The preparations are over, now its time for the real stuff to begin…..and Dom Di Paola can’t wait!
Yes, the start of another Isthmian League season is upon us and as Dom and his squad make plans for tomorrow’s visit to Premier Division newcomers Canvey Island, the Hornets boss admitted that the match can’t come soon enough.
“I’ve always hated pre-season, whether as a player or manager” admitted Dom, who will be taking charge of the side for an eighth successive season. “It’s felt like a really long summer this year so I’m just really excited to have a competitive fixture again and I know the players feel the same. I’m pretty sure that the supporters must do, too.
“Although we’ve played some decent football at times, I think anyone coming to those pre-season games might have felt short-changed as we were putting square pegs in round holes at times, with players missing through injury, illness, getting married, or on holiday. The only one that mattered, to a degree, was down at Worthing as there was a trophy at stake but otherwise it was all about getting minutes into the boys to get them up to speed.”
With the scheduled matches against Crawley and Dorking Wanderers having been cancelled, Dom’s players have played just five matches this summer, almost half as many as their opponents, but the boss is happy with the fitness levels of his squad..
“It’s not been the pre-season we wanted but the boys are in really good shape. We played a match behind closed doors on Tuesday night and were able to get ninety minutes into Sham, Dan Ajakaiye and Alex Malins, while everyone else got a good run-out too. Kavs just got back off holiday and came straight down from the airport and had a good session so it was a good workout.”
It has been a busy summer for the manager, with no fewer than eight new faces brought into the squad, but Dom admits it is the absence of some of last season’s squad that gives him cause for concern.
“We’ve plugged a few gaps from last season and we’ve got a good squad this year. Dan and Jack (Mazzone) will score goals and we’ve got strength in depth, which is what we wanted. We’re missing a bit of familiarity with lads like Rob O’Toole and Steve Mets not being around as they were strong characters in the dressing room. But that will come as the new signings settle in and the squad gets used to each other. It’s happened before where we’ve lost some big personalities but the new boys, and even some of the younger ones, can step up.
“The injuries to Cooky and Briv are a big blow as they are key players for us, and Harry Osborne has yet to kick a ball for us after having an op. We were hoping Charlie could have been fit and ready for pre-season training but he’s suffered a couple of setbacks so we’re going to be without him for a bit longer, which is a shame for him and us. Jack picked up a bit of a freak injury against Winchester and has broken a metatarsal so will be out for anything up to eight weeks.
“Losing your captain and, arguably, best player right at the start of the season is hardly ideal but it is what it is. I’m not bothered about it. A few other clubs have struggled too, so we’re not alone. We’ve just got to shrug it off and get on with it.”
Looking at tomorrow’s opponents, Dom admitted that the newly-promoted Gulls are something of an unknown quantity. “It’s been very hard to find out much about Canvey as they’re not prolific on social media and don’t always put a lot of detail into their match reports so it’s hard to figure out line-ups and formations.
“We know that they’ve played three or four more matches than us this summer but that doesn’t concern me as I’m happy with our own fitness. We know from when we came into this division that they’ll have that promotion ‘bounce’ about them and they had a pretty good home record last season by all accounts so it’ll be a challenge for us, and a tough start to the campaign, but it’s one we’ll relish.
“They’ve got a very strong attack. They’ve got Danny Parrish, a player we tried to speak to when he was leaving Wealdstone, Evans Kouassie scored thirty-odd goals last season, and Bradley Sach has played National League football for Boreham Wood. It should be a good game and it’s good to get an away game out of the way early on. If I had my way, I’d happily play twenty away games on the spin and get the grass pitches played early before the winter sets in.”
Another battle both sides will face is the excessive heat, with temperatures predicted to hit thirty-five degrees by kick-off. “It’ll play its part, for sure, but we’ve just got to be sensible and manage things in the right way. We’ve been training in pretty intense heat this summer so we should be used to it but it can be a factor in what you do. I remember when we played at Hassocks the season we won the County League and had to drag Jordan Clark off after an hour because he was suffering from sunstroke.”
More than a decade has passed since Horsham and Canvey Island last battled for league points, almost as long as the Hornets have waited to record an opening day victory. That came in 2013 when visiting Eastbourne Town were seen off, thanks to a brace of goals from Gary Charman, and it’s worth noting that the last time the club recorded an opening day victory away from home came at Canvey almost fourteen years ago to the day, in a match in which Evan Archibald and Liam Baitup netted on their Horsham debuts in a 4-2 success for the visiting side.
A further coincidence is that that match marked The Gulls’ return to the Isthmian Premier Division, just as tomorrow’s meeting does, as the Essex club regained their status after a five year stay in Division One North by virtue of a play-off final defeat of Brentwood Town back in April.
An impressive crowd of more than 2,500 saw the islanders win through on penalties after the match had ended in a 1-1 draw, and although there is likely to be significantly fewer numbers flocking through the Park Lane turnstiles tomorrow, a good-sized crowd is in the offing as only Bury Town returned a higher average attendance than Canvey last season.
The two sides have met just a dozen times, all in the league, with the Gulls having enjoyed the better of things with seven wins to Horsham’s three although it’s worth noting that two of those Hornets victories have come at Park Lane, as well as a highly memorable 3-3 draw back in 1995.
What does all this mean for tomorrow? Well, in all honesty, absolutely nothing. But we should be in for an intriguing and, hopefully, exciting and entertaining affair with both sides, not to mention the other twenty Premier Division clubs, looking to put down a marker at the start of another thrilled-packed Isthmian League campaign.
Adults – £12
Concessions – £6
U16s – £2 (accompanied by an adult)
A reminder to all those travelling up on the official coach that departure from the Park & Ride is 11:15am, while those driving up independently will find plenty of parking outside the ground. For directions to Park Lane, click here
Can’t make the match? Then don’t forget to follow us on twitter @HorshamFC for regular updates throughout the afternoon.
Featured image: action from the last meeting between Horsham and Canvey Island, April 2012