A year ago we had achieved a place in the Ryman League Division One North play offs and fallen at the first hurdle. It was a bit of a depressing way to finish a season that had highs and lows but after undertaking a lot of soul searching following the proceedings at Spa Road, Witham I knew that the 2014/2015 season could not have come around quick enough.
Many times since my return to Bloomfields have I spoken about building blocks and that was put down with my team first. I knew that my squad was decent and I didn’t need too much to give it the lift it needed to try and achieve the ultimate aim that being promotion to Ryman League Premier Division.
Once the preseason routine arrived it became clear that my drive and ambition was matched by all staff and players. From the first session that was as sharp and crisp as any the previous season I knew we were ready.
SAM NUNN - ONE OF THE LADS WHO RETURNED TO PRESEASON LOOKING INCREDIBLY SHARP (AND SLIMMER!!)
The levels of fitness that the returning squad showed, a level that the additions to the squad had to match quickly, impressed me. Steve and Norfs set up a variety of routines, which were all based on high tempo possession and this would be a trademark of what was ahead.
It seemed an age before we got to August 9th and the arrival of the new season. The Bloomfields stadium was a bright as a new penny, the work undertaken by the willing band of volunteers made for a breath-taking sight. Newly promoted and full of energy after their victorious previous season winning the Essex Senior League, Great Wakering Rovers would provide stiff opposition. Their return to the Ryman League would finish up with a fine mid table finish.
On the day the difference in the teams was one of the key things that made us one of the favourites for the league, that being our stamina and the ability to play high tempo football for 95 minutes. GWR were on the back foot and from a number of corners we had in our favour Luke Ingram whipped his left sided delivery straight into the net. We were up and running!!
August would be a great month for us, we played a 3-4-3 system and teams struggled against our 3 strikers. To be honest we were perming 3 from Sam Newson, Ryan Crisp, Danny Cunningham and Ian Westlake so we were pretty strong.
The undoubted highlight from that run was the excellent 3-1 win at Sudbury. Cruelly reduced to 10 men after 30 minutes having conceding a goal via a deflected shot the second half needed to be a massive performance.
On the day it was just what we did. We planned to use the ball as our 11th man and that worked a treat, forcing AFC to chase us for the whole half. Ingers, Westy and News scored our goals and our hosts frustrations boiled over towards the end of the game with no fewer than 3 players seeing red.
However we came down with a bump in the first game of September as we experienced a problem that would stifle us for a couple of months. A front 3 works well until we were against a resolute defence who played on the counter attack. We had not worked, to any great extent, on a plan B and plan C, we just were caught up in the exciting attacking play we were using.
Brentwood came to Needham and showed to sort of tactical ability and resolute play that would end up with them winning the play offs. Despite having a lot of the ball and a lot of possession, this took place in front of the Blues defence and never really hurt them. They sucked us in and hit us on the break with 3 chances created and 2 goals scored against the 1 scored by Luke Hammond.
The rest of September would return to normal procedures, so we hoped, but Heybridge came and did a ‘Brentwood’ on us and 6 points were dropped. However September would be remembered for a historic Marketmen performance in the FA Cup, were we were handed a tough away game against Cambridge City.
This was a game that would be a real challenge, one I would add, that I was really relishing. I wanted to see if we could be confident enough to play the sort of possession football that had been our trademark in this enviroment. On the day the performance was one of the highlights of the season.
This was also a game where there was the temptation to change our attacking system but I resisted that and stuck with the 3-4-3, albeit I stared George Clarke and Crispy in a wider position and tried to get Skipper Kem Izzet to get closer to News up front.
The system worked well and the Lillywhites could not deal with the sharpness of our play, which was also complimented by the raw desire to regain possession when it was lost.
HOGGY AND KEM ARE A BIT TOO MUCH FOR ONE OF MY OLD PLAYERS, CHRIS BACON OF CAMB CITY
Leading at half-time by two goals to nil we had dominated the game to the extent that City were lucky to only be two down.
A backlash was expected and City started on front foot, we were creaking and on the hours two goals in 3 minutes levelled things up.
A change was needed and brave players to step up to the plate was order of the day. Clarkey and Crispy were replaced by young starlets Brendan Heath and Ace Howells and the system changed to 3-5-2.
Too many managers are scared to play young players sometimes relying on ‘experience’ to get them through. That has its place I firmly believe but so does the exuberance of youth as Ace and Heathy played without fear!!
