Written By Scott W [Twitter: @ScottMHC14]
Hello and welcome to an article looking back at the Essex Senior League 2020-21 season so far, as part of my content during this enforced break of November 2020.
In this article, we look at the Essex Senior table in general and experiences of watching the division in the opening two months or so pre-break. Also in a new feature, I’ll be joined by an expert reporting panel of fellow Non-League writers to pass on our views on the ESL. They are Matt North [MN] (@MattNorth_) and Aaron Moore [AM] (@aaron_moore25). My thanks to them both for their time & contributions in this article.
First up, we have the full table at the time the enforced break came in (on November 5th) which will be followed by our panel looking at how their tips pre-season are doing so far and respective experiences of the Essex Senior as well.
Panel insight regarding Season 2020-21 So Far:
Key: Scott = SW, Matt = MN & Aaron = AM
Which clubs did you tip to be in each of the following areas of the table in August & have those clubs started the campaign in the vein you felt they would and why? (a) Top Six (b) Mid-table (c) Bottom Six
AM: (a) Top Six – “I think we are all in agreement of who will be the winner as Hashtag seem to find a way to win regardless of how they play. The other five will be a fight and tough to predict. Stansted because of the start they’ve made and they look very good. Saffron Walden have built a strong team, Hadley have games in hand and are one of the toughest teams to beat as are Walthamstow as I think bringing players back has boosted them!
(b) Mid-table – I think ‘Fosters, Hoddesdon and West Essex will be at the top of the mid table sides based on their starts and the teams they are beating. Takeley had a poor start so will struggle, I don’t think Manor can keep up with their form throughout the season and Redbridge and Sawbo win some but also lose important games.
(c) Bottom Six – I think the bottom six will pretty much stay the same to what is it now. Woodford have made it hard for themselves already and will find it tough to recover, Clapton & St Margaretsbury find it hard to get wins and I think too many draws will cost them, Ilford and Enfield have decent teams but again they are so inconsistent and I think they will struggle after their start and Sporting Bengal will get limited wins again and I think they will be in the bottom six.”
SW: (a – Top Six) “Before the season began, I thought the likes of Walthamstow, Hashtag Utd and Saffron Walden Town would be up there given all three sides’ keenness to progress up the Non-League ladder and their consistency last season, which the FA might have voided officially but for writers and fans etc, it is anything but meaningless. The way that the Tags have started tells you they mean business but their levels of experience, their management team led by Jay Devereux and their togetherness are all good reasons why they could be the team to beat. Saffron Walden have started to find their rhythm after a tricky start sitting in fourth spot while Walthamstow have made strides to further improve their squad, enticing back two-time winner of the Essex Senior ‘Golden Boot’ Dwade James after a brief spell at Hendon. Their management team led by player-boss Max Mitchell and Terry Spillane also have nous & vast experience.
(b – Mid-table) Going back to last season and the way they play, I would not have ruled out Hadley, Cockfosters, Stansted, Hoddesdon, Takeley and West Essex from being mid-table sides this term, if not better given how they all can ‘trouble the scorers’. Stansted and Cockfosters have started well and are again tough sides to beat with ‘Fosters goalkeeper Brad Robinson among the best custodians in the division.
With regards to the bottom of the table, I was intrigued how the likes of Sawbridgeworth, Enfield and Southend Manor would improve on last season’s tough respective campaigns. Manor in particular have shown grit and form at Southchurch Park in patches this term but they also have shelled a few in some damaging defeats thus far too.”
MN: (a – Top Six) “Before the season even started, I knew that Hashtag United were going to be competing at the top and are certainly clear favourites for the title. I expected it to be the same four sides as last season in the title race in Hashtag, Saffron Walden, Walthamstow and Hadley purely because of how strong those sides are. Although the majority aren’t right up there at the moment, I can still see those four being up there when the season resumes. I did think Stansted would be around the top six positions and have been in a much better position than I thought. From watching them a lot this season, I feel as though Stansted will be another side to challenge for the title. As for 6th place, I thought that position would be very open in my eyes with the likes of Takeley and Hoddesdon being around there. Hoddesdon are currently sitting 5th so I may be spot on with that whilst Takeley are 8th so I them being around that area of the table as well.
