Despite scoring four goals in the last two away games the Bulls have failed to pick up any points and will be looking to get back into play-off contention with a victory over Alfreton at Edgar Street on Saturday.
However, Alfreton lie 5th in the table and have won seven of their league games so far this season and Russell Slade will be keen for a positive upbeat performance to put Hereford back on track.
The arrival of Stephen Dawson certainly boosted the Bulls midfield and hopefully his drive and determination will ensure a competitive afternoon will re-energise the Edgar Street crowd. Alfreton remain just one point above Hereford in the divisional table and so the three points up for grabs are significant.
Our Derbyshire opponents are quite familiar, though not necessarily in a good way. As United, we battled with them in both the Conference and the FA Cup and of course there were two Step 2 fixtures last season. Historically, the match-ups are rather dull. I did cogitate on previously enjoyable Hereford v Alfreton encounters and the list isn’t overly long. The April 2014 “lose and you’re relegated” Hereford 3 Alfreton 2 game was enjoyable but only in hindsight. At the time, the 90 minutes were desperately tense but with the major highlight of home-grown teenager Jarrod Bowen scoring his first ever senior goal. That was the final home game before the drama at Aldershot. Interesting to note the Edgar Street gate was just over 2,400, lower than this season’s average.
Alfreton are often criticised for their long ball style. By me (though I imagine I am not alone). The Reds played Pulisball at Edgar Street in their 2-1 defeat last year and there were suggestions that manager Billy Heath would get the push shortly after. He didn’t, probably because he was new to the job and his efforts did get the Derbyshire club a dream televised FA Cup home game. That’s not going to happen this season with the Reds going out first time. Our return fixture in Derbyshire was grim with both sides taking turns to thump the poor ball from end to end. Two clubs with limited choice of players knowing that defeat that night wasn’t acceptable. The 1-1 draw looked nailed on long before the end. Two members of the home side’s 16 are now in Hereford’s squad – Martin Riley and travelling man Reece Styche. This is the second former club this season for our penalty-scoring bean counter and there’s at least two more to follow. Possibly even more to come with Trophy Cup draws.
Alfreton aren’t as mature as Radio Hereford’s Frank Williams, 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 limited, topped by their Conference North title in 2011. But let’s not overlook that they did win the Evans Halshaw Floodlit Cup twice.
Unfortunately for Alfreton, this is their 5th season in this League and they are struggling to make progress. They finished lower mid-table in the last two seasons. The Reds are a poorly funded club at our level, summed up as “being run on a piece of string” according one of their stewards and are based in a small, bit-down-on-its-luck town. But that is exactly why Alfreton need their football club, successful or not. Their directors have sensibly kept expenditure in check with their 2018 accounts showing a small debt of £18,000.
Following on from last season when their 8 away wins kept them safe, the Reds have a reasonable road record this term. Winning 4-2 at Guiseley was impressive in what was presumably a Hoof fest. In addition, they pounced on opponents’ shortcomings to record wins at Kidderminster and Leamington. (With the Brakes now having lost 4 straight home games to Step 2 opponents without scoring, it adds some perspective to our victory.)
On the other hand, they lost at Brackley, Altrincham, Kings Lynn and – most surprisingly – at Kettering. It was defeat by a single goal every time as Heath’s men haven’t been given the run around by anyone this season. Alfreton’s nose-bleeding League position is mainly due to their amassing 13 points out of 21 at home. Nine points were collected from a trio of strugglers – Bradford with Brackets under previous management, Blyth and Curzon. As the Reds Gaffer recently admitted to the Derbyshire Times, “the squad is threadbare.”
Their best summer recruit – among a torrent of newcomers – was Amari Morgan-Smith from Telford. With the Bucks, Morgan-Smith was the goal maker but with the Reds, he’s the goal taker. With a degree of envy from this scribe, he’s scored 11 times this season, that is pretty much the same as Hereford’s top 3 scorers combined. But who could have guessed that? The striker will have surprised himself. He hasn’t netted that many since his dozen over a full season in 2011-12. He also surprised whoever edits the Alfreton website, which continues to state “Looks like AMARI MORGAN SMITH didn’t play this season” The fun story about Amari-Smith is that he was caught short twice during a game. Twice he dashed for the dressing room with his team mates left wondering. Now, there’s an interesting question for the Beachsters next player interview. “Have you ever needed a call of nature during a match?”
There’s the usual loanee goalkeeper, for the Reds its Charlie Andrew, coming out of Hull.
Can’t overlook the Business Development Manager of Catapult Sports from Leeds signing a contract. Fortunately, BD Manager Conor Branson is a decent midfielder when not growing his business. With the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and the Marshall Thundering Herd on his CV, no wonder Alfreton grabbed him. Most Heath signings have a West Yorkshire or Humberside link, because of his previous clubs were based there.
Manager Billy Heath is in his second season at the Impact Arena. These days, that is quite an achievement. He came to everyone’s attention by leading a village team to Step One. Imagine Kington FC getting to the National League? That’s what happened to North Ferriby. Sadly, as is often the way when the status quo is torn up, the story ended badly. By then, Heath was long gone and leading FC Halifax into Non-League’s top flight. Success at Alfreton is harder to find for him. Strange as it might seem, one of the club’s biggest assets is their proximity to the M1 and A38. Most of their players are Yorkshire based and so the club is easily commutable.
Alfreton have the third smallest average gate in our Division so the travelling support can choose their own row of seats or a terrace step. Games like this do make segregation seem OTT. But we welcome them as best we can from such a distance.
By Simon Wright