Hemel Town will be looking to build on last week’s more encouraging performance when they travel to Eastbourne Borough this Saturday (October 14) - and the squad will be bolstered with a few new faces and players returning from injury.
Eastbourne proved to be a tough opponent last term as they beat the Tudors 3-0 at their Priory Lane astroturfed ground and 4-0 when they visited Vauxhall Road.
The current form-book finds Eastbourne in 11th place in the National League South standings, two places below Hemel. It’s extremely tight in the standings and all to play for after 13 games, with just seven points separating the top ten sides and only a further five points between the next seven clubs.
The Jamie Howell-led Borough side have lost three of their past five but prior to that enjoyed an eight-game unbeaten streak in all competitions. They also have one of the top strikers in the division in Jamie Taylor, who has netted seven times this season - equal fourth in the league.
The Hemel squad has been ravaged by injuries of late but Ismail Yakubu and striker David Moyo were both back at the weekend after battling various injuries and full-backs Joe Howe and Kyle Connolly are close to making a return.
It was particularly encouraging to see the electrifying Moyo make a ten-minute appearance off the bench - a first outing for the former Northampton and Brackley Town speedster since he suffered a broken toe in a cup game against Ware on August 1.
Town boss Dean Brennan has high hopes for Moyo this season, if he can regain his fitness and quickness. “We’re really excited about David but we have to be patient,” Brennan told the Gazette today. “We’ll have to ease him into it as he’s been out for a while. We have a friendly match set-up against Cambridge Reserves for Tuesday, October 24, and we’re hoping to use that game as a platform for some of our injured players to regain match fitness. We want them to be firing on all cylinders but have to be patient.”
Impressive centre-back Tom Hamblin remains out with his injured ankle but could be back before the end of this month. Returning to the fold, though, is the equally solid central defender Yakubua, who started on Saturday. “Yak’s a leader. He’s done it all before and got the T-shirt so it’s really important to get him back in the side,” said Brennan.
The Tudors’ manager is keen to get his first-choice defensive foursome [Driver, Howe, Hamblin, Yakubu] back together that started the season so well and got three clean-sheets in August.
That said, he is very pleased with the job that experienced campaigner Phil Walsh has done deputising as the starter in eight of the past nine matches.
And at the other end of the experience scale is young defender Tom Day, who has started the past two games while on loan from Barnet. The 19-year-old has “done a good job”, Brennan said.
The luckless Matt Saunders remains out with a long-term and complex ankle injury with no timescale in place for his return and the skilful midfielder has been receiving support from Fulham FC, where he played when he was younger.
Reflecting on Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Weston-super-Mare, Brennan said: “I thought we deserved to win it. We created more chances and their goal was just a fantastic free-kick that we could do nothing about; an excellent strike. I felt it was more like two points dropped but I can’t fault the lads’ work-rate.”
The Tudors came back from 0-1 down to claim that point, and it halted a poor two-game run of lop-sided results where Hemel had conceded eight goals against the roughest of injury backdrops.
The spate of injuries had left the squad ‘depleted’, in Brennan’s words, but he is pleased that his side is still very much in the thick of things in the league and hasn’t slipped too far down the standings.
“We’re in a much better place in the league than we were this time last year,” Brennan said. “The depleted squad happened at the same time as our FA Cup qualification matches so it didn’t affect our league position as much as it could have done. There hasn’t been one team that has run away with it this season but the sides that are nearer the top have had a consistent starting 11 week in, week out.”
Among the new additions to Hemel’s squad are midfielder/defender Scotty Shulton and long-time target Spencer McCall, from Harrow.
Shulton, an aggressive ball-winning player who can also score goals, was released recently by fellow National League South outfit Braintree Town recently. The 27-year-old has also previously had stints at Ebbsfleet, Bishop’s Stortford, Wycombe Wanderers and Hendon.
Midfielder McCall has previously played for Wingate & Finchley, Hendon, Bishop’s Stortford and CD Illice in Spain.
Also joining the ranks are former Ebbsfleet, Alfreton and Barnet forward Sam Akinde, brother of Barnet striker John, and Milton Keynes-based midfielder Ebby Nelson-Addy (25), who made his first start for the Tudors on Saturday. The former Aston Villa Academy player has previously turned out for Worcester City, Brackley Town and Hartlepool United in League Two.
Barnet loanee Justin Amaluzor, who opened his account for the Tudors against Weston-super-Mare, is set to return to his parent club as the one-month loan deal has expired but Brennan is hoping that might be extended.
Fellow loanee Rowan Liburd, from Stevenage, still has time to run on his three-month loan and has rounded into shape after a slow start, with four goals from nine starts but he missed Saturday’s draw with a groin strain. Brennan is hoping he will be fit for selection this weekend.
Meanwhile, going in the other direction is midfielder Ben Greenhalgh, who joined Hemel in May last year from Maidstone United. Greenhalgh made ten starts this year in the league and cup along with four substitute appearances and scored one goal. He had begun to see his playing time diminish over the past five games and wanted a more regular role in the starting line-up.
He has joined one of his previous clubs, fellow National League South outfit Concord Rangers.
What with all these comings and goings, Brennan is now solely focused on the task at hand this Saturday at Eastbourne.
He said: “It will be another tough test. They are a good technical side and have a good striker in Jamie Taylor. We’re looking forward to the challenge; Borough are a big club and these are the sorts of matches you look forward to.”