15 December 2017
Ashford United v Horsham: MATCH PREVIEW
News of a new signing ahead of Saturday's trip to the Homelands
Manager Dom Di Paola took time out of his busy schedule to speak to Matt Dale and offer his views on pre-season, and his thoughts on the fast-approaching season ahead as he prepares for his third full season with The Hornets.
MD: Hi Dom, talk us through how do you think pre-season has gone and what do you think you’ve learnt ahead of the new season?
DDP: “As with every year, it has its ups and downs and I think its important to keep a handle on expectations and results during this stage. Some players have played a lot and some due to holidays, injuries and unavailability have played far less. In all the games, we have played well in spells and also done some bad things – some of which are just down to rustiness and some things we will need to correct. The players get on well and they are a really good group who have worked ever so hard and I am far happier in general than this time last season. With every pre-season you are never certain you are doing things right and its all about building to that first game – that’s really all that matters.
In terms of our first game coming up against Molesey, some of the boys have played themselves into the side with their performances and some still have some work to do. Some have been good and underperformed in different games and so there is still a number of places up for grabs. What is key is the boys buy into the fact that it is not just an eleven man team and that we need the squad. Last year we were so thin on the ground at times it killed us – we can’t allow that to happen again and we need everyone. I don’t want to have to keep signing players every five minutes like last year – that doesn’t work as we found out.”
MD: A lot of the players in the squad I’ve spoken to feel that the play-offs are a realistic ambition for us this year. What do you think the main challenges are that will take us from the side who finished in a respectable mid-table finish last season, to those play-off places?
DDP: “I think that is a little optimistic! We want to improve on last season and that would mean top half but this is such a tough league and we are still a team without a home and building for the future. To get in those play-offs you need a very together group, with plenty of goals and a really settled squad. You can’t concede the volume of goals we did last season and you must be consistent. That’s a lot of things we didn’t have last season but I am hopeful with the new additions and a years experience we can improve and be a better side, but its great that the lads have that ambition.”
MD: Last season, consistency was an issue for the squad. It’s fair to say we showed we could beat anyone on our day, yet also succumbed to some defeats against sides we felt we should have taken points from. Do you think our pre-season has gone some way to address this issue or is it too early to say?
“Yes last year was infuriating! We went from the sublime to the ridiculous at times and when we were good we were a match for anyone but also when we weren’t on it we looked a very poor side. I think its too early to say how we will do in this respect but I do know we tried to address some of our deficiencies from last season this summer – lack of depth, lack of goals, not enough experience, not enough passers, more winners – and that I hope will help, but time will tell!”
MD: If I’m correct, last season was the first full season you completed in the Ryman (Bostik League). Is it safe to assume you might feel you and your management staff proved a point to yourselves, and what did you ultimately learn from the experience?
DDP: “Yes it was our first full season and it was certainly challenging! Early on we had doubts as we just weren’t getting across what we wanted, but as the season went on and the group gelled, I really enjoyed most of the second half of the season. I may be biased but last year was as strong as I have seen this league for a number of years and I think even we underestimated what was needed when we came up. In saying that, and with no disrespect to the County League, this is ‘proper’ football and we would far sooner test ourselves at this level than romp away with lower level leagues as we have been lucky enough to do in the past. I have no doubt this club can kick on once we have our own home back in the town.
I learnt more last season than the previous 3-4 years. A lot of which I hope we can use this season to be better. There are some great sides in this league and some big spenders. Both give different tests but I can’t wait now!”
MD: Once again, you moved quickly to ensure many of last season’s squad committed for another season as well as bringing in new players. A lot of the players I have spoken to have said that playing for you is a big factor in them joining the club, as well as the allure of the club itself. As a manager, what is the main selling point you make to players when trying to build your squad and how hard is it to create a squad you’re happy with?
DDP: “Yes, we felt a fair few grew last season as it went on and we were keen to keep the nucleus of the boys who made that atmosphere enjoyable after Christmas. We had targeted a fair few of the new ones at the end of last season and were pleased when they committed early. The likes of Matt Axell, Darren Budd and Rob O’Toole have been long term targets and Breachy (Chris Breach), Josh James and Joe Keehan were no-brainers when we knew they were available. Asa Nicholson came out of nowhere and has done ever so well and Toby House who signed after the Worthing game is young and hungry and looks a good prospect if he is patient and takes his chance when it comes. We only have a finite amount of players we can go after and competition within the local Bostik League clubs is huge – Worthing, Bognor, Burgess Hill, Lewes, etc. and then you get the County League clubs who chuck silly money at players so it is hard but that is the same for everyone and we are happy with the group we have.”
MD: Who do you predict will win the league this season, and who else do you think will be challenging for the title and/or play-off places?
DDP: “Greenwich should walk it, but having said that, we probably thought they would last year. The finances they have means they compete on a different level and their club have big ambitions to kick on up the leagues. They must be under pressure after last season and they look to me to have strengthened.
Carshalton should be their nearest challengers. Last season they were the best team we faced and but for a couple of dodgy spells they should have been in the playoffs. They have added a couple of quality players so they will be up there. Corinthian Casuals are always solid and have kept the majority of an excellent group from last year. Faversham were good second half of last season and have added numbers. Hythe were big underachievers from last year and should on paper be up there. Hastings have great finances and should challenge. Lewes apart from their first 8-10 games would have made the play offs last season and again have retained most of last seasons team, adding 3-4 that I think make them a better overall squad. Sittingbourne may be the surprise package as they have signed very well with lots of fire power. Then you look at the three teams who have transferred over from the North, with Pheonix having a lot of goals in them, VCD and Thamesmead are slightly unknown quantities but VCD have made some good additions. Add to this South Park who but for cup runs, probably would have gone up last season and Cray, who have strengthened and Walton Casuals who have the new ground coming up and the positivity that goes with that. Of the sides coming up Shoreham have had to rebuild a whole side and will be an unknown and Ashford looked a good side when I saw them last season – they will be comfortable this season. So a very tough league, perhaps even tougher than last season!
If I was to stick my neck out I would say;
Play offs: Hythe, Sittingbourne, Lewes, Cray (Lewes promoted)
Should be a good season!”