Steve discusses the Wood
The pre-season results were a mixed bag, but as we all know, these matches are all about gaining fitness and introducing new signings into the squad. A home defeat against Brentford was not unexpected, as they had a few decent players in their side. We then drew with West Ham, lost to a Chelsea XI, but managed to beat a young Arsenal XI. We (me, my son and my mum) went to the away win at Hitchin and the draw at Potters Bar, and in-between those the team had to come back from 2-0 down to draw with Dartford. But all of these matches were useful exercises, so I wasn’t going to get too stressed over the outcomes.
FIRST 3 GAMES
The first match was unusual. We were playing solidly against Southend (away) and took the lead in the first half. But they came back into it second half, and our keeper Nathan Ashmore was superb. We didn’t help ourselves by getting two men sent off, yet we defended superbly for a fine away win (although I didn’t have any fingernails left come the end of the match). We drew 2-2 at home to Notts County, which I felt was a fair result. They dominated possession in the first half hour, and took the lead through a dodgy penalty (in my biased opinion of course). We levelled and then looked decent, but then fell behind again. Fortunately, a late penalty of our own gained us a deserved point.
The Aldershot game was frustrating, and that is an understatement. We were really good in the first half, yet somehow went into the break 1-0 down. They then hit us on the counter attack in the second half to double their lead but once we scored late on it looked like we could grab a point. However, it was just one of those nights. We will play a lot worse than that this season and manage to win matches. I remember a 2-1 home loss to Dagenham and Redbridge early on in the 2017/18 season where even in defeat we showed encouraging signs for the campaign ahead. That season we reached the playoff final, so I’m hoping Tuesday night can fall into the same category as that match in 2017.
Hopefully I won’t miss any. Dion Kelly-Evans and Erico Sousa have arrived as wing backs to replace the sadly departed Kane Smith (Stevenage) and Jacob Mendy Mendy (Wrexham). The midfield has been boosted by the arrivals of Jack Payne, Alfie Egan, George Williams, and Zak Brunt (on loan from Sheffield United). Lee Ndlovu, Danny Newton and Danny Elliott have added strength to our forward options. Bringing in new players is always exciting, but it obviously takes a bit of time for the team to gel and for us fans to get used to the strengths/weaknesses of the players.
So far I have been really impressed with Brunt, so much so that my son is starting to moan every time I mention him. Brunt’s really good on the ball and looks like he can pick a pass – I just hope the rest of the team are on his wavelength. Newton and Elliott have looked good in the opening matches, so I’m hoping that the arrivals can kick us on to the next level.
We really struggled for goals last season – 49 in 44 league matches – so in my opinion we really need one or more of the forwards to click. Losing Kabs Tshimanga to Chesterfield before the start of 2021/22 was a big blow, yet the team initially coped and a playoff place looked up for grabs. But the cup run, small squad, and a loss of form ended those hopes. More goals from midfield would be good too. Josh Rees popped up with a number of goals last season, but his form dipped a bit like everyone else. Overall, I think Luke Garrard recognised that the squad had to be deeper. He now has a few selection headaches, and arguably in terms of strength in depth this is his best squad he has had.
Any team needs a strong keeper, and speaking personally I’d say that Nathan Ashmore is one of the best in the league. Losing Smith and Mendy Mendy was disappointing, but sadly inevitable. Both were used as wing backs, and played a big part in our attacking threat, so Dion Kelly-Evans and Erico Sousa will be important for the season ahead. Unfortunately, Kelly-Evans was one of the players sent off at Southend, so he won’t be available for Saturday.
EXPECTATIONS FOR 22/23
My heart says playoffs, but my head wonders if we’ll have enough for that. The fact that we now seem to be a solid top half club is amazing really, as you look at the size of the clubs in this division and it is frightening. So to even be contemplating a push for the playoffs is mad. The gates are gradually going up, and we have record season ticket sales this year, so there is a feelgood factor currently which was obviously helped by the cup run. But I just wonder if we have enough to develop from a top ten team into playoff contenders. If we can get into a strong position like we did last season then hopefully the deeper squad will serve us well this time around.
GARRARD STAYING ON
Keeping hold of Luke is going to get harder and harder. The chairman revealed last season that he had received enquiries about the gaffer from other clubs, and I guess it’s inevitable that one day a job will come along that he cannot refuse. But it’s been a joy to see him develop as a manager. He was thrown in at the deep end in 2015/16 – the first season at this level for Boreham Wood – and the job he did in avoiding relegation that year was remarkable. A couple of playoff campaigns – including heartbreak at Wembley – and that cup run have emphasised how far Luke and the club have come.
I know he loves it at the club. His relationship with the chairman and the fans is great, and it would be a dream for all of us if he could get Boreham Wood to the Football League. But if, and probably when, he does go, then I’m sure it will be with the blessing of the majority of fans – unless he rocks up at Barnet of course!
As I mentioned, Boreham Wood play with wing backs either side of three centre backs (probably Will Evans, Jamal Fyfield and Femi Ilesanmi) with Sousa on the left and possibly Dennon Lewis/George Williams on the right. At Southend, both Mark Ricketts and Jack Payne played in midfield with Brunt. Skipper Ricketts plays as a defensive midfielder, but he didn’t make the Aldershot match, yet if he is fit then I reckon those three might start against Torquay.
The two up front is anyone’s guess. Newton missed Aldershot so I’m not sure about his fitness, and Ndlovu came off the bench after his suspension from the Southend game. Tyrone Marsh came on against Notts County and played well, with Elliott voted man of the match in the same fixture. The boss really has some options now, which is obviously great. Assuming Newton is injured then I reckon maybe we’ll start with Ndlovu and Elliott.
It’s hard to look past the big guns, those former league teams that possibly think they’re too good for this league. Wrexham surely have to get promoted this year, although I wonder if Phil Parkinson is really the right man for that job. Chesterfield were hit with injuries last season, but with Paul Cook in charge they will be up there. Notts County have to be in with a shout. Sorry, I’m not really sure about the prospects of Torquay this season. From the outside it appears as if you have an excellent manager, but I’m not sure about the strength of your squad. I reckon you will be playoff contenders, though.
Outside of the ex-league clubs, Solihull Moors look a decent bet to me, although I have been a little surprised that they have drawn their first two home matches. I think Oldham and Scunthorpe will find it hard to get straight back up, as the first season is normally an eye opener for relegated clubs.
We took 210 to Southend which was a good turn out. I would be surprised if more than 100 make the trip to Torquay though, but I may be wrong. You’re just too far away for us, but I’m guessing you appreciate this when you look at most of the trips you have to make in this league. Gateshead away must fill you with joy.
Well it looks like you’re not scoring many at the moment and we huffed and puffed against Aldershot, so I fully expect an entertaining 4-4 draw. Only kidding. It will be a tight affair and I honestly would not be surprised if it is a repeat of the 0-0 from last season. I’ll go for a 1-1 draw though. I’m just hoping that we can keep eleven players on the pitch and that we start to take our chances. That’s not too much to hope for, surely?!