“I would expect us to be inside the Top 10 and fighting for a play-off place“
The opposition interview series reaches number 5, and it’s the turn of Lee Bowman to answer our questions on his team Dover Athletic:
Hi Lee the last time we spoke Dover were challenging for promotion, what went wrong last season for the club as they fought against relegation?
For me, the biggest factor was our summer recruitment. Former boss Chris Kinnear was faced with another tough task of re-building an entire new squad last summer but found the players available to him limited compared to previous seasons for various reasons. Unfortunately, this time it proved to be one squad re-build too far.
We seemed to offer contracts to players who had featured in just one or two pre-season games as trialists that had not necessarily impressed. We went into the season unprepared, in my view, whilst lacking quality and paid the price early on, finding ourselves 23rd and 9 points adrift at one point.
How did pre-season go for the club and did you make any notable signings?
Pre-Season was great for us. We finished unbeaten in all of our 9 games, recording 6 Wins and 3 Draws that included EFL opposition in Gillingham & Colchester Utd plus a Millwall XI. The key thing for us this summer was the fact that Andy Hessenthaler conducted almost all of his summer transfer business very early on, which gave the new players the entire pre-season campaign to play together and integrate.
We made 11 new signings this summer, many of whom arrived with plenty of National League experience. Amongst those were Jack Munns (Dag & Red), Oscar Gobern (Eastleigh), Steven Rigg (Gateshead), Will De Haviland (Maidstone) and Michael Woods (Harrogate).
What are your expectations for 2019-20?
Based on our form for the last 25 games of last season we ended up joint 1st in the form table with Solihull Moors who finished runners-up! As a result, the expectation levels are far higher this season and rightly so. Given how we finished the last campaign, the way we have played throughout pre-season and how we have begun this season, I would expect us to be inside the Top 10 and fighting for a play-off place.
How have the first four games gone?
Extremely well! We had a great opening day away win at Chesterfield 2-1 having gone a goal down with 18 minutes to play but followed that up with a disappointing defeat at home to Dagenham midweek. We bounced back with a 2-1 win over promotion hopefuls Wrexham last Saturday, again having been behind with just 18 minutes remaining. We left it late again on Tuesday night to bag a 93rd minute winner away at Barnet to record our first ever win against them and make it 3 wins from our opening 4 games!
Which key players should we look out for and why?
Nassim L’Ghoul. He’s a new summer signing from National League South side Welling Utd and comes very highly rated along with glowing references from Wings supporters. He is a tricky Winger who can deliver a dangerous ball into the box. Whilst he may have started every game on the bench for us so far, he is being used as an impact player and has caused our opponents a lot of problems every time he has come on and has changed the game. He assisted both goals in our victory over Wrexham last weekend.
Keep an eye on Ricky Modeste on the opposite wing too, however, he is equally as dangerous! In terms of goal threats, Alfie Pavey has 3 goals to his name so far and is the joint leading National League goal-scorer.
Have you got the right man in charge and what sort of tactics does he employ?
Yes definitely. Andy Hessenthaler is back for his second spell in charge at Crabble having managed us between 2007-2010. He guided us to both the Ryman League (Division 1 South) and Ryman League (Premier Division) titles in successive seasons. Along with his Assistant Darren Hare and First Team Coach Nicky Southall, they all know the club and know the league well.
We made the transformation to a full-time outfit upon his appointment last October and we are now a much fitter and stronger outfit playing some good, attacking football. This paid dividends last season given the fact that, despite being those 9 points adrift, we ended the season placed 13th (joint with 11th) on 60 points, 16 points clear of the relegation zone.
What’s Crabble like for visiting supporters and what sort of crowds do you get?
Crabble is a ground setback into the hills set in the more picturesque area of Dover known as River. Whilst many home & away supporters like a moan about the long walk up the Crabble slope (and as Alan Pardew famously did on MOTD following Premier League Crystal Palace’s FA Cup visit in 2015) it is somewhat unique in the fact that you enter the main ‘home’ turnstiles below pitch level.
Chairman Jim Parmenter has heavily invested in the ground during his tenure and has brought the stadium well up to EFL regulations including a brand new 500 all-seater Family Stand (pictured above) with Football League standard changing rooms, medical room and control room.
Where’s best for pre-game food and drinks for the Yellow Army?
This depends on what Gulls fans like to eat and drink and how long you are here for! If you’re staying down overnight then I would recommend the likes of the Hythe Bay Seafood Restaurant, Marco Pierre-White (at the Dover Marina Hotel) and Cullins Yard, all of which are located in very close proximity to each other on the main seafront. There is also Aspendos (Turkish), Il Rustico & La Scala (Italian) and Calcutta Port (Pan Asian) all good options in the town now too.
In terms of drinking, Dover is a good away day for visiting fans who like their Real Ale. We have The Mash Tun, The Lanes and The Thirsty Scarecrow that are all Micro Pubs and the Breakwater Brewery & Taproom (pictured below) that is en-route to the ground, and was also a popular choice amongst Gulls supporters the last time you visited us.
If you’re a lager drinker then there is The Eight Bells (Wetherspoons) in town and the likes of The Albert, The Eagle and The Old Endeavour all of which are towards the direction of the ground if coming from the town or from Dover Priory Rail Station. The Cricketers is the nearest pub to the ground and is home & away friendly on matchdays.
You like a flutter, who do you think will be challenging for promotion this season and who will be struggling down the bottom?
I’ve backed AFC Fylde to win the league this year but I don’t think there will be too much in it! I can definitely see the likes of Solihull Moors mounting another title challenge given their early season form. The likes of Barnet and Wrexham will be amongst it and, whilst Chesterfield have started a little slower than expected, I would still imagine they will get themselves going and be involved come April.
In terms of struggling, I predicted relegation for Halifax Town but they have started very well so far. I can see Chorley, Ebbsfleet & Eastleigh and Aldershot all struggling.
And finally, give us a match prediction for Saturday afternoon?
If we want to achieve good things this season then you have to win games, particularly at home. There are no easy games in the National League though and Torquay will certainly be no exception. We are expecting a difficult game but one we hope to come out on top in. If we’re victorious it’ll be by a goal so I’ll say 1-0 Dover!
Torquay Utd is our final away fixture of the season (18th April) and many Dover supporters have booked up already so we will certainly look forward to the return fixture, whatever the outcome of Saturday’s game.
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