Season preview: 2011-12
Ryman Div One North
ON THE FIRST day of the 2010-11 season, manager Julian Dicks and chief executive Andy Swallow took their place in the stand at their landlords East Thurrock Utd. As the whistle blew to start the game, they shook hands, congratulating themselves that Grays, after all the off field worries, had actually got to the starting line.
Grays lost that game, 1-0 v Harlow and proceeded to underwhelm all season. They reached a nadir in a wretched 2-0 defeat to Romford in November, picked up from December and nearly made the play offs.
But their performances and on-field management looked pretty poor, when compared to East Thurrock Utd who went on to win the league.
However, the nature of what had happened off the field meant most were very forgiving. It was a transitional year.
Julian Dicks has now gone and Hakan Heyrettin has taken over.
Hak and his assistant Hassan have a certain fire in their bellies. You get the feeling that the personable Hakan has unfinished business in this borough.
The club have made a lot of signings, cut their cloth and have produced a very interesting squad.
Steven Northwood surprised a lot of people with his performances between the sticks all last season. He has competition in young Ali Aksoy but either one will be sound.
The defence looks solid. They will miss the suspended Bradley Thomas for the first three games but they have a lot of experience. Craig Pope and Lee Flynn were both playing in the Blue Square South with Thurrock last season. Both were very dependable and look solid in pre-season.
It may be a bit unfair on Danny Bunce that he has lost the left back berth when he was Gray’s most dependable players last season but it is a long season esp for 37 year old Flynn and a system where Bunce can come in and fill in for Flynn or Jao Carlos may well pay dividends especially over the long winter.
The centre of midfield will be key to Grays success this season. They never had a “Makelele” last season and it showed. In some pre seasons, Kenny Beaney looked like he could do it but he needs to put a mark on his career which has been too fitful so far. Danny Bunce could also play that role, leaving others to express and create.
It will be a vital vital role. On too many occasions last year, midfields walked through Grays Ath.
There is plenty of talent on the wings. Carlos looks classy as does Dave Cowley. Dave was Harlow’s player of the year last year but he needs a good run. But the squad has such strength that he could run for an hour and then let Jason Fontaine come on.
It is important that the classy players get a chance to shine: Eljay Worrall was criminally underused last season. Harry Agombar’s movement is great but he needs the supports and protection.
Up front may be Hakan’s achilles heel. Often his Thurrock strikers didn’t seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet. He could counter that by asking if that was the strikers who scored 8 v Eastleigh? In the pre seasons there was evidence of this in the Hornchurch game and the first half of the Walton Casuals. Louis Dennis looks a classy striker. It is all about finding the right combination up front. Joe Sweeney claimed a place last Saturday and Jared Small looked complete last year and did so in his 45 minutes at Walton.
The team seem to have a good spirit. Everyone travelled on the same coach on Saturday and this spirit is something the chief exec, Andy Swallow clearly encourages.
The board and the backroom staff are in positive mood. Off the field, matters such as the Thurrock Sports Hub in Blackshots are on the political table, starting in January 2012.
Teams such as Harlow Town are saying that it is “Promotion or bust” Grays would not be so dramatic but anything less than a play off place will be a great disappointment.
Hakan will need to count to ten with some of the “underwhelming” refereeing.
There is no reason to suggest that Grays can’t win this league. They have the ingredients. If they can get the momentum, keep everyone happy, pace themselves and take their chances then they can win this league.
Good luck to Grays Ath this season.