Before we look at our opponents, I want to reflect on Hereford’s position in the relegation places. I’ve studied the Step 2 final tables over the last 7 years and Hereford need to at least treble their existing points total to stay up. There is the occasional freak season which features some very weak clubs, but the norm is 44-46 points. Last season it was 47. Gainsborough won 14 games and were still relegated. One other ominous note. Over the last 7 seasons, only 4 of the relegated clubs have got back to Step 2. Stating the obvious but Hereford do need to beat Alfreton.
Our Derbyshire opponents feel quite familiar, thanks to recent League and Cup games. Another example of being back where we think we belong at a senior level. They are one of our nearer opponents being a mere 120 miles away.
The Reds aren’t that old, being the result of two local clubs merging in 1959. They spent their early years in various Step 5 Leagues. In 2003, they reached Step Two and have played at that level or in Step One ever since. Their honours list is a little brief, topped by their Conference North title in 2011. They did win the Evans Halshaw Floodlit Cup twice. Not a clue, before you ask. Their record transfer fee received is £150,000 from Swindon for Aden Flint. Flint, being six foot six, now plays for Middlesbrough. Quel surprise.
They have a Euro Lottery Millionaire Lee Mullen on their Board and its probably his money that allows the club to bring in some impressive-sounding talent at this level. Alfreton average 550 through the gate. That’s fewer people than Nuneaton. Despite the extra finance, the Reds struggled in the previous two seasons and aren’t exactly top of the table this time. Defeating Nuneaton at the weekend was their first win in 8 games. There is massive player turnover with most of the squad arriving over the summer. By mid-November, 31 different players were used.
Billy Heath is their latest manager, joining in the summer. He has an impressive cv with at least two promotions at this level. I remain astonished how he got a village team, North Ferriby FC, into Step One with two promotions and an FA Trophy win along the way. Interesting backstory. He has 7 kids of which 4 are his own offspring and the rest are fostered. That’s his day job as a foster carer. And Beads thought he had a busy time in his house…. Billy Heath left Ferriby to manage Halifax, taking several players with him. He also got the Shaymen promoted. And those players have followed him to Alfreton. They included 6-foot-7 striker Denton though Chesterfield subsequently bought the big bloke for £75,000. Alfreton used the money to buy striker Reece Styche from Darlington and Southport’s captain David Lynch. We’ve said enough about Styche in recent weeks, so let’s say he’s a striker with a big reputation at this level. Scored on his debut, sent off in his second game so he’s made an impact already.
Few familiar names in the squad such as striker Richard Peniket and defender Josh Gowling. Peniket is 6 foot 3 and was born just down the road from us in Stourbridge. Despite being Black Country born, he’s got Welsh U21 caps. He had 7 games on loan at Edgar Street in 2011 in the Football League and that’s the highest status Richard ever reached. He joined Alfreton in the summer from Gateshead. Never been a prolific striker.
Defender Josh Gowling has been around a while. He’s 34 now and was a former defensive team mate of Tam Mkandawire in a WBA Youth team under Tucka Trewick and Richard O’Kelly. Josh played 13 times for The Bulls in Division One. Josh managed an OK pro. career with over 400 games and is on loan to Alfreton from Torquay.
Midfielder Jordan Sinnott is son of Lee Sinnott, who had a decent playing career for Bradford and now manages Gainsborough. Jordan was sent off against Nuneaton at the weekend. Callum Chettle is the son of Steve Chettle, the former Forest player.
There are a couple more players where reporters might want to work on some amusing commentary lines. The Reds had Declan Bacon up front and Sam Ramsbottom in goal, before Bacon’s loan move to Scarborough. Lines such as ‘what’s the name of the film about bacon?’ Hamlet. You can work up your own line for Ramsbottom. If you need a hint, the town of Ramsbottom is one of the stations on the East Lancs steam line and part of the town is called Upper Ramsbottom. So that’s your mission guys if you choose to accept it. Right now, we need all the humour we can get.
Alfreton’s away record is better than ours at home. The Reds won at York, Stockport and Darlington and have scored in every away League game. Sounds impressive but the Reds went two months without winning in the League. They do have matches in hand on most clubs thanks to their FA Cup run and copped for a live game against Fleetwood. They lost 4-1 but the TV fees and the doubling of the prize money is probably more than a whole season of income through the turnstiles. Am I envious? After last season’s run, yes, I am jealous, not so much of the money but the status and belief a Cup run gave us.
Alfreton last played at Edgar Street as recently as Easter 2014. At the time, it was a Conference League game we thought we had to win to stay up – and we did -just winning 3-2 with the third goal from a very young Jarrod Bowen, his first ever senior goal. From all the players involved on either side, the only name still around is Billy Murphy. That fixture was our last Step One home game and I fear it will be a while before we stage another.
Expectation levels have increased as a result of the much needed victory over FC United of Manchester yesterday, albeit in the FA Trophy. I’ve been celebrating ever since the final whistle but, despite the enjoyment of a thoroughly deserved win, we need to back this up with a performance in the league.