Written by Scott W (Twitter: @ScottMHC14) – ESL Writer & Grassroots Football Show Contributor
After part one of this piece, looking at the bottom half of the table, appeared in CentreSpot & here on the blog last week – here is part two which as promised looks at the top half of an ever-stronger ESL, including some big name clubs and some ‘surprise packages’.
So we start with the fight for the championship & promotion. Are we seeing one side ‘run away’ with things? Not a bit of it. At time of writing, Stansted lead the way (63 pts from 29 matches) in what is one of the biggest turnarounds from last season when the Airportmen nearly were not even involved in the division. Under the guidance of co-managers Paul Pittuck and Marc Benterman, the team has gone on two long unbeaten runs, winning different kinds of matches along the way as well as plundering 73 goals thus far. Another club who have achieved a stirring season already compared to last are Hullbridge Sports who are four points adrift (59 pts from 27m) though do have two matches more to play to make those points up. One thing I believe Messrs Manning & Wakeling will highlight is their miserly defence this term – still the best in the division at this point.
If either of the these two sides do ‘finish the job’ then it will be some story which also highlights in my view that some clubs can instigate a ‘turn of form’ quickly, as well as some clubs that unfortunately can get ‘left behind’. Carrying on with the standings now with Takeley who sit 3rd with 58 points from 29 matches. Saffron Walden Town reside in 4th spot (57pts from 28 games) and The Bloods have certainly made in-roads in their first season back in the ESL with their sheer goal-hungriness (among the best in Step 5 country-wide) with star striker Charlie Portway leading the ESL goal-scorers charts in all competitions. Recent signings such as Matt Frew and Scott Pethers may well see them among the heavy-hitters in this race in the next eight or nine weeks, given that the only critique is that they leak a few goals. Takeley may have the opposite problem, given that their stubborn defensive credentials remain from last season. Interestingly though, they have scored the lowest number of goals of all the clubs in the top seven thus far this term. That said, you can hardly rule them out of the promotion reckoning as they do embody grit and determination more often than not.
Walthamstow (50 pts from 27 games) sit fifth and Woodford Town stand in 6th spot currently with 47 points amassed from 28 matches. Both sides have been stand-outs this term in different ways. ‘Stow have brought about a big improvement in their fortunes, compared to last term when they evaded relegation in the latter stages of the campaign. Irrespective of all the natter that goes on about budgets and that, Ryan Maxwell’s side has certainly laid the groundwork for a better tilt next season with good attacking football and attracting better crowds, though you suspect they may have given themselves just that little bit too much to do this season to get that coveted promotion spot.
Woodford have shown what youthful exuberance and ‘playing without fear’ can achieve, as well as seeing at least two players join the professional game this season. Their eye-catching attacking game has seen them grab 14 wins (at time of writing) and they should be pleased with their campaign, whatever happens in the latter stages of it. St Margaretsbury head the next ‘mini-group in 7th (44 points from 29 matches) and are enjoying their first season in the ESL. Max Mitchell & Tony Faulkner have made them a tougher outfit to beat with only three losses in their last ten matches.
Sporting Bengal Utd are in 8th spot with 43 points from 27 games. Imrul Gazi’s side set a club record last season of 50 points in a mid-table finish and although they did threaten to force their way into the top four earlier in the campaign, they have shown that a young squad can be successful. Progression is important and Bengal are odds-on you feel to set another club record in April.
Rounding out the top ten is Hoddesdon Town and Stanway Rovers. Hoddy sit ninth with 39 points from 28 matches and have been solid and one of the many sides that can surprise opponents and this season’s experience may well be crucial for the whole youthful squad. Stanway have been on an upturn recently and have got their noses ahead of Ilford, West Essex and Sawbridgeworth to sit 10th in what could be a race to squeeze into the top-half.
Maybe the division has ‘three mini-divisions’ (the Top 6, 7th – 15th & the bottom five) though there are signs that the ESL is getting stronger each season and that may be good for clubs to in the longer-term, both in the league and in the likes of the FA Cup and FA Vase.
This article was written on Fri 15th February.