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Football Season Review 17/18

Football Season Review 17/18

Seeing as we are but just a day away from the start of the World Cup we thought it’d be the perfect time to put out an end of Football Season Blog. 

See below for insights into how our local side’s faired over the past year…

Andy joined the Wandsworth Radio Sports Team in September 2017


By Andrew Murray

I was happy that Fulham beat Aston Villa in the playoff final on Saturday. I think most neutrals probably were. Where Aston Villa needlessly go out of their way to make enemies of rival fan bases, Fulham are the quintessentially inoffensive club that nobody really dislikes. Except maybe some Chelsea fans. Especially John Terry just now, I’d imagine.

It has been an immensely pleasing season for the Cottagers, culminating in a return to the big time after 4 seasons in the Championship wildnerness. They’ve played arguably the best football in the division (along with Wolves) and gained yet more neutral well-wishers in the process. Whilst any permanent deal for Aleksander Mitrovic may finally give them a tool to annoy opposition fans with next season, his January loan signing was a remarkable catalyst that propelled them through the final four months and to eventual promotion glory at Wembley.

Alongside Mitrovic sit Ryan Sessegnon and Tom Cairney as the poster-children for Fulham’s successful season. ‘Children’ is most apt when speaking of Sessegnon, only legally an adult as of earlier this month. His entire footballing career to date has been played underage, yet done so with a maturity that belies his years. Winning the Championship Player of the Season along with a first ever nomination for Young Player of the Year for anyone toiling outside of the Premier League are just reward for the teenager’s performances.

Captain Tom Cairney, on the other hand, a relative old man by comparison at 27, has led by example throughout the campaign. He fittingly scored the winner at Wembley (assisted sublimely by Sessignon) and justified his snubs to numerous premier league suitors in favour of trying to drag Fulham to the Promised Land himself.

On the whole, a good job well done by manager Jokanovic and his band of brothers. I welcome them back to the top table of English football and look forward to seeing how they do in 2018/19. If I were a gambling man – which I am – I’d bet they’ll survive comfortably, winning even more admirers along the way. Unfortunately we never do too well against them at Craven Cottage, but you can’t have everything, can you?

Tom joined The Sports Team in Summer 2017.

AFC Wimbledon

By Tom Davies

A succinct and accurate round-up of the Dons season could be as short as six words:

“AFC Wimbledon stay up – job done.”

It could be extended slightly, to incorporate the unexpected bonus feature of Wimbledon’s season:

“AFC Wimbledon stay up, while MK go down – what a season.”

While it may seem unambitious to applaud merely surviving, the truth of the matter is that AFC Wimbledon being in this league at all is an achievement. Their promotion to the third tier in the 2016 play-off final was a remarkable achievement for a team not amongst the big spenders in League 2, and came ahead of schedule. While not alone in being a relatively small club to have made the step up to this level, being able to prepare for a third season at it is far more noteworthy. That one of the four teams they stayed up at the expense of was the Franchise outfit at Milton Keynes, who had a surprisingly awful season that led to relegation under the disastrous stewardship of Dan Micciche, makes survival all the sweeter.

It was a slow start for Neal Ardley’s Dons, with just two wins and nine points in the first two months leaving them in the relegation zone at the end of September. One of those wins was a memorable smash and grab victory at Blackburn, who went on to dominate the upper regions of the league with Wigan and Shrewsbury, and started a pattern they’d keep up of picking up points here and there to keep them within touching distance.

Two wins in October, and 5 points and 4 points from November and December respectively, were decent returns, but the beginning of an upsurge in form from Plymouth Argyle, who started the season atrociously but ended up only just falling short of the play-offs, meant Wimbledon ended 2017 in the final relegation spot and four points adrift of safety.

The Dons knew they’d need an upturn in form, and they certainly showed it. Three wins and a draw from their four January games culminated in a stunning 0-4 victory away at Bradford City, who while in the middle of a slump that would see them drift harmlessly into mid-table, were still in the play-off positions at the time, and left Wimbledon in 16th place, with mid-table firmly in their sights.

The cushion they’d built up would prove crucial during a disappointing February, with five defeats, including to relegation rivals Bury and Northampton. A 1-0 victory against Bristol Rovers and a creditable point away at play-off chasing Peterborough had them looking at just a two point gap between themselves and the bottom four.

Ups and downs were to follow in March, as I detailed in my last blog, but a 1-0 home defeat to managerless Fleetwood looked like a real missed opportunity, and with MK’s revival coinciding with it, Wimbledon stood just one place and two points above the drop.

But while Wimbledon were to win just two of their final seven matches, crucially they lost none, and consecutive victories against Charlton and a thriller against rivals Walsall put them in a great position. A drew with Oldham, who’d go onto take the final relegation spot, was followed with an altogether more surprising draw away at table-topping Wigan, leaving the Dons knowing a point at Doncaster would seal survival. A goal-less draw sparked delirium for the Dons, and a final day point at home to already relegated Bury left them on 53 points and in 18th position. Their form at the end of the season was crucial, with three of the four relegated teams having large points totals, which may have seen them safe in other years.

