How they’re shap­ing up

Were you shocked when Andy Mur­ray made an early Wim­ble­don exit? Sad­dened when our cy­clists crashed out of the Tour de France? Frus­trated by Alas­tair Cook’s cap­taincy of the Eng­land cricket team? Fear not, be­cause foot­ball is back. This week­end marks the s

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - -

Rel­e­gated in April and then re­prieved in June, it’s cer­tainly been a roller­coaster few months for DART­FORD.

The demise of Sal­is­bury City means the Darts are pre­par­ing for their third straight sea­son in non­league’s top flight.

Man­ager Tony Burman had started build­ing a squad for Con­fer­ence South and summer sign­ing Paul Lor­raine de­cided he couldn’t com­mit to Pre­mier foot­ball but all the other play­ers – cru­cially, in­clud­ing cap­tain El­liot Brad­brook – stayed.

Dart­ford have gone back to what they know in the trans­fer mar­ket – Harry Craw­ford, Rory McAu­ley, Adam Green, Andy Pugh and Tom Brad­brook have all played for Burman be­fore.

It’s go­ing to be another hard slog at Princes Park but lessons have surely been learnt from the dis­as­trous early months of last sea­son.

DOVER ATH­LETIC are back in with the ‘big boys’ for the first time since 2001-02 af­ter their dra­matic play-off vic­tory in May.

Chris Kin­n­ear’s side clinched pro­mo­tion against all the odds and you wouldn’t bet against them blood­y­ing a few noses over the next nine months.

Their home form has to im­prove, though. This sea­son’s vis­i­tors to Crab­ble are likely to be more ad­ven­tur­ous than the likes of Con­cord and We­ston, so the coun­ter­at­tack­ing style favoured by Kin­n­ear may be bet­ter suited to this level.

Are summer sign­ings Stefan Payne, Chris­tian Nanetti and Matt Lock good enough to mix it with Bris­tol Rovers and Torquay United? We’re about to find out.

There are three words you’re likely to keep hear­ing in con­nec­tion with WELLING UNITED – dif­fi­cult sec­ond sea­son. The Wings are try­ing to do some­thing lo­cal ri­vals Ebb­s­fleet and Dart­ford couldn’t – stay out of the bot­tom-four in term two at non - l e a g u e ’ s top ta­ble.

Stay­ing up will cer­tainly be a big ask for Jamie Day’s side, who flirted with the play-offs in the early stages of last sea­son be­fore tail­ing off to­wards the end.

They lost lead­ing scorer Ross Lafayette to Lu­ton dur­ing the summer and failed to bring Andy Pugh back to Park View Road, the striker choos­ing Dart­ford in­stead.

But among the young play­ers Day has brought in to fill the gaps in his squad, for­mer York and Grimsby de­fender Ja­mal Fy­field looks like a smart ac­qui­si­tion. BROM­LEY were the sur­prise pack­age of 2013-14, lead­ing the divi­sion for much of the sea­son be­fore be­ing caught by Eastleigh and then los­ing in the play-offs.

But don’t ex­pect that to be a flash in the pan. Lil­ly­whites boss Mark Gold­berg is clearly de­ter­mined to have another crack at pro­mo­tion, hav­ing in­vested heav­ily to bring in the likes of for­mer Gills striker Adam Bir­chall over the summer. Af­ter EBB­S­FLEET to the play-off fi­nal last sea­son, man­ager Steve Brown is un­der pres­sure to de­liver the ti­tle this time around. Off the field, the club are lay­ing the f o u nd at i o n s for life in the Foot­ball League – so

tak­ing UNITED now Brown and his play­ers must de­liver. A bet­ter start than last sea­son, when the Fleet won just one of their first nine games, is es­sen­tial.

Kuwaiti owner Dr Ab­dulla Al-Hu­maidi has given Brown plenty of fi­nan­cial back­ing and in strik­ers Matt God­den and Char­lie Sher­ing­ham, he’s cer­tainly in­vested wisely.