In the mid-table places (7th-12th), I expected sides such as Cockfosters, West Essex and Redbridge to be occupying those positions. However, Cockfosters have had a much better start, sitting 2nd and look like challenging towards the top. However, Redbridge and West Essex are in a similar position to what I expected whilst I would have backed Woodford to be in mid-table but they sit bottom with just one win out of 11 games. Finally, St Margaretsbury was a side I thought would be sitting towards the bottom part of mid-table but are in 16th having made a poor start.
The sides I thought would be sitting around the bottom six are currently occupying those positions. Sawbridgeworth, Enfield, Ilford and Clapton were the four sides I thought would be near the bottom considering how those four got on last season. Sawbridgeworth had a very poor season last time out but this campaign they are in a much better position this time round and look unlikely to be right at the bottom. The other two sides I expect to be near the bottom but aren’t there this season are Southend Manor and Sporting Bengal, who both sit comfortably in mid-table territory. Manor are in 9th and doing much better than I thought whilst Bengal are 12th so they could still slip into the bottom six. Apart from that, I have been near enough spot on with my predictions for the bottom six at this early stage.”
2. Which clubs have surprised you with their start to the season and why?
SW: As I mentioned earlier, Cockfosters have to be mentioned given the strides they’ve made to improve their defence as well as their attacking options. Saffron Walden and Hoddesdon have been buoyed by their recent form too and cannot be underestimated. Finally, Southend Manor and Redbridge have had an upturn to their form in general, with the latter really finding their feet since the appointment of George Christou in terms of wins.
In the bottom half of the standings, Sawbridgeworth Town already have four more points than they got by the end of the shortened season in March. That being said, their goal difference is the second worst in the division at this point so that may count against them as the season goes on. Finally, Woodford Town are bottom of the standings, having played the vast majority of their games thus far away from home, as they have had to wait for their new home at Ashton’s to be ready. I’ve seen them a couple of times at the start of the campaign and I wouldn’t be that surprised if they get a few wins to evade the bottom three by February, but again they do leak a few goals.
MN: Cockfosters have surprised me with their brilliant start to the season, which I think many others would have said as well. Considering they were around mid-table last season, Ryan Wade’s side have really stepped up this season and have become serious title challengers this early on in the season. However, time will tell to see if they can continue to keep up this form but for now, they are looking good. Stansted have slightly surprised me too as I didn’t expect them to be as high as they are now in 2nd but I feel as though have put themselves in a very good position. Meanwhile, Southend Manor have made a good start to their campaign and sit comfortably in 9th and picked up some great results whereas other people have tipped them to be near the bottom. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, Saffron Walden and Walthamstow have both had difficult starts to the season and many would have seen them to be competing with Hashtag at this early stage. However, with that being said, we are only around 1/4 of the way through the season so there is still plenty of time for those two sides to get a good run of form going.
AM: I think Cockfosters surprised everyone with their start to the season. It was superb from them and put them in a good position for the rest of the season. Southend Manor was another surprise with the win over Stow and drawing with Hashtag. Woodford Town, Saffron Walden Town and Enfield are probably the other end of the scale. No one expected the Woods to be bottom nor did they expect Walden to have only won five out of their thirteen games this season and Enfield brought in a better calibre of players but are still struggling.
All things being good, if the season resumes in December, which sides do you believe are well-placed to go further up the standings and why?
AM: Walthamstow and Hadley will certainly rise up the table with the games in hand they have on the top five.
MN: I believe that Hadley can easily go further up the standings considering all their games in hand on other sides around them. The Bricks have won six out of their seven games this term but sit 6th so if they keep that run going, I see them competing with Hashtag United at the top. Meanwhile, at the bottom, I feel as though Enfield are well placed to get further up the table judging by their form since Jamie Cureton became player-manager. The E’s are only five or so points off the top half so the ball is very much in their court. Finally, another side who look likely to rise up the table is Redbridge. Before the start of the second lockdown, the Motormen had won four on the bounce and with games in hand on sides around them; I wouldn’t put it past them to push towards the top 6 places.
