National League South Action Returns To Meadowbank!
Rewind to a week ago. Glorious blue skies and sunshine. A perfect playing surface. The return of fans, and a good number at that. Wanderers supporters making the long journey. Flags out in force. Matchday catering in full flow. Even BT Sport covering the game as part of it's afternoon service. Although Dorking's return to National League South action last weekend unfortunately ended in narrow defeat, the occasion will certainly live long in the memory. The return of competitive non-league football, back looking and sounding exactly as it should, even if the result on the day for Wanderers was not to be.
Temi Babalola's second half penalty was ultimately enough for the hosts to secure victory in a fairly open and competitive game, which carried a number of similarities to last season's corresponding fixture at the Aspect Arena. Wanderers enjoyed much of the possession and carved out a number of opportunities from wide, but came up against a Concord side with a stopper and skipper in spirited form, and posing plenty of threats up the other end, particularly on the counter. Stoppage time unfortunately put the exclamation point on the fact it was just not to be Wanderers afternoon, Jason Prior missing a penalty, well saved by keeper and home man of the match Myles Roberts, before Josh Taylor was dismissed for a moment of frustration right at the very end of the game.
The result served as a historically rare opening day loss for Marc White's team, and without the usual early placed midweek game to seek an immediate riposte, the wait for tomorrow's home opener has felt even more prolonged through the course of the week. Wanderers will kick off home action at Meadowbank unfortunately minus Wes Fogden, the midfielder likely to miss a number of matches following the knock he picked up during the first half last weekend. Josh Taylor will also be missing as he begins his three-game ban following the late red card. Niall McManus could be back in contention tomorrow after missing the last couple of games with a hip problem, as Isaac Philpot and Giuseppe Sole continue to be absent as they recover from longer term injuries.
The fixture disruption of the last two seasons means that tomorrow's home opener will be the first meeting between the side's in just over two years, and having both competed at the top end of the table last campaign before the curtailment, it will be another strong early test for Wanderers. On the day competitive action returns to Meadowbank, it will be great to see as many supporters as possible to mark the occasion.
'Surprise Package' Saints Seek Continuity
The last two National League South season's have both concluded in similarly abrupt fashion, but the outlook on the field for St. Albans at the end of each campaign show's two different pictures. Tussling towards the bottom end of the table in the 2019/20 season, 'The Saints' were right in the promotion chase with games in hand at the time of last term's early stoppage. Built on strong defensive foundations, the best in the league in fact, Ian Allison's side will certainly hope to replicate that again in the upcoming months. The signing of Shaun Jeffers last summer after his release from Chelmsford City ensured 'The Saints' were doing enough up the other end as well, Jeffers finishing top scorer for the club with 11 goals in all competitions, supplemented by solid goal and assist contribution from fellow arrival Mitchell Weiss and Zane Banton, who's closing in on 100 appearances for the club.
After substantial coming's and going's last year, transfer dealing's have been more steady for the club this time around. Left back Luke Warner-Eley's switch to Billericay Town marks the only departure from the renowned defensive area, with versatile defenders Callum Adebiyi (Kings Langley) and younger prospect Alkeo Bani coming in. Further upfield the club have bolstered the squad with the additions of previous loanee striker Liam Sole (no relation to Giuseppe) from Nottingham Forest, and Johnny Goddard, coming into the division after playing numerous years at EFL and National League Premier level, last featuring for Woking in his second spell with the club.
Both Sides Looking To Get Off The Mark
An extended pre-season run of 10 games in total saw St. Albans coming into the new campaign in good form, narrowly defeated by Stevenage 0-1, drawing with Wealdstone 1-1 and defeating a Watford XI by 2 goals to 1. Additional wins came locally against the likes of Hendon, Kings Langley and goals galore in their first match against Arsley Town, winning 8-1. Like Wanderers though they were defeated on the opening day, beaten very late on at home to Dartford. Tom Bender levelled the scores not long after half-time to cancel out Ade Azeez's opener at the end of the opening period. A Dan Roberts brace in stoppage time cruelly denied 'The Saints' a point though, and with the absence of the usual midweek fixture, both side's will be more than eager to get 3 points on the board tomorrow and get up and running.
The compromised nature of the last two season's has meant only one meeting has taken place between the sides out of a possible four, occurring very early on in the season before last. Wanderers travelled to Clarence Park on a blazing hot August afternoon, and despite starting as brightly as the weather, the spoils were shared in a 1-1 draw. Jason Prior's 55th minute opener was cancelled out not long after by David Longe-King.