Dharma Bhaglia reviews a season of mixed fortunes but some promise for the Surrey outfit.
That time of year looms upon us once more; the time of year where managers and players look back on their ‘heroics’ and ‘downfalls’ throughout the 2016/2017 Ryman Premier League season. Despite the vivid and sub-par image that their current League position may paint, courtesy of a cluster of draws, Johnson Hippolyte’s men have achieved a very respectable points tally as they head into the final fifth of the season having fallen just short of their goal – a top-three finish, which is now, with just four games remaining, mathematically impossible to achieve.
Johnson Hippolyte, the manager often referred to as ‘Drax’, because of his Dracula-like teeth, is still considered as a fairly new face amongst the Staines Town faithful after joining the club in the back end of 2016. He is most renowned for his remarkable and truly outstanding achievements with Yeading, in which he guided them to Isthmian League Cup glory in his first season. This was shortly followed by two back-to-back League titles which saw his side, at the time, move from the Isthmian Premier League right up to the Conference League, south.
The word ‘legend’ is a term that is thrown around far too often in the footballing world, but in this case, the use of the word is more than justified and truly personifies everything that he did in his short five-year spell. His reputation as Yeading manager only increased following the clubs prestigious and historic sinking of Premier League side, Newcastle United, in the third round of the FA Cup in the 2004/05 season.
Hippolyte had instantaneous success once he arrived at Maidenhead United, guiding the Magpies to an appearance in the first round of the FA Cup for the first time in 25 years. Building upon this success, the Englishman won promotion in his first season, via the playoffs, which also saw him pick up the Conference South Manager of the Month award after his side managed to string together an unbeaten run of games towards the end of the 2008/2009 season.
To get a better understanding of just what it’s like to work under Drax, I spoke to former Swans midfielder, Bradley Wilson, who said the following on his former coach: “Drax was a very good manager. Very aware of what he wanted to do as a manager and what he wanted to achieve. He said right from the start he didn’t want to finish poorly by the end of the season and made sure we knew that as players. I think the results are starting to show of recent how good of a manager he is compared to the start of the season (when Staines did not have him). I also think he can become a long term success.
The Swans’ season is truly ‘a tale of two halves.’ The first consisting of many upsets with the latter acting as strong preparation for next season.
Staines started the season with a very convincing win against the Metropolitan Police, putting six goals past the visitors and doing it with six different goal-scorers too. Despite a strong start in their opening game, the Yellows were not able to take that momentum away to the Fullicks Stadium as they suffered a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Folkestone Invicta, whom now sit in 18th place, just five points above the relegation zone.
An alternating trend of wins and losses continued for Staines right up until the beginning of September, where, what was to become an eight-game-unbeaten streak, with four consecutive back-to-back wins in the mix, began, against Godalming Town in the FA Cup first round of qualifying. Not only was this the first win for over three matches, but it was the most convincing win since their opening day of the season, as the Yellows put four goals past the visitors, hammering the away side against the odds.
Three of Staines’s following games from here onwards were played in both the Cup and League, respectively. This time round, unlike the previous occasion, Staines were able to build upon their momentum and take that into their next three fixtures conceding just once throughout. Max Worsfold was in exhilarating form as the 24-year-old managed to find the back of the net in all three of the Town’s wins.
Renowned for his Cup heroics with his previous two clubs, was Drax looing to repeat his success or was this a mere glimpse of light in what had been a dark room for Staines in regards to their Cup success over recent seasons? It predictably turned out to be the latter of the two as Staines had exited all three Cups by later parts of November; the most success coming from the FA Cup in which Staines managed to reach the third round of qualifying. Taking the severely concerning lack of squad depth into consideration, managing to reach the third round of the FA Cup can be considered as overachieving.
A depleted Staines side continued to see a surge of defeats and flirted with the relegation zone on several occasions.
January had arrived. As Henry Ward Beecher once said, “every man should be born again on the first day of January. Start with a fresh page.” The players in Yellow did exactly that and from the 1st of January right up until the current month, April, Staines lost just three of 14 games. They still remain unbeaten since January the 29th with Canvey Island, Lowestoft, Wingate & Finchley and Hendon the final four opponents of the season. All four games are winnable, with currently ninth-placed Wingate & Finchley, proving the toughest test out of the four. Should the Swans remain unbeaten right up until the final day of the season, they will extend their nine game unbeaten run to a total of 13 games and this could well serve as the catapult to a title charge next season, should the recruitment team at Staines manage to fill in the gaps come the summer transfer window.
‘A really nice guy’
Max Worsfold was the outright standout performer for Staines throughout a majority of the season. The midfielder managed to score a total of 11 goals across all competitions, ranking in the top three of the Swans’ scorers this season. The 24-year-old has been in fine form and continues to impress and was even in contention for captaincy at one point, an understandable candidate after coming through the Staines Town youth system alongside teammate, Jack Turner.
Having played with him for many years, Wilson said the following on his former teammate, Max Worsfold: “Max is a really really nice guy. Not a bad word to say about him. He thought non-stop for the team, never a selfish player. Max couldn’t care about scoring, as long as he’s doing what he needs to do to help the team that was something I quickly acknowledged about him. As a person, very friendly guy when you get to know him.”
Bradley then went on to say how he is in agreeance with picking Worsfold as the stand out performer for the season: “I’d agree. If I had to pick anyone as my player of the season, mine would also be Max.”
A promising academy
At this level of football, many players are often brought through the academy ranks, hence the reason that it should never be ignored, especially in the given circumstances as Staines Town’s academy side currently sit 1st in the U18’s West Premier Division table. Manager, Mark Fabian, also guided his side to the final of the Jeff Ritson Cup as his side came back from a goal down to undeservingly lose on penalties. This was Staines’s sixth time visiting the final of this Cup, they have failed to win it on all six occasions. A stat that Fabian and his side will be looking to overturn as this competition comes around once more, next season.
There is a lot of positivity surrounding the club at this moment in time. A new manager alongside a new style of play, owners who are more than willing to invest and a very talented academy side are all factors steering Staines in the right direction. Securing the likes of a new striker to convert those 11 draws into wins and one additional midfielder to provide the assists and create the chances, could be of great benefit and prove pivotal in terms of deciding whether or not the Swans head into next season with the intention of been in contention for the League title, or winning a Cup competition as a minimum.