Ah, back at last to the bliss of football that matters. The traditional curtain-raiser may not exactly set the pulses racing, but it’s probably my only opportunity to whet the appetite before the thing proper has got underway. This time last year we were trying to assess the merits of a new team, in the context of a decent, early workout. This time around, aside from trying to work out who was on the pitch (Welling’s PA is much the same), and getting an early glimpse of one of the two new signings, it was more a case of ‘welcome back, guys, can we please have the same as last season’. In terms of this one game they went one further, winning 4-0 instead of by three. Only I don’t remember is peeing down a year ago.
The teams for both halves were an understandable mix of first teamers and back-ups. In the first, Pope was in goal, Cousins and Evina the full-backs, Cort and Taylor in central defence, Pritchard and Bover in central midfield, Green and Harriott out wide, and Kermorgant and Wright-Phillips up front. Despite the front two, the team drew 0-0, but should have ‘won’ the mini-game. Apart from a slippery surface encouraging a few questionable challenges from both sides, mostly it was a leisurely pace. Harriott clearly has pace to burn, but his shooting boots weren’t on. A couple of times the ball broke to him from decent crosses and he hit/placed them wide from good positions. One was from a one-on-one that BWP failed to convert, their keeper getting in a block. Welling had their best moments just before the break, from a free-kick after Cort clipped one of theirs and a subsequent corner, but it was to be honours even.
The second half saw someone called Sanz Ovejero take over in goal (have I missed something?). Have to say from behind the other goal I thought it was Hamer, but I had to check the club site for the line-ups and seems I was wrong. Solly and Wiggins were without doubt the full-backs, with Mambo and Morrison in central defence. Jackson and Stephens took over in midfield, with Wagstaff and new signing Cook the wider players, and Smith and Haynes up front. But the change on the pitch that attracted most attention was Welling starting with a different keeper, one who appears to be doing his pre-season work in MacDonalds.
This time around the goals came from early on. Solly, who I don’t think knows how to play in second gear, overlapped and sent in the cross which a Welling defender attempted to clear, only for the sliced ball to loop up comically to nestle in the top of the net. Not long after a corner was met by Smith with a powerful downward header. For their keeper it was a case of one over his head and one under his stomach. Welling did hit the post, after a bad slip by Morrison let in their forward, but before long it was three as Haynes turned smartly in the box and was held back. Jackson stepped up to take the penalty and it must have been as apparent to him as it was to the rest of us that anything low into the corner would be beyond the agility of said keeper. The job was duly done. The scoring was rounded off as Haynes met a near-post corner and deftly flicked it in.
So, did we learn anything? For me, the star of the first half was Bover. He sprayed things around, kept possession when necessary, and got up and down the pitch well. Most promising. He seems to have come on quite a bit in the past year from the rather forlorn figure out wide of a year ago. Smith looked decent enough and could be a ‘big guy up front’ back-up for Kermorgant. Both Green and Wagstaff – who arguably both have to prove they merit a starting place in the higher league - had moments, but neither were especially influential. Can’t say I saw much of Cook, but with more fluidity and movement in the second half the chances are I was often confusing him and Stephens.
Barring further signings, we pretty much know – or can rely on – the defensive starting group for the start of the season. Not sure why Hollands didn’t feature in the game (neither did Russell), but I’m assuming he’s a shoo-in for one of the two central midfield berths, with Stephens in pole position to accompany him but Pritchard, Russell, Hughes and – after today – Bover waiting in the wings. Jackson continuing on the left side of midfield, with Green or Wagstaff on the other. Up front Kermorgant and Wright-Phillips are the deserved holders of the shirts, with Haynes, Cook and Smith (and Haynes and/or Nguessan if he comes) the back-ups. Not much has changed, has it? But why should it? What is essential is that the team spirit, determination and character of last season is retained and tinkering is the order of the day.
That could be it for me until we welcome Leicester to The Valley. I’m delighted by the timings of the start this time around as my partner Suzanne will be dragging me off to Italy again for the first couple of weeks of August. Last season I think I missed at least the first three games. This time the hols rule out the pleasures of another visit to Birmingham (no intended sarcasm – OK, just a bit – as my last two trips there ended very well, the 0-0 draw when Sasha Illic performed like Bartram in his prime and kept out everything to deny them a play-off spot; before that it was the Leeds play-off final). Only problem is Suzanne’s extended bloody family. Leicester I can do, but the weekend after – and the visit of Hull – has to be sacrificed for a wedding in Lille. What has happened to French people’s sense of priorities?