With 10 league games to go, squeaky bum time is just around the corner. At the time of writing the mighty Hounds First Team are joint second in Downs League Division 1, 5 points off pace setters Torpedo and with a 6 point cushion over 5th placed Cotswool. Remaining fixtures will see the Hounds play 1st, 2nd and 4th placed teams in a run that will go a long way to determine the success of our season.
In stark contrast to recent seasons, we had a very poor showing in both County and League cups, leaving us to “concentrate on the League” from mid-October. A marked upturn in league form sees the Hounds eight points better off at this stage of the season (16 games played) compared to last, and in a strong position to finish in the top four of the league for the first time in our twelve year history.
Is there a main reason for the increase in form? Not really. New signings have contributed well, everyone is more familiar with the 4-5-1 system that is played now and confidence is high. There is a noticeable increase in strength-in-depth compared to several years ago, reflecting the strong position of the Reserve team in Division 2. Currently in 4th place with games in hand that could take them level at the top and in the Quarter Final of the League Cup, the Reserve team are having their best season to date also. Although they are facing a team in the division above, the first team were eliminated from the cup by a team struggling in a lower division, so, as the adage goes, it’s all about what happens on the day.
Every team will lose players and gain players throughout the season, three players this year have moved away from Bristol, two have got too old to play and a change in personal circumstances mean others do not have time to play. This is part and parcel of the evolving football club – players leave, players join – you just hope the new ones are as good as or better than those leaving.
Over the last four seasons, the club has gone from strength to strength and we have been able to attract new and better players to match the increased ambition – an ambition that is now paying dividends both on and off the pitch. Everyone wants to play for a team that is playing well, but they also want to enjoy themselves and not get unfairly treated by a biased or skewed selection policy.
The selection policy has been documented before and it has restricted my own involvement this year due to the form and availability of others in the side. I try and avoid dropping people to play myself or those who are better on paper – If you’ve got the shirt, it’s your to keep or lose. Being around every week helps you keep it though – just ask centre forward Matt Little, who is in line to miss his first game for 16 months (good job he’s scored well in that time – 40 goals in 49 games).
We have organised a number of successful social events already this year, and not all of them have involved crawling in at 4am as you would expect with a Saturday amateur side. The inaugural TobyQuest (laser quest followed by a Toby Cavery), was a cracking day out, releasing the inner child in all of us for a few hours, followed by releasing the inner cave man to eat as much as was possible. You would have difficulty arguing that I wasn’t the winner on the day, a truly consistently high scorer throughout the 3 games of Laser Quest (technically Laser Fusion, but Like Championship Manager and Opal Fruits, some things just stick in the mind).
The ‘Newbie’ night admittedly did involve reinforcing the stereotype and thanks to our new sponsor The Penny Farthing (other bikes are available) certain new members of the squad enjoyed themselves more than others. For some the event was too overwhelming, and, like your Nan at Christmas, had to have a sleep half way through – only this time the venue for the sleep was the gents cubicle, what a debut!
Christmas night involved our Social Secretary and Assistant (to the) Social Secretary turning the venue into a myriad of games inspired by The Cube. The dirty pints dished out were off the scale and I feel for those who had to consume them. On the horizon is the annual Hounds Quiz Night, Skittles Night (not as bad as it sounds), End of Season do and summer tour to Budapest – all helping to build the club unity and keep everyone coming back for more every week.
I will not be setting out detailed targets for the next ten games and the goal at the start of the season remains; finish higher than last season (5th) and with more points (43) – anything else is a bonus. Amateur management can’t be planned months in advance – a more reactive culture exists around people’s availability, lifestyle and the weather preventing games being played when they should be. With Stag dos, weddings, injuries, weekends away and moving away all planned or possible in the remaining 3 months of the season, anything is possible. The previous 16 games have given us a platform to finish strongly and as always, we’ll take it one game at a time until May!