Billericay travel to Hampton & Richmond Borough FC this week-end after a narrow victory versus Welling at the Steel Stadium on Tuesday evening.
The Blues in sixth position, with form showing three wins and that solitary defeat at Chippenham, face a Hampton side anchored at the bottom of the table after four consecutive losses. Widely tipped to struggle, the Beavers have not been helped by a tough starting set of fixtures including title tips, Havant & Waterlooville, Chelmsford City, and Hemel.
In recent years, after winning the Isthmian Premier title in 2016, Hampton have established themselves once more as a successful National South outfit. Under previous manager, Alan Dowson, who took over in September 2014, the team from the Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames reached the play-off’s in 2017 and 2018.
Falling short only on penalty kicks in the play-off final to Braintree Town, Dowson moved on to take the Woking job in May 2018. He was replaced by Gary McCann, an experienced Isthmian Premier boss with ten successful years at Hendon. After a promising start, a poor run in the second half of the season saw the Beavers finish ten points clear of the relegation places in 15th position.
With average gates of just over 600 for the last campaign, the Beavers profit from a core of loyal support at the Jezzards Beveree Stadium. Like any prudent non-league club, finances are tight and need to be carefully balanced. At the helm is new Chairman, Jacques Le Bars, installed in May 2019 after several years familiarising himself with the role as vice-Chairman under Graham Wood. Le Bars, as the godson of the late club President, Alan Simpson, has strong links to the club. Nevertheless, the start of his sole tenure in charge heralded an announced change in structure with a much reduced playing budget and decision to run with a younger, less experienced squad.
With financial pressures dating back several years, and rising maintenance costs this season due to a required ground update to meet League requirements, changes were perhaps predictable. The previous campaign also had the benefit of the extra monetary inducements provided by a much needed Fa Cup run that ended at the Beveree in front of the TV cameras versus Oldham Athletic. There remains a glimmer of hope for the Beavers on funding due to the success of former player, Jamal Lowe. Transferred to League Two Portsmouth back in early 2017, he recently moved on to Wigan and Hampton & Richmond should be due a cut of some sort from the fee negotiated.
On the playing front, it has been a story of wholesale change with only five of last season’s squad retained. Two youth team midfielders, Jamie Hope and 17 year old, Joe Wotton, good enough to trial with La Liga side, Real Mallorca this summer, are also elevated to the first team cohort. Of those remaining, Tyrell Miller-Rodney offers his pacy threat on the right side from either full-back or further forward, ex-Hendon winger, Zak Joseph, has featured in pre-season, and tricky ex-Stoke City winger Ryan Hill, 21, has been a regular option from the bench. Striker Danilo Orsi-Dadamo, with 11 goals last campaign at East Thurrock and Hungerford, stays on. Finally, commanding, but injury prone, defender, Luke Ruddick, brings much needed experience to a young back-line.
Summer signings have been largely focused around the retained core group, a couple of experienced, headline recruits, with the remaining berths filled by a combination of either players able to make a step up from a lower level, young prospects released by professional League clubs, and a couple of short-term loans of teenage defensive players from Sutton United.
Recruitment strategy has led to a downgrade of expectations for the team and the bookies were quick to tip Hampton to struggle this year. With 12 goals conceded in four matches, and no points so far, it has certainly not been a comfortable start for this inexperienced Hampton side.
Of the principal incomings, well-known, highly capable National South veterans have been recruited. Goalkeeper, Laurie Walker, formerly custodian at Hemel Hempstead arrives on a year long loan from Wycombe Wanderers, where he is also involved in coaching duties. At the heart of the defence, centre-back, Dean Inman, and former Billericay record signing, provides much needed aerial strength.
With Ruddick currently unfit, alternative centre-back options utilised include 20 year old Charlie Fox, released by QPR, 19 year old Ed Cook, formerly at Burnley, and Sutton United loanee, Brad Pearce. The remainder of the defence consists of ex-Tooting & Mitcham right-back, Tom Jelley, back for his third spell with the Beavers and, at left-back, either another Sutton loanee, Jude Mason, or recently arrived, Ruaridh Donaldson, previously of Scottish League Two side, Stenhousemuir.
It is all change in midfield with McCann utilising Louis Stead, supporters player of the year at step three side, Beaconsfield Town FC last season, the experience of Shaun McAuley, back for this third spell at the Beveree, and creativity of ex-Basingstoke Town player, Sam Deadfield as options centrally.