Full-time train­ing will mean the Fleet are fit­ter and bet­ter drilled than ever but ul­ti­mately, only pro­mo­tion will sat­isfy the sup­port­ers – and the board. MAID­STONE UNITED have in­creased their play­ing bud­get by 20% to com­pete with the bigspend­ing clubs who all have an eye on the ti­tle this sea­son.

Ex­pe­ri­ence was some­thing the Stones lacked last sea­son and man­ager Jay Saun­ders has moved to rec­tify that by sign­ing Sonny Miles, Matt Bod­kin, James Rogers and Jay May.

United chief ex­ec­u­tive Bill Wil­liams ad­mit­ted last sea­son was prob­a­bly the club’s best chance to get pro­moted, with Mar­gate, Lewes and Kingsto­nian hav­ing all strength­ened sig­nif­i­cantly in the mean­time.

But the best-sup­ported non­league club in Kent are bound to be in the play-off mix, and they are now play­ing for pro­mo­tion af­ter the Con­fer­ence gave 3G pitches the green light.

It’s no se­cret that MAR­GATE have splashed the cash this summer to build a squad good enough to blow the rest of the divi­sion out of the wa­ter.

Nikki Bull, Brett John­son, Sam Rents, Ja­son Prior and Luke Moore are among those in the Gate squad with Foot­ball League ex­pe­ri­ence and, cru­cially, man­ager Terry Brown has taken a club all the way from the Ryman Pre­mier to League 2 be­fore. Brown was the man who led AFC Wim­ble­don into the Foot­ball League and all the in­di­ca­tions are that he’ll have another medal to add to his col­lec­tion in May.

Mar­gate will be ev­ery other club’s cup fi­nal, though, and their big­gest ob­sta­cle may be the huge weight of ex­pec­ta­tion which al­ways ac­com­pa­nies such se­ri­ous in­vest­ment. TON BRIDGE AN­GELS are start­ing life af­ter Tommy War­rilow back in the Ryman League fol­low­ing their rel­e­ga­tion from Con­fer­ence South last sea­son.

War­rilow quit the club in April af­ter seven years as man­ager and his suc­ces­sor, Steve McKimm, has had to build an al­most en­tirely new squad.

For­mer Maid­stone de­fender Jer­rome Sobers will cap­tain a young An­gels team which McKimm be­lieves could chal­lenge for the play-offs.

But given the num­ber of big clubs with big bud­gets all around them, con­sol­i­da­tion may be the name of the game for new-look Ton­bridge.

These are un­char­tered wa­ters for new­lypro­moted VCD ATH­LETIC , who have never played this far up the pyra­mid.

In fact, they were a Kent League club just two sea­sons ago.

Sur­vival is what the Vick­ers are aim­ing for but that proved a bridge too far last term for Thames­mead Town, who went straight back down. CHATHAM TOWN fin­ished last sea­son in fan­tas­tic form and man­ager Kevin Watson prob­a­bly wished they could

play­ing be­yond have April.

The Chats’ seven-match win­ning run in March was im­pres­sive but ul­ti­mately in vain be­cause they had far too much ground to make up.

How­ever, Watson has kept most of that squad to­gether and if his side can fire in the early part of the sea­son, they could be in with a shout of mak­ing the play-offs.

Ch a t s reached the FA Cup fourth qual­i­fy­ing round last sea­son but league suc­cess is over­due. They’ve only recorded one top-10 fin­ish in the last 13 years.

Af­ter five years in the Pre­mier Divi­sion, CRAY WAN­DER­ERS are back at Step 4 af­ter be­ing rel­e­gated along­side lo­cal ri­vals THAMES­MEAD TOWN last sea­son.

Ebb­s­fleet’s new sign­ing Char­lie Sher­ing­ham

Chatham Town boss Kevin Watson

Matt Bod­kin moved to Maid­stone from Mar­gate

Dart­ford’s El­liot Brad­brook stayed on

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