SW: I have to make it “three from three” and say Hadley will be in and around the top three. If they can make Brickfield Lane a fortress again this season and get a few wins on the road, they may still have a say in who gets the title. Takeley may also move up a few places if they can keep their impressive goal-scoring (currently on 34 goals from their eleven games) going.
What have been your favourite matches to watch live this term and why?
MN: One of my favourite matches to watch this season has to be Stansted’s 2 – 1 derby win over Saffron Walden. A huge crowd, an entertaining match along with a last minute winner for the Airportmen which sent the supporters going wild! Other noticeable matches were Hashtag United defeating Sawbridgeworth 4 – 2 and Takeley 3 – 1. However, the majority of matches I have visited so far this season have been entertaining.
AM: I really enjoyed watching the 6 – 0 win for West Essex over Southend Manor as they attacking play was superb. It was great from a neutrals point of view but also the Hashtag vs Sawbo game as it could have gone either way.
SW: I enjoyed the dramatic midweek match in early October where Southend Manor roared back from behind to pinch a 3 – 2 over Ilford. Both sides had the energy and had some class finishing to go with it. Also, on the opening day in September, Hadley started the season as they did a year previous with a strong 4 – 0 win over Woodford Town. That was a long-awaited return to the beautiful Non-League game competitively after six months out.
As a neutral, what grounds do you like visiting as a fan?
SW: I have to nominate Cockfosters’ Chalk Lane first for this. Yes, the ground is comparatively small but it has its own character and the committee also give you a really good, kind welcome. Also, St Margaretsbury’s Recreation Ground is a bit of a ‘hidden gem’ as well. Same goes for Hadley’s Brickfield Lane, though the club have catered well for visiting fans with their seated stand & a covered terrace on the other side.
AM: I’d say Lowfield (Hoddesdon Town). It is a very nice ground which some superb hospitality.
MN: Personally, when it comes to the quality of the ground, I really enjoy visiting Catons Lane, home of Saffron Walden. It’s a very welcoming club with some excellent facilities and the overall visit is an enjoyable one. I also like going to Hargrave Park which is generally down to the friendly committee and supporters and a club I am quite close to.
How different has it been watching Essex Senior matches so far this season, with all the COVID-enforced restrictions? Has it altered the atmosphere on match day at all?
AM: I don’t think it had hampered atmosphere because it’s what the fans make it. That being said, it’s still strange having to follow the procedures, especially if you forget a mask. It’s hard knowing whether you’ll get into a game with the limited attendance (Usually 300 at this level)
MN: I have seen a difference this season but only in a positive way. Due to the COVID restrictions, no one can visit elite level matches such as the Premier League so opt to visit games in leagues further down the Non-League ladder such as the Essex Senior instead. A lot more supporters have been attracted to games this campaign in comparison to last season which I find brilliant! Of course you have a limit to the amount of supporters allowed in but I feel there is a much better atmosphere to the games now. For example, my brother started going to a few Stansted games and now he has been going on a more regular basis. I feel as though clubs have done very well to follow the COVID guidelines in place.
SW: I think the biggest difference is all the Distancing regulations, it does feel a bit eerie. That being said, it is brilliant to see fans of professional clubs visit their local Non-League sides during the stadia closure in the Premier League & the EFL. If anything, I also believe the fans that have stuck with Non-League for years have savoured matches a little more this year and the fact that it is reflected in attendances for many Essex Senior clubs is a good thing and long may that continue.
My thanks to Aaron & Matt for their valued contributions to this article and here’s a few snippets of info on them.
Matt North is a Non-League writer focused mainly on the Essex Senior League and also is an avid fan of Chelsea. He’s on Twitter – @MattNorth_ and his blog is at https://mattnorthfootball.wordpress.com/
Aaron Moore is also a Non-League writer, mainly for Walthamstow FC in the Essex Senior League and also is part of the media team of Harlow Town Ladies. He can be found on Twitter – @aaron_moore25 and his blog is at http://footballreview.net/