Out wide, Miller-Rodney takes care of the right side, with ex-Walton youngster, Cole Brown a useful alternative from the bench in that position. On the left, ex-Slough Town winger and Barbadian international, Louie Soares, got his first start in mid-week with Ryan Hill also able to provide the dynamism on either flank if selected.
With manager McCann still to find the right blend, selection is governed by the nuance of which system is used. With the three opening fixtures supported by a 3-5-2 formation, poor results brought a fresh outlook and switch to a more traditional 4-4-2, which better suits traditional full-backs such as Jelley and Donaldson as well as allowing Miller-Rodney to play further forward.
As yet, the lack of an experienced partner for Inman – with Ruddick unavailable to date – and perhaps the requirement of a stronger presence in midfield look to be subjects that could require attention if fortunes are to improve in the near term.
One area that Hampton look to be comfortable in is the important one of scoring goals. With seven strikes registered in four games, no side preserving a clean sheet against the Beavers, and Havant given a real scare by the marauding Hampton front-line in a narrow 4-3 win at the Beveree, attacking options look healthy.
Already catching the eye is 18 year old striker, Tyrone Lewthwaite, a close season arrival from Rotherham United. A Northern Ireland U-19 international, he has scored in every game this campaign, registering four goals, and looks to be the chief danger man for Billericay. Strike partner Orsi-Dadamo, also a nippy finisher, rather than a physical presence, has chipped in with a brace against Havant.
With the victory over Welling in mid-week acting as a positive tonic, Billericay travel to Hampton in good spirits. Manager, Harry Wheeler, appears to have settled on a flexible 3-5-2 formation with capacity to tweak the system according to match circumstances.
After a fine performance, particularly from the midfield, changes to the side after Welling are likely to be minimal. Should Wassmer’s suspension kick in subsequent to his recent dismissal, a competitive debut for Gavin Gunning in a back three looks possible. Otherwise, the main selection question must be whether striker, Robinson merits inclusion from the start, rather than residing on the substitutes bench, with Louis Ramsay possibly dropping out.
The Blues know how to win at Hampton, recording a 2-0 win in the League there last September and a narrow 1-0 victory in the FA Trophy match in November, courtesy of a Robinson penalty. Given current form of both clubs, this is a fixture that, on paper, looks to be an away victory.
Football, however, has a nasty habit of throwing up surprises and Hampton have the attacking resources to cause the Billericay back-line more discomfort than they encountered at home to Welling. It is a game that looks to have the promise of being s high scoring affair with plenty of entertainment for all supporters.
Live match coverage from @btfcliveradio will also be available via the Billericay Town club app, free to download via google and apple.
Hampton & Richmond Danger Man: Tyrone Lewthwaite
Has hit the ground running at National South level with a goal in every game to date. Pacy and a good finisher, he looks to be a real threat for the Billericay back-line to negotiate.
Last Billericay Town Starting Line-Up (3-5-2) v Welling (H) Won 2-1
1 Alan Julian; 2. Craig Robson; 3. Callum Kennedy; 4.Charlie Wassmer; 5. Ronnie Henry; 6. Alfie Potter; 7. Moses Emmanuel; 8. Doug Loft; 10.. Jordan Parkes; 11. Matthew Rhead; 14. Louis Ramsay.
Form: W, L, W, W
Last Hampton & Richmond Borough Starting Line-Up (4-4-2) v Oxford City (A) Lost 2-3
1Laurie Walker; 2. Tom Jelley; 3. Ruaridh Donaldson; 4. Shaun McAuley; 5. Dean Inman; 6. Charlie Fox; 7. Louie Soares 8. Louis Stead; 9. Danilo Orsi-Dadamo; 10. Tyrone Lewthwaite; 11. Tyrell Miller-Rodney
Form: L, L, L, L
Last Season Meetings (National South League):
6 April 2019:
Billericay Town 1 (’69 Emmanuel) Hampton & Richmond Borough 3 (‘8 Sotiriou (pen); ’12 Bray; ’90 Joseph)
29 September, 2018:
Hampton & Richmond Borough 0 Billericay Town 2 (’6 Robinson ; ’56 Kizzi).
FA Trophy (3rd Qualifying Round).
26 November, 2018:
Hampton & Richmond Borough 0 Billericay Town 1 (’73 Robinson (pen) ).