A two-horse race for the SIL Senior title
With 2011/12 and 2012/13 winners Ipswich Valley Rangers stuttering, it looks like being a head-to-head race between Achilles and Grundisburgh as to which team is crowned 2013/14 champions.
Achilles have been the “nearly-men” for so many years in the Senior League, having fallen at the final hurdle on numerous occasions in previous seasons.
Two runners-up spots and a third-placed finish in their last four season proves this.
However, Lee Osborn’s men have been in scintillating form so far this season and with a healthy lead at the top of the table, as things stand, could this be their year?
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Possessing a top manager in Osborn, Achilles are an experienced outfit who can boast one of the best players in the league in Chris Leys.
And if they are to end the years of hurt, much will depend on whether Andy Coote can keep producