It’s been a frantic start to the Skrill Premier season, with two games in three days for teams over the Bank Holiday weekend meaning that the table is already starting to take shape.
Barnet, Cambridge United and surprise package Nuneaton Town are currently in a three-way tie at the top of the table, with the Bees leading the way on goal difference.
Edgar Davids’ side picked up four points last weekend after holding fellow high-flyers Nuneaton to a 1-1 draw, before defeating nine-man Braintree Town 3-0.
Barnet dominated their match against the Boro’, but managed to convert only one of their countless chances – when Luke Gambin beat a defender before squaring for Jake Hyde to slot the ball into an empty net – his fourth goal in as many games.
Curtis Weston and Keanu Marsh-Brown both came close to adding to the hosts lead, but the visitors talismanic striker Andy Brown grabbed the equaliser, bundling the ball over the line from a couple of yards out.
The league leaders were in much more clinical form at Braintree on Monday, although they were well aided by red cards to both of the Irons’ two centre-halves: Dean Wells (after just three minutes) and Alan Massey (after 32).
It took until the second-half for Barnet to make their breakthrough, but goals from Marsh-Brown, Mark Byrne and Hyde eventually secured a comfortable victory.
Nuneaton were back to winning ways as well on Monday as they stunned last year’s runner-up Kidderminster Harriers at the Liberty Way Stadium.
Steve Burr’s Harriers led from just the fifth minute after Anthony Malbon’s early goal, and seemed certain to claim all three points. But Louis Moult grabbed a leveller seven minutes from time before a handball from Kyle Storer handed Nuneaton a stoppage time penalty. James Armson saw his first effort saved by Harriers keeper Daniel Lewis, but kept his cool to slot home the rebound.
Cambridge remain in second place, above Nuneaton thanks to their superior goal difference, as they too picked up four points out of a possible six last weekend.
Luke Berry scored the only goal of the game to end Lincoln City’s unbeaten start to the season, before the U’s held Luton Town to a credible 0-0 draw at Kenilworth Road, making it three back-to-back clean sheets for Richard Money’s side.
Despite the defeat Lincoln still occupy one of the two remaining playoff spots, and sit in fifth place – behind Grimsby Town on goals scored. They responded well on Monday as they beat last year’s FA Trophy winners Wrexham 2-0 thanks to a brace from Ben Tomlinson.
Meanwhile, the Mariners will be feeling much more positive about their start to the season after consecutive wins over the Bank Holiday weekend catapulted them into fourth, after Rob Scott and Paul Hurst’s side had managed just one win from their first three matches.
They defeated Alfreton Town last weekend, with first-half goals from Liam Hearn and Joe Colbeck putting them in control before Patrick McLaughlin extended Grimsby’s advantage shortly after the break. Defender Nick Fenton grabbed a late consolation to leave a 3-1 scoreline.
On Monday, substitute Alex Rodman grabbed the only goal 18 minutes from time as they defeated Hyde at Ewen Fields.
Last year’s Blue Square North playoff winners Halifax Town have, like their predecessors Nuneaton, been surprising more than a few people this season – and they sit just outside the top five on goal difference at this early stage.
Indeed, things could have been even better for the Shaymen had they managed to hold onto their two goal at advantage at lowly Macclesfield Town last Saturday.
Lee Gregory and Kevin Holsgrove scored twice in five minutes to put the visitors in control, only for Jack MacKreth to pull one back just before half-time and Scott Boden to snatch an equaliser eight minutes from time.
Holsgrove was on target again on Monday, netting four minutes from time as Halifax defeated Southport 1-0.
While Grimsby and Kidderminster (who sit seventh) have enjoyed relatively fruitful starts to the year, it’s been something of a strange first month of the season for many of their fellow ‘favourites’.
Forest Green Rovers have struggled since their 8-0 demolition of Hyde on opening day: winning one, drawing two and losing one of their following four games. Last Saturday they were held to a goalless home draw by Luton before, on Monday, they scraped a 2-1 win at Chester thanks to goals from Danny Wright and Matthew Barnes-Homer. Ben Mills scored the home side’s consolation.
Luton themselves have so far fallen some way short of their fans lofty expectations – winning just one of their opening five games and netting a worryingly low three goals, although they have also conceded just two. Two goalless draws over the Bank Holiday weekend hardly promoted them as the team to watch for neutrals so far this season.
And as already alluded Wrexham have endured a miserable start to the season, collecting just five points out of a possible 15 so far this year. The Welsh giants preceded Monday’s 2-0 defeat against Lincoln with an equally disappointing 2-2 draw with Hyde.
They fell behind early at the Racecourse Ground when Tom Collins converted an early penalty, but goals from Kevin Thornton and Junior Ntame looked to have put them back on track. However, Jay Harris’ red card shortly before half-time left them to hold onto their one goal lead with ten-men for over an hour. They almost made it, lasting until second-half stoppage time, when Ntame was adjudged to have handled the ball in the Wrexham penalty area and Scott Spencer converted the resulting spot kick.
Looking towards the bottom of the Skrill Premier table, Aldershot Town remain bottom, although they now require just three points to reach parity and wipe-out their ten point deduction.
Shots boss Andy Scott will have been disappointed with his team’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of Salisbury City last Saturday, but the Hampshire-side responded well to defeat Woking 2-1 in Monday’s much anticipated local derby.
Chester still remain without their first points of the season and are the only team to have recorded five successive defeats. Last year’s runaway Blue Square North champions will be desperately disappointed, and a little surprised with their start to the year. They did at least manage their first goal of the season last Saturday in a 3-1 defeat to Kidderminster, before striking again in Monday’s defeat to Forest Green.
Gateshead are only one point better off. They recovered from a 2-1 defeat to Southport last Saturday to finally get off the mark for the year against Macclesfield on Monday. They did it the hard way however, coming from two goals behind to draw 2-2. Club supporters will no doubt be hoping that the second-half goals from Carl Magnay and Liam Hatch – which cancelled out the brace from Scott Boden – will offer a boost to the squad’s confidence and performance.
Hyde complete the bottom four, although they have improved greatly since their opening day battering at the hands of FGR: a draw with Wrexham and a narrow defeat to Grimsby over the Bank Holiday weekend showing clear signs of their improvement.
The struggling trio, along with Macclesfield (who have three draws), are the only teams yet to record a win in the division this season.
Meanwhile, Eastbourne Borough are the early pace setters in Skrill South, collecting ten points from their first four games. Maidenhead United are the only other team that are still unbeaten this term, they have seven points, but also have a game in hand. Bromley, Basingstoke Town and Dover Athletic complete the playoff places with nine points out of a possible 12. Due to their on-going financial issues, Farnborough are yet to play a game this season and sit in last place with no points.
Over in Skrill North, Altringham lead the way having taken maximum points from their first four games. Hednesford and Brackley are just behind the leaders with ten points out of a possible 12, while North Ferriby United and AFC Telford complete the playoff places. Surprisingly, league favourites Stockport County have continued their free-fall of recent years, and sit in 21st place with just one point. Only Gainsborough Trinity are yet to get off the mark this term.
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