Cambridge United took advantage of Nuneaton Town’s stuttering form to move five points clear at the top of the Skrill Premier table.
Having led the league after nine matches, Boro’s three consecutive defeats against Salisbury City, Cambridge and Woking, combined with the U’s seven points out of nine from the same three match-days, cost Kevin Wilkin’s side top spot.
The third of those defeats, which came at Kingfield a week ago – with Scott Rendell and Josh Payne scoring the goals in a 2-0 success for the Cards – led to these comments from the Boro’ boss: “It's nice as a manger when you can go in after a game and pat people on the back.
“Clearly I can't do that today. I try to be consistent as a manager and today I've had to tell one or two some home truths. It had to be said. It was an unacceptable display.
“You have to give Woking credit. There was a real desire about their game. We haven't passed the ball as quickly and attacked it. We lost all sight of what we've done well this season.
“Clearly there was a lack of desire. Too many felt they just had to turn up and it would happen. We never got a grip of the game. Maybe I need to move it round a little bit now.
“I know that three defeats in a row isn’t acceptable. I apologise to the fans for having to witness that performance.”
With their presence at the top coming as a big surprise to many others in the division, it will be interesting to see whether they are able to address this slide and return to winning ways.
Richard Money’s Cambridge have been consistently impressive, and remain unbeaten. They’ve also conceded just six goals in their opening twelve fixtures, while they’ve scored 21. No team betters their defensive record, although Luton Town have conceded the same amount, while only Forest Green Rovers and Barnet have scored more.
They recently defeated pre-season favourites Forest Green 2-1, before thrashing Nuneaton 3-0. Only a 1-1 draw with struggling Wrexham prevented them from moving further clear at the top of the table.
The playoff picture for the Skrill Premier is already looking incredibly tight. To put this into context, the gap between first and second place after twelve games is five points. The gap between second place and thirteenth place after the same number of games is also five points.
Kidderminster Harriers currently occupy third position, a point behind Nuneaton. Consistency has been the major issue for Steve Burr’s side: losing two matches, before winning three consecutively, only to manage just four points from their last three fixtures. They fell to a shock 3-0 defeat at lowly Dartford last month, before recovering to beat Halifax 2-0 three days later. Their latest match ended in a goalless draw with Aldershot Town.
After a difficult start to the season, in which they drew two, and lost three of their first nine matches, as well as suffering from managerial turmoil, Grimsby Town have hauled themselves into fourth. They’ve taken seven points from their last three matches, tying 0-0 with Chester before defeating Dartford (5-2) and Tamworth (3-1).
Braintree Town are, like Nuneaton, another surprise package so far this season, and have risen into fifth place after a run of three straight victories. They beat Southport (1-0) and Wrexham (3-2), before goals from Charlie Strutton, Sean Marks and Daniel Sparkes helped secure a 3-1 success over Alfreton Town.
After winning just two of their opening nine matches, Luton Town’s new look squad looks to have found its feet, and the Hatters are now just a point adrift of the top five. Although a run of three straight victories was ended by a goalless draw with Hereford United last time out, John Still’s side have at last found their scoring boots – netting 10 of their 15 goals in the last four matches.
Lincoln City are seventh. Their fine start to the season looked to be slipping after a run of just one win in five, that also included three defeats, but a 3-0 win over bottom of the table Hyde will restore confidence and should put them back on track.
Two of last year’s promoted teams – Halifax and Salisbury – who both came up via the playoffs, are also continuing to impress, and the pair, like Luton and Lincoln, sit just a point outside the playoffs at this early stage. The latter’s run of eight games unbeaten came to an end in their last encounter, that ended in a 3-1 defeat away at Barnet.
The Bees themselves remain tenth, that success against the Whites marking their first victory in six games. Alfreton Town, Forest Green Rovers and Welling United are also still within one win of the top five.
Hyde remain rooted to the foot of the Skrill Premier table, and are still yet to win a game this season. With just two points, they are six adrift of their nearest rivals, while their eight game losing streak must mean that confidence is extremely low for the Tigers.
Second bottom is Chester, who looked to be improving since losing their first five games of the year. Their next five games brought with them eight points, including wins over Wrexham and Macclesfield, but narrow defeats to Gateshead and Halifax is recent weeks mean they are four points adrift of safety.
Level on points with the Lions are Aldershot Town, although it unlikely that many believe the Shots to be a serious relegation candidate. Indeed, if they were to have back their ten points deducted from them at the start of the season, they would be in thirteenth place, three points adrift of a playoff spot, and that’s despite only picking up a solitary point from their last two matches. Their 1-0 defeat to Welling represents their only loss in six matches.
Woking remain in the bottom four, but are now just a point adrift of safety following last weekend’s success against Nuneaton. Tamworth, Macclesfield Town and, most surprisingly by far, last year’s playoff finalists and FA Trophy winners Wrexham, are all juts a point clear of the relegation zone.
The Lambs only win in their last five games was an impressive one, as they defeated Forest Green 2-1, while the Silkmen, who went without a victory in their first nine games, have now tasted success in their last three outings: beating Woking (3-2), Barnet and Welling (both 2-1).
The Dragons looked to be improving, as they ended a run of three straight defeats with victories over Luton and Gateshead – but they’ve since taken just one point from three matches, losing 2-0 to Aldershot and 3-2 to Braintree before their draw with the league leaders.
Gateshead and Dartford are both just a point better off, although both have won two of their last three games. The former beat Tamworth and Chester before falling to defeat against Forest Green, while the latter picked up victories over Kidderminster and Southport, either side of a 5-2 hammering by Grimsby.
Southport and Hereford United are the only two teams that really represent ‘mid-table’ at this stage, with both five points adrift of the playoffs and five points adrift of the relegation zone.
Elsewhere in Non-League
Skrill South’s run-away leaders Eastleigh and Bromley remain five and four points clear of the chasing pack respectively after both claimed victory last time out – the Spitfires defeating Hayes & Yeading 1-0, while the Ravens scored a 3-2 success over play-off chasing Basingstoke Town.
Weston-super-Mare remain third, but could only manage a goalless draw with Whitehawk in their last game, while Sutton United and Staines Town complete the top five.
In Skrill North, early leaders Altringham have now slipped to sixth after a surprise defeat at North Ferriby United, their first loss of the season – while Hednesford kept their place at the top of the division with a 2-1 win away at Guiseley. Brackley remain just a point adrift of the leaders after defeating Harrogate Town 1-0.
Last weekend saw the second qualifying round of the FA Cup, which saw Rene Steer – a former Arsenal academy player and Woking triallist – take YouTube by storm with his stunning 40 yard effort for St. Neots Town against Canvey Island. However, it was Canvey Island who progressed, winning the replay 2-1 despite Steer’s goal, after an initial 2-2 draw.
AFC Rushden & Diamonds are another notable inclusion in the fourth and final round of qualifying, after they beat Cambridge City 3-2. Atherstone Town of the Midland Football Combination Premier Division is the lowest ranked team remaining in the competition, from level ten; they will host Barrow in round three.
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