Wimbledon know they can’t afford to stay still for next season, with some big teams such as Luton and Coventry joining League 1 next season. Releasing nine players, including play-off winning captain Barry Fuller, suggests they have the appetite for a rebuild, but losing diminutive former Spurs midfielder Dean Parrett to Gillingham, after he turned down a contract offer, points to the realities of their financial position in the league. Much will rest on keeping top-scorer Lyle Taylor, bound to be attracting admiring glances from others in the league.

Lee joined The Sports Team in September 2017

Hampton & Richmond

By Lee Allen

Hampton & Richmond Borough FC went one better than last season to reach the National League South playoff finals, but ultimately fell at the last hurdle.

The royal town of Hampton, home to the regal vibes of Hampton Court Palace and the calm of Bushy Park is an unlikely place for a football revolution. But the Beavers were only promoted to the National League South two seasons ago and have already reached the division’s playoffs twice.

Scintillating form towards the end of 2017 even put the team in contention for promotion to National League Premier this past season. Hampton & Richmond racked up 10 consecutive wins from late October until early December to raise hopes that the side could go one better than the play-offs and achieve automatic promotion. But the good form was not sustained and the side failed to win from early December until their first match of the new year on January 3.

Despite never quite managing to string wins together like in November, the side did achieve a measure of steady consistency until the end of the season, helped by some notable performances from a talented crop of players.

Chief among them was former Sutton United winger Bradley Hudson Odoi, who returned to Hampton for his second spell at the club in February. The wide man excelled in his first outing for Hampton this season, in the 1-0 home victory against Bognor Regis and never looked back. In that game, he put in a stonking performance which dazzled and harried the opposition in equal measure. And it would be the brilliance of Hudson Odoi which would take the Beavers to the brink of promotion come the end of the season.

Finishing the regular season in fourth position with 72 points, Hampton & Richmond then faced a National League South eliminator against seventh-placed Truro City. Hampton won the game by three goals to one with Hudson-Odoi bagging an extra-time brace. That put the side into the play-off semi-finals, in which the cool head of another star turn, midfield maestro Max Kretzschmar, and his decisive penalty kick helped Hampton prevail against Chelmsford City.

And then, it was onto the playoffs final. A knock down, drag out slugfest against Braintree Town which ended in the cruellest way possible for Hampton – defeat on a penalty shootout. The last game may have ended in loss and promotion not achieved, but Hampton & Richmond have every right to be delighted by their season for a second year running. Next season, they will be hoping to go one better.

Henners became Deputy Editor in January this year.

Balham FC

by Henry Thomas-Aldridge

Since Balham’s inception in 2011, Balham have come on leaps on bounds and this season season’s progression portrays a steady upward curve for the club in years to come. When I spoke to their manager, Greg Cruttwell, and watched numerous matches it was clear to see that both the youth and senior teams prided themselves on a passing-style of football. So much so that they say that they’re bring a bit of Barcelona to Balham.

Having been promoted into the Combined Counties Premier Division at the first time of asking, they showed their philosophy can work at all levels they have played at, by finishing in fifth position. Cruttwell did explain that there is a notable difference between the levels of competition but fifth position is a great stepping stone for next season to challenge for the league title. With a great first team and several young players having been brought up to play in the plethora of matches they played in their final three weeks of the season, the excellent chemistry gives them a great platform for next season.

As if fifth place wasn’t enough in the league, multiple big-name scalps in the London FA Senior Cup resulted in Balham becoming the second ever ninth tier side to win the competition defeating Cray Valley 4-1 in the final. An excellent display in the final was preceded by a spirited victory over another of our local sides, Dulwich Hamlet, in the semi-final which certainly raised a few eyebrows. Silverware combined with a fifth-place finish in their first ever appearance at 9th tier level rounds up a rather successful season for Balham. They will be looking forward to next season, pushing for promotion and taking part in the FA Cup for the first time, however, as they climb up through the leagues, there is still one objective that has alluded the club thus far, that is owning their very own ground. Those at Balham are desperate to find their true home but if they continue to progress and follow up on yet another successful season, they won’t have to wait much longer.

Elijah joined the Sports Team in February this year

Dulwich Hamlet

by Elijah Allotey

Sometimes seasons come down to moments. In some cases there is a thin line between victory and defeat. So when Dipo Akinyemi stepped up to take the penalty in the play off final he had a chance to make history. He stepped up waited for the keeper to move and then slotted the ball home into the bottom corner. With that strike Dulwich Hamlet ended a 111-year wait and grabbed a place in the National league south league. What a huge achievement. Even though they were down at half time their manager Mr rose issued a rallying cry “It’s important not to panic, but believe in each other”

Earlier in the season it would seem that Dulwich would go up as champions they have been leading the pack for quite some time. Unfortunately they were pipped to that achievement by Billericay.

It goes to show the belief the fans and the manager have in this team, they have kept on going, amongst the other issues in the background of the status of champion hill and previous loses in finals in 2017 to Bognor Regis and the year before that against East Thurrock.

Just like Akinyemi said “It’s a great feeling” Dulwich have been one of the top sides in the league. The stats don’t lie they have conceded the fewest goals in the league, with that determination, fight and resilience the future looks very bright.

