements down south. Player of the Year Bradley Wood, after initially suggesting he would re-join Grimsby, signed a two-year deal at the Impact and that was a huge boost for Law. The departures, though, were many: first-teamers Michael Wylde, John McGrath, Chris Westwood, Dan Meadows, Connor Franklin, Dan Wishart and Jon Worsnop all left the club over the summer, while Darran Kempson retired and Nick Fenton has taken up a physio role at a Football League club.
As did Akinde. At the end of his contract and without question one of the highest earners at the Impact, he has moved back down south and joined Barnet, a good move for him. Alfreton will miss Akinde’s presence up front and a few trialists in a similar mould have been looked at, though none have really shown the sort of impact that the chief had at the head of Alfreton’s attack.
But as I mentioned, Law has a knack for producing top quality signings and he hasn’t disappointed this summer. Luke Graham has joined on a two-year deal from Hereford and I maintain he is one of the best centre-halves in the league. Duane Courtney is another experienced signing in from Tamworth, Dan Gray and Jake Sheridan have joined from Lincoln City while the Reds have re-signed popular midfielder Anthony Howell following his release by Mansfield…and the same applies to Lee Stevenson, too.
The Reds are still a striker or two short of a full squad but, in my opinion, the squad as it is looks as strong as last season’s surprise package. With the right moves in the loan market, I think good times may be ahead for Alfreton.
ATFC came close to making the play-offs last season only to fall short. Is the aim to make them this season and do you think it is realistically possible?
I think the aim, when you’re a club of Alfreton Town’s stature, is to consolidate and improve. There is so much quality in the Vanarama Conference (…still can’t get used to that) right now that it’s tough to say that Alfreton could realistically finish in the top five…but then the Reds were ahead of everyone bar Luton and Cambridge for a good majority of last season. If the Reds have a bit more luck on the injury front and can keep the fitness levels going, I don’t see why a good season won’t be in order.
Certainly the players are confident. Speaking to Dan Bradley, he thinks the Reds can improve on last season. Luke Graham urged caution when I asked him the same question but clearly has belief that his team-mates can spring a surprise once more.
It’s important to note that, again, Alfreton have reduced budgets across the board and the club is up for sale according to Chairman Wayne Bradley. The Reds had a budget “safely in the bottom third of the division” and I’d be willing to bet that this season, the budget is safely within the bottom three entirely. Despite the uncertainty surrounding who might be in charge of the club next year, Mr. Bradley continues to operate the club in an entirely sensible manner, at odds with several clubs in the division, and as it stands Alfreton Town have zero debts despite attendances falling to an average of just over 800.
With that in mind…anyone else would suggest staying in the division would represent a fine achievement. That has been an outstanding achievement on behalf of all at the club for the last three years. I think if Alfreton can nick a top 10 finish, it will be a huge accomplishment for all involved with the club and will surely confirm Law as one of the finest managers at this level.
Who will Woking have to look out for on Saturday?
They may not have arrived yet! Four days until the new season and we still await news of any more signings, and Nicky has been clear that he wants more firepower up front (as it stands, Paul Clayton is the club’s only recognised out-and-out striker and while Howell and Stevenson can play there, they’d be much more effective in midfield).
Duane Courtney, if fit, will likely be pulling the strings in the holding role and Bradley Wood will be biting at the legs of every Woking player on the turf, that you can be sure of. Personally, I’d suggest Dan Bradley is the real danger man. His turn of pace is electric and despite only having half a pre-season with all the Barnet kerfuffle, he has looked extremely sharp in the friendlies he has played. Often deployed on the right but equally dangerous down the middle, defenders have to be at the top of their game when Bradley runs at them with the ball at his feet.
What is your score prediction?
It’s so, so tough to say. Last year, Alfreton started their season with a 1-0 defeat away at Dartford…hardly an accurate reflection of the season to come. But I can see the Reds being even more determined to get their season off to the best possible start and, with the squad taking shape and fitness levels looking good, I think they can pull off the three points.
Woking will prove tough opposition, but I’m going to stick my neck out and say Alfreton Town will run out 2-0 winners in their opening game of the 2014/15 Vanarama Conference season…with goals from Dan Bradley and Paul Clayton.
Photo courtesy of David Holmes. A full set of images can be found at wokingfc.co.uk