With the surprising promotion last season, several significant changes occurred before the players returned for pre-season. First, the club is now professional, and every player and staff member needs to be handed new contracts to get the most out of a professional setup. That affects the financial side of things with a much higher wage budget than ever before. No matter how you look at it, that’s the price to pay when you want to have a professional club and climb the leagues.
The expansion of Meadowbank was finished in March, and only two months later, another expansion started to meet the requirements of League Football. The expansion will be completed in September, so the first home games of the new season will be played at Broadfield Stadium in Crawley. With further expansion, Meadowbank will have a total capacity of 5,250 with 2,250 seats. We also need to change the surface to grass.
As if those investments weren’t enough for the club, it was also decided to invest £200.000 in the training facilities. All three of these hugest investments are giant steps in the right direction for the club. To be able to hand all our graduates a full-time contract and better facilities will do wonders for their development.
Going into pre-season, there was some movement in the transfer market. Some of the players from the original squad were deemed not good enough to get a new contract and are better suited for non-league football. Two players also retired and got new contracts with the U18- staff.
- Guiseppe Sole – Leiston – Free transfer
- Harry Ottaway – Biggleswade Town – Free transfer
- Andrew Demby – Free Transfer
- Callum Kennedy – Free Transfer
- Adam Mekki – Maidenhead – Free transfer
- Jordan Cheadle – Retired – U18 Coach
- Sami El-Abd – Retired – U18 assistant manager
- Sam Beard – Barnet – Free transfer
Sam Beard was one of the three players I allowed myself to sign during this save. When he was out of contract at Barnet, it was easy to bring him back. We lacked competition for Bobby-Joe Taylor on the left wing-back last season when Callum Kennedy was far from the same level as Taylor. With Beard returning, we have two great players on the left, and Beard may also be a better player than Taylor. Beard is a familiar face with five seasons and 129 league games with the club already. He will also be reunited with his father, Mark Beard, who is now the assistant manager of the first team.
After a bumpy pre-season, we finally started the season at home against Mansfield on August 12th. It began where the last season left off, with Ryan Seager and Alfie Rutherford scoring a goal each to give us the lead before Mansfield equalized both times. In the 90th minute, a special moment took place. Alex Chudy had come from the bench to become the club’s youngest-ever player. With 16 years and 27 days, that record will stand for a while. He got the ball on the edge of the Mansfield area and found Sam Beard ahead of the goal. With a controlled finish, Beard won us the game and our first three points in League Two. What a comeback at the club!
Four days later, against Forest Green in the EFL Cup, Chudy became the youngest goalscorer in the history of Dorking Wanderers when he equalized in the 80th minute and sent the game to penalties. Sixteen years and 31 days is another record that will stand for a long time.
Chudy was also the first to step up and score his penalty when we ultimately sent Forest Green out of the EFL Cup. What a week for the young lad and the talent we got on our hands!
A loss to Stockport and a draw with Accrington before we lost to Charlton on penalties was the rest of August for us. But, overall, a great start to life in League Two, and Seager, Rutherford and McShane have proved they can also thrive at this level.
In September and October, we only lost one game and had an eight-game unbeaten run before Bradford City got the better of us. The response to the defeat was terrific, with the lads starting another unbeaten run.
There were great moments along the way, and new milestones were reached. Cameron Black scored the first league goal from an academy graduate against Hartlepool in a 4-0 win, and Alex Chudy scored his first league goal when he scored a brace against Cheltenham in a game that ended 3-3. We played two matches in the Papa John’s Trophy with nine academy players involved, seven of them were debutants, and Olly Allen scored his first goal for the first team.
November started with a bang when we met Carlisle away, and Seager scored after 7 minutes. Twenty-seven minutes later, Carlisle was 3-1 up. Chudy scored a few minutes before halftime and gave us hope going into the second half. However, when Freddie Draper fulfilled his hat trick after 56 minutes and made it 4-2, it looked like all hope was over.
With twenty minutes to go, I decided to go for the all-out attack. Four minutes later, Chudy sent Seager alone with the goalkeeper, and 4-3 was a fact. With five minutes to go, we got a free-kick outside the box. Jebb sent a perfect cross in and found Chudy’s head, who made no mistake and made it 4-4!
In the 89th minute, Chudy combined with Olly Allen, who sent Seager through on goal. 4-5, and the game is over! What a comeback and what an incredible mentality the team is showing.
16-year-old Chudy is turning the game around with two goals, an assist and a 10.00 rating!
We took the tremendous energy from the Carlisle game with us into the next rounds, where we beat Stevenage comfortably 2-0 and sent Forest Green out of yet another cup when we beat them 1-0 in the first round of the FA Cup. A loss in the Papa John’s Trophy and two draws in the league were nothing great to write about, but another unique game took place away in Salford. They took the lead after three minutes before Rutherford equalized after twelve. The results stood for the rest of the first and second half, even though we created many chances. However, this team never gives up and attacks until the final whistle. In the 92nd minute, Seager beat the offside trap and gave us the lead. Three minutes later, five minutes into overtime, Chudy made it 3-1, and what was an intense and close game suddenly looked like a comfortable 3-1 win.
December started with a loss in the league before we lost on penalties to Bristol Rovers in the second round of the Papa John’s Trophy and were knocked out of the FA Cup by Northampton.
Yet again, the response was excellent, with three consecutive wins, one of them another win in injury time. Two draws and a win in the next three games give us a two-point lead on top of the table with 20 games left to play.
Considering that we’re out of all cups, we have only the league to focus on until May. So far, everyone has underestimated us, and for the second season in a row, we’re predicted for relegation battle but are fighting for promotion.
We are extremely vulnerable to injuries, and as soon as the best players aren’t playing, we’re struggling. So I’m crossing my fingers for us to keep up the results and play we’ve managed to do so far and that we’re lucky with injuries.
I also got some fantastic news in December when I got the preview of this year’s Youth Intake. For the second season in a row, it’s an intake with the potential to be a gold generation for the club. By the looks of it, it’s also talents in positions we didn’t get any talents in last season.
Thanks for reading this blog. I look forward to tell you about the second half of the season!
/ FM Veteran