It was game on and again our high levels of stamina got us on top again with News and Ace terrorising the Cambridge back line. We deservedly went ahead when young Howells rounded the home keeper on 78 minutes and soon after News finished them off.
SUPER SAMMY NEWSON CELEBRATES ONE OF THE 32 GOALS SCORED THIS SEASON
A win we really deserved and I pay great credit to manager Gary Roberts who was very fair and honest regarding how well we had played. I like Gary immensely, he is a very good manager and praise from him really meant something.
October for me will be remembered by my 50th birthday celebrations, particularly a golf trip to Fota Island in Southern Ireland. However the football results were pretty poor. We did pick up 9 points in the league but lost at Aveley as well as our demise in all cup competitions.
The Witham game in the FA Cup was hyped up by the press following the issues that surrounded the Play Off semi-final the previous season. The game was lively and we had missed enough chances to have won 3 games. Leading 1-0 at the break we needed to ensure we were solid but Witham scored 2 quick goals and saw the victory out.
However I did gain a degree of pleasure from two matches this month as I played very young teams against Mildenhall in the Suffolk Premier Cup and Leiston in the Ryman League Cup. Of these games the away match at Victory Road saw Morsleys babes dominated for a large periods of the game and taking the lead via Ace Howells after 70 minutes.
However Leiston’s experience soon helped them achieve an equaliser, with the game lost on penalties. On the night our academy lads were outstanding against a very strong Blues line up, particularly young Jake Dye. He played at right back and dealt with ex pro’s Jack Simmons and Tom Winter exceptionally well. It was no surprise to me when he picked up all the academy awards at last Fridays Presentation Night.
With no more cup competitions to take our ‘eye of the ball’ we aimed to pick up as many points from the remaining games of 2014, with the away game at Harlow the biggest of all. Even at this stage it was starting to look like a two horse race with us and The Hawks in the pole positions. The game on their 3G pitch was fast and furious and ended with them deservedly winning 2-1.
They started the better and this was the game that changed our back 3 to a back 4 after being exposed in key areas. Their opening goal came from a wide delivery that we never dealt with. Switching to the back 4 and the pace of Ingers and Darryl Coakley dealing with their wingers we got back into the game and Danny Cunningham equalised for us.
We were on top but never put away the chances we created which let our hosts get back into the game where a stunning flying header gained the win and the 3 points.
A home defeat against Ware was the catalyst for a change in system with Managers Player of the Year Ollie Fenn taking up a centre forward role in the away victory at Cheshunt in the switch to 4-4-2.
OLLIE FENN, MANAGERS PLAYER OF THE YEAR. ON MY POINTS SYSTEM HE HAD WON IT WITH 6 STILL TO PLAY - A MANAGERS DREAM
The return Sudbury match had an interesting twist as ex Needham Manager Danny Laws was installed in the AFC dug out as caretaker following Dave Batch’s surprising move to St Neots. Danny has since become the driving force at Kings Marsh, with a new 3G pitch and academy all arriving next season. He is a great guy and AFC are lucky to have him.
The match was remembered by two things. Firstly another red card for a Sudbury player following a challenge on debutant Steve Holder that was more suited to a WWF Wrestling bout (there was also another red in injury time). The second was the tenacity of Michael Brothers (who had recently joined us from Brightlingsea Regent) and News to forge out an injury time winner.
January and February 2015 was a bit hit or miss with our form a little patchy, losing points in defeats at both Dereham and Brightlingsea and a draw at Maldon. We were playing without Chris Hogg who suffered a horrendous tackle in the Thurrock game, which kept him out until the Waltham Abbey match in late March. Also Sam Nunn was playing injured so there was a need for someone to bolster our ranks.
Joe Whight was placed on the transfer list by neighbours Bury Town so he was snapped up and turned out to be a great signing. He would agree a two-year contract at the end of the season following some eye-catching performances.
We picked up a number of points throughout March and we were in a great position with a 5 points gap to Harlow. However Easter was not all chocolate eggs for us with a defeat at Heybridge and draws against Wroxham and Dereham, which allowed Harlow to close the gap. Thankfully the one thing that went our way was the resurgent Cray Wanderers who had woefully underperformed for most of the season became only the second team to win at The Harlow Arena.
