Season’s Greetings. Having subsisted on a watery diet of cricket and tennis for the best part of six weeks, it was wonderful to have the football back. Even if it was a ragged assortment of survivors from the brutal pre-season cull and young hopefuls promoted from the reserves to replace those who had left, lumbering around and struggling to resemble a team in the pouring English summer rain, it still represented the start of another season.
Usually, this time of year is full of optimism. Hope springs afresh at every club from Truro City to Wick Academy that this could be the season - that long-awaited promotion, the play-off challenge or simply finishing one place above the drop zone. I hate to say it - we’re in just the second match of pre-season preparations after all - but this could be a long season at York Street. The consensus post-match at Tattershall Road on Saturday was as gloomy as the weather.
The players who powered the team in exceeding expectations in the Conference North last season have migrated either north to Grimsby Town or Gainsborough Trinity, or west to Eastwood Town, and seem, to date, to have just been replaced by familiar faces from the past or reserves more accustomed to the pace of the Lincolnshire League than the second tier of non-league football.
In the absence of Shaun Pearson, Anthony Church and Spencer Weir-Daley, United looked rudderless against our cross-town neighbours, who compete in the United Counties League, and were soundly beaten. How we’ll fare against Lincoln City, Mansfield Town and the Wigan Athletic XI that’s popping across from Lancashire next week for some reason remains to be seen, but when you start to fear a beating from Stamford, next up on Tuesday, it’s a bit worrying.
Julian Joachim, who played for the Pilgrims at the height of the Football League years, has returned, at the age of 36, but he looked laboured and worryingly off the pace. I don’t recall him touching the ball in a meaningful way at any point, though hopefully he’ll weigh in with seven or eight goals over the course of this season. But with Mikel Suarez, Marc Newsham and reserve graduate Mickey Stones the other options, I’m not sure where the 100-plus goals required to sustain a promotion challenge are going to come from. Get the chequebook out, chairman, and buy some goals.
Danny Sleath tried his best to provide some momentum, carving out a few second-half chances, and was one of the few players who completed the 90 minutes. Unfortunate he’ll be away for the first four games of the season - the acid test - at the World Student Games. I guess they take part in strawpedoing, Facebooking, pizza munching and extreme procrastination, that kind of thing...
The only other player to offer any optimism was Kevin Holsgrove, an acquisition from Hyde after impressing in their spirited 2-2 at York Street towards the back end of last season. Nimble and sprightly, he worked plenty of space down the left flank during the opening half, though it will obviously take a little longer for the strikers to get on his wavelength when it comes to crosses. I feel we might be relying on him one hell of a lot in the absence of Yates and Weir-Daley.
Town, who fielded a selection of ex-Pilgrims including Alex Beck, who scored both the goals, looked up for it and sharper, despite this being their opening pre-season match. They thoroughly deserved this, their second win over United in their 47 years of existence. I do have a soft spot for them, having watched the team regularly under veteran manager Bob Don-Duncan while in Sixth Form, and wish them a good season. On this evidence, it may be rather more successful than United’s.
Next Match: Boston United v Wigan Athletic XI this Saturday at York Street.