David joined Wandsworth Radio Sport in September 2017


by David Diangienda

At the start of the season every Chelsea fan was full of optimism and they have every reason to be as the club were the Premier League champions, have a manager in Antonio Conte in which brought back the needed passion at the club and the team will play amongst the best in the Champions League. This season didn’t turn out as it should for the former champions as everything went south.

During pre-season with the club looking to strengthen their hold on the League were looking for reinforcements especially having European commitments in a already busy schedule however, the club were dealt with a huge blow as the likes of Diego Costa being thrown out of the team by the manager who was no longer required,Terry who moved to Aston Villa and Matic who made a big summer move to Man United to be reunited with Mourinho. Three big characters from the successful 2016/17 title winning team gone leaving Chelsea with big shoes to fill but the transfer window was far from successful as we bought players to replace players instead of building this team by adding depth not selling players who have promise and giving players successful out on loan a chance to play in the first team.

The season could have started worst as Chelsea lost at home to Burnley 3-2, new and lost on the first game of the season for the first time in twenty years in which questions were raised from the start. Although the club brought in Morata as the new mega striker, Bakayoko in midfield who impressed for Monaco in the previous season and Zappacosta as option in the wing-back position as well as Drinkwater as the club at the stage were improving their league form between the end of August to December as the team were in the top four and qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League in a reasonably challenging group although the team could have done better in particular games at home against Atletico Madrid and Roma.

This was also an opportunity to tighten things in the top four and gain key points during the December and January period against teams Chelsea should pick points from consequently, this wasn’t the case as the team crumbled before our very eyes.

From January onwards especially the press scrutiny over the future of the manager and who should be replaced and the technical director in Emenalo leaving the club had a huge affect on the team. This was shown on the field in defeats to Bournemouth, Watford and Manchester City especially lacking a key striker up top as Morata was losing confidence and Chelsea lacking that killer instinct in which Costa brought to the team beforehand. Giroud our January transfer singing was signed to do it although bizarrely Batshuayi went to Dortmund on loan and the rest they say is history. Chelsea did their best to fight back towards the end to solve their problems especially towards May but losing out on buying key transfers in the market, problems between the management and the board and missing out on crucial points in key games in the league didn’t manage to save their season.

Although the team ended fifth in the league and will miss out on Champions League football for only the second time in three years the future of the club is in doubt as Hazard and Courtois are linked with moves away from the bridge and Sarri looking increasingly likely to replace Conte, Chelsea have a big job to do to rejuvenate the team and the fans after a horrible title defense although an FA Cup win a few weeks ago shows a glimpse of hope for the future of the club. How will the club bounce back from this? Only time will tell.

Harry became Wandsworth Radio Sports Editor in September 2016.

Crystal Palace – Concise 

by Harry Fell

After the worst start in premier league history, (7 games, no goals, no points), The Eagles looked absolutely doomed. Enter The Woy. The man in charge of arguably England’s most embarrassing major tournament defeat in history. An extremely tough start away to the two Manchester clubs awaited him which ended with Palace returning to South London still without a premier league goal to their name and 9 more in the against column.

The return of Wilfried Zaha from injury along with a win at home against Chelsea sprung Woy’s Boys into life along and Palace barely looked back, securing safety with a couple of games to spare by decimating the former Champions, Leicester, 5-0 at Selhurst Park. Palace will be looking to build upon their strong finish and really push on with the squad and manager that they have at their disposal

Sutton Utd – Concise

By Harry Fell

How Sutton Utd have come on over the past season. They finished 3rd in the National League, and yet, when they fell at the last, it was still a bitter disappointment. Were it not for an awful run in April, they could well have gained automatic promotion, but sadly it was, and the season concluded with the U’s losing the play off semi final at home to Boreham Wood, hardly the fairytale ending we were all hoping for.

Tommy Wright was the U’s Top Goalscorer and star performer of the year but with only 13 goals to his name for the year, I expect that Sutton will be looking to bring in another top finisher if they want to build upon a generally very strong season. Wright, played for England C recently and will be hoping to build upon last season come August.

Tooting and Mitcham – Concise

By Harry Fell

The Terrors endured a tough season in the Bostik Premier League after gaining promotion the year before and eventually went immediately back down on goal difference. A good run of form from Burgess Hill Town very late in the season condemned United to the Bostik Southern Central Division by the slimmest of margins.

The Club are looking to rebuild and have started the process by appointing Ashley Bosah and Cornelius Nwadialor as Joint Managers. They’ve both been in the club for a number of years and have worked extremely hard within the youth system, so their appointments can be seen as a massive positive as The Terrors look to bounce back by utilising the great youth system that has produced the likes of Michail Antonio in the past.

It must be noted how fantastic Tooting and Mitchum have been during Dulwich Hamlet’s ongoing stadium turmoil. It would have been very easy to be bitter neighbours and see the Hamlet go out of existence without a suitable home ground to play on but as is the community spirit of The Terrors, Imperial Fields will now play host to the National League South for the first time in it’s history. Nice one.

June 13th, 2018

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