So we came to the last 3 games with a 1-point gap in our favour plus we had the better goal difference. A pretty straightforward win at Burnham Ramblers set up a tasty home game with Harlow the following week.
KEIRAN MORPHEW PLAYERS PLAYER OF THE YEAR. ANOTHER GREAT SEASON FROM THIS EX ACADEMY SCHOLAR
I think right from the day the fixtures were released the Harlow match being second from last could have been a defining moment. As it turned out it was but not only a defining moment it was a classic non-league football match.
Nearly a thousand people arrived at Bloomfields to witness two teams both going for a win. Achieving that gave us the title and Harlow doing the same meant they needed to win their last game to win the title. A draw suited us as a win at Chatham gave us the title.
I never at anytime considered playing for a draw and using a classic boxing term I told the press ‘lets get it on!!’.
Although a little sluggish from the off we settled and were great in the first half with Bruvs and News causing a Harlow defence that lacked a bit of pace no end of problems. It was no surprise that News scored twice to mean we were leading at the break.
We did not want half-time as it oftens breaks up your pattern of play. This was not the case however as we started really well. However after making an excellent tactical change, moving ex Needham Dave Cowley to a more central position, Danny Chapman’s team battered us and the result as a 2-2 draw was about right on the balance of play.
Chatham away would be a defining moment in the history of Needham Market FC as a great travelling army with balloons, drums, whistles, rattles in fact whatever could make a noise was brought along. My team were never going to let this chance go as we battered the Chats with a 5-0 win. This included a stunning Bruvs overhead shot that flew into the top corner (and won the Goal of the Season award) and then as they say CHAMPEARNOS!!’
WELL DONE LADS!!
Our aim at the beginning of the year was promotion and we have achieved that as league champions. We won 33 out of 46 games, only drew 5 and scored 101 goals giving us a +60 goals difference. But the key stat in this success was our goals against which was 41 conceded in 46 games and included 19 clean sheets. It was the bedrock of our success and was achieved by every player working their socks off when we didn’t have the ball.
Although I have enjoyed compiling these Musings I do have a tinge of sadness. The reason for this is two fold.
Firstly I want to pay credit to a player who is leaving us. Three years ago a great friend of mine asked me to do him a favour and help his son in law start out in a career in property management. Soon after a very slick looking ex professional footballer called Ian Westlake walked into my office. Two of my female staff members spent the day with him; I think I may have also paid for them all to go out for lunch and from then on I suspect we had something in common.
Not being one to miss an opportunity I kept in contact with Westy and then 2 years ago we met and I convinced him to have a crack at non-league football. He has been a key part of our success, especially this season where his work rate and little bit of class gave us a much-needed edge. He was also our second highest in appearances. Too much to do away from football is one reason he is retiring but I believe that the arrival of his second child in October is a bigger draw so although we will miss him we congratulate Ian and his lovely wife Claire on the soon to be new arrival.
IAN WESTLAKE - IT'S BEEN AN HONOUR MATE!
In addition I will be losing one of my key generals as Player Coach Lee Norfolk is taking a year away from the club. Norfs joined me as a player in my first tenure as Needham manager and 5 seasons ago he joined me at Leiston. Those 5 seasons have been filled with successes and for me and none of that would have happened without my loyal sidekick and great mate; he will be sorely missed.
I would add however that the benches in the Physio room won't miss him as he's often been found this year taking up a position on one of them looking for Kirk or Jenks to preform a miracle?!?!
However going forward there is of course a replacement needed and I am delighted to announce that Karl Duguid has agreed terms to join us as player/coach for the coming season. Ex Colchester United stalwart and player/Assistant Manager Karl brings a wealth of experience that our young players will benefit from as we look forward to Step 3 football.
KARL DUGUID GETTING SOME PRACTICE IN FOR NEXT SEASON
So next season we face the challenge of football at a level not experienced by our club before. Big clubs and a huge challenge, many new grounds to visit and more clubs who will bring rowdy away support to enhance the atmosphere for home matches.
Are we ready for it? Well for me I have no shadow of doubt that we are. It will be a lot tougher than last season and our constancy will need to increase as will that much mentioned levels of stamina.
But I tell you what; we are not just going to be there to make the numbers up. It will be a challenge, but I for one cannot wait and you never know we may just create another bit of history.
Enjoy the Summer!!
All the best
ME AND KEM WITH THE CUP - WE'RE NEARLY TWINS?!?!