19 May 2019
2019/20 Bostik League Premier Division line-up announced
New opponents, Sussex derbies, and old rivalries to be renewed next season
U23s manager Bryan O’Toole has admitted that his young side will be entering the unknown when they embark upon their debut season in the Bluefin Development League next month. With the likes of Margate, Lewes, Cray Wanderers and Carshalton Athletic all helping to give the Southern Division a very competitive look, it promises to be a baptism of fire for the new side who had their first run-out on Thursday night in a friendly fixture at East Preston.
“The toughest thing for me is not knowing this younger generation of players” admitted the former Shoreham boss. “We’ve brought Will Searle in, who was on the management team at Pagham last season, so that will help and signings attract signings so some have come in from recommendations from players who are already here. We’ve seen a massive turn around in players already, with probably only two or three remaining from the trial day and only two who were at the very first training session, so that tells you how hard we’ve had to work to get the right sort of player in. We’ve effectively gone from twenty-two down to three!
We’ve got a decent nucleus of ten or eleven players right now but you never really know what to expect from them until that first match and, in that respect, I was very happy with how they fared at East Preston last night. We’ve only trained three times as a full group whereas East Preston have been together for a year or so, so I wasn’t really sure how it would go. We went there with a sixteen year old, four seventeens, two eighteens and the others nineteen or twenty so it was a very young team but I was delighted with the effort they put in. We set up, not defensively, but perhaps a bit cautiously as we knew they’d be nervous in their first game but after about ten minutes we settled down and did really well. On Tuesday night, down at Horsham Park, we talked for about an hour about how we wanted them to play in terms of spacing, closing down, positional awareness and that sort of thing and I’ll give them ten out of ten because they amazed me by putting it all into place perfectly last night.
We had a really good shape about us and East Preston didn’t test Tom Baxter, our goalkeeper, until the second half. They played a lot of long ball, which we coped comfortably with and created a number of decent openings ourselves. Ben Whiteley gave us the lead but then we missed a couple of golden opportunities to extend the lead but, to be honest, these matches are never about the scoreline and I was delighted with them at half-time. We thought we’d struggle after the break as it was very hot, which drained the life out of us, and after about an hour we were out on our feet. They got a very lucky equaliser when Tom came out to clear a backpass and kicked it straight against the forward’s back. It went over the line and that gave them the impetus to go on and they got the winner in the last few minutes. But there were so many positives that I could take from the performance, which was great, and it was also good to give Al Duncan some game time under his belt. He’s been out of the first team for quite a while because of injury and that’s part of the reason Dom was keen for the club to get an U23 side together, to give players like Al an opportunity to get back to full fitness.
Looking ahead at the season, it will be something of the unknown as I’m more used to County League or Bostik South football, but we expect it to be tough. I’ve got no problem with that, though, as I’d rather we be in a tougher league even if that means losing a few matches because the players will gain a better experience from that than playing in a much easier league and winning two or three nil every week. Our ultimate aim is to be able to provide Dom with a player or two by the end of the season, so the experience of playing against top notch sides will only help the players’ development.”
Horsham’s Bluefin Development League programme gets underway at Lewes on Monday 20th August.