The Skrill Premier season is already in full flow, and as if to emphasise the ‘anyone can beat anyone’ nature of non-league football’s highest profile division, all 24 competing teams have dropped at least two points from their first three games.
Cambridge United are the early pacesetters, leading the way from Barnet, Nuneaton Town and Lincoln City on goal difference – with the quartet all boasting two wins, a draw and seven points from the first fortnight of the new season.
Richard Money’s U’s kicked-off their season with a 5-1 thrashing of newly promoted FC Halifax – last year’s playoff winners from Skrill North (formerly Blue Square North).
The visitors had taken an early lead in the game through Lee Gregory, but their chances of success were soon snatched away by two red cards in the space of ten first-half minutes.
Defender Danny Lowe was the first to go for a foul in the Halifax box, with Adam Cunnington dispatching the resulting penalty to level the scores.
Goalkeeper Matt Glennon was soon following his teammate down the tunnel, but substitute stopper Tom Morgan prevented Cunnington making it two successful spot kicks with a fine save.
But with a two-man advantage the home side were the only team likely to come away from the game with all three points. Ryan Donaldson edged them ahead just before the interval, while substitute Delano Sam-Yorke struck four minutes after the re-start.
Cunnington and Sam-Yorke – both new signings for Cambridge this season – each grabbed a second to complete the scoring and wrap up a comprehensive win. Halifax have since responded well, beating Wrexham (3-2) and Dartford (2-0) to sit eighth in the table.
Three days later the U’s made the trip to face their second newly promoted side – Welling United, who proved a far sterner test. Donaldson put the visitors ahead just after the half-hour mark, but Ross Lafayette and Lee Clarke’s quick-fire double meant the hosts went into the break ahead. Nathan Arnold grabbed a second-half equaliser for Cambridge, but they were unable to find a winner.
However, they were back on form last weekend, inflicting Aldershot Town’s first defeat of the season: Joe Oastler’s header into his own net proving the only goal of the game.
Nuneaton are undoubtedly the surprise package of the season so far, as they’ve continued the form they showed towards the end of last season, which enabled them to avoid relegation, after spending much of the year in the bottom four.
Striker Louis Moult – who had recently told local reporters that his team can “stay up there all season” – got the Boro off to the perfect start as he netted the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Macclesfield Town on opening day.
It then took a late Jared Hodgkiss equaliser to deny Nuneaton a famous three points at home to league favourites Forest Green Rovers – with the hosts having taken an early lead via Andy Brown.
Neutrals might have feared the worst for Kevin Wilkin’s side after FGR’s opening day romp against Hyde, when their all-start strike force netted eight unanswered goals, but the home side held their own and were eventually unlucky not to come out of the game with more than a point.
Moult was back on the score-sheet last weekend as he grabbed a brace to end Southport’s (the only team to win their first two games) perfect start, in a 3-1 win. Adam Walker completed the home side’s scoring while Aaron Chalmers netted the consolation.
The success of recently relegated Barnet and well fancied Lincoln City has been far less of a surprise – the former dispatching struggling duo Chester (3-0) and Gateshead (2-1) either side of a goalless draw with Tamworth.
Gateshead’s defeat, their third of the season, also brought about the first Skrill Premier managerial casualty of the season, with Anthony Smith resigning from his position after only eight months in charge.
After being held by Woking on the opening day of the season, the Imps have kicked on with back-to-back victories – defeating Macclesfield 1-0, before upsetting Forest Green 2-1.
Alfreton Town complete the playoff places at this early stage. After losing to a solitary Adam Birchall strike against Dartfordon opening day, the Reds have responded with wins over Kidderminster Harriers (3-1) and Salisbury City (3-2).
One of the key elements to Nicky Law’s side’s success has been new signing John Akinde – who underwent an unsuccessful trial period with Woking during pre-season. The big striker netted a hat-trick in Alfreton’s defeat of Salisbury.
Other than their defeat to Alfreton, Kidderminster have started the season well – defeating Gateshead (3-1) and Braintree (1-0) either side of that loss. They have been comfortably the strongest performers from amongst the group of pre-season favourites, many of whom have started the year poorly.
Despite their huge opening day win, favourites Forest Green are yet to register victory number two – with games against Nuneaton and Lincoln, as already mentioned, producing just a single point.
Luton Town were stunned on opening day as they were beaten 1-0 by Southport despite dominating large portions of the game – Jamie Milligan’s 22nd minute strike proving enough to hand the Sandgrounders all three points. The Hatters hopes were not helped by Steve McNulty’s red card just before the hour mark.
John Still’s side responded with a comfortable 2-0 defeat of Salisbury, but they were in trouble again last weekend as they required a Luke Guttridge strike deep into injury time to spare their blushes and secure a 1-1 draw with struggling Macclesfield – who had been without a point prior to their trip to Kenilworth Road; With expectation levels as high as ever at Luton, performances will be expected to improve sooner rather than later.
Kidderminster’s fellow playoff competitors from last season – Wrexham and Grimsby Town are also struggling a little bit having collected just four points apiece from their first three fixtures.
The Dragons were shocked at Halifax, despite Simon Ainge’s own goal putting them ahead mid-way through the first-half. Lois Maynard equalised, before Josh Wilson (penalty) and Gregory gave the home side a 3-1 advantage. Adrian Cieslewicz set up a grand-stand finish, but it proved to be nothing more than a consolation.
Having been fortunate to beat Welling 2-1 on the opening day, before being held to a 2-2 draw at Tamworth last weekend, it’s been a worrying start to the season for last year’s FA Trophy winners.
The Mariners were held to a 1-1 draw by Aldershot in their first fixture of the 2013-14 campaign, as the Shots began to eat into their ten point deduction with which they started the season, before victory over Gateshead. But they were brought back down to earth last weekend as Lafayette’s goal five minutes from time gave Jamie Day’s Welling side their first victory of the campaign.
In addition to the top four, only Hereford United and Tamworth are still unbeaten this term, with both teams having managed one win and two draws from their opening three games. The pair sit in ninth and tenth place at this early stage.
Macclesfield and Hyde are both without a win but have each picked up their first point of the season – the Silkmen holding Luton and Hyde tying 2-2 with Hereford.
Gateshead, Salisbury and Chester are the only teams yet to pick up a single point this year – with the latter also yet to register their first goal of the season. There have reportedly been some ugly scenes at the Deva Stadium, as the home fans have voiced their dissatisfaction to their start to the year – compiled by a 2-0 defeat to ten-man Woking last weekend.
Aldershot remain bottom, still six points adrift of zero, but they were able to pick up their first win of the season at home to Dartford, with goals from Brett Williams, Manny Oyeleke and Aaron Wickham securing a 3-0 success for Andy Scott’s new look side.
Having started a week later than their national counterpart, the Skrill North and South sides are only two games into their season. Newly promoted North Ferriby United are the early leaders in the former, while Hednesford, Brackley Town and Altringham have also kicked off their campaigns with two wins out of two. In the latter, Bromley, Maidenhead United, Basingstoke Town, Dover, Eastbourne Borough and Eastleigh have all made the perfect start to the season.
Meanwhile, Skrill South outfit Farnborough have yet to kick-off their campaign at all as their financial woes continue. The Football Conference called a meeting between ‘members of its Emergency Committee, the Administrator of Farnborough Football & Social Club Limited, her solicitors and Directors, shareholders & Officers of Boro FC Limited’ for Wednesday, 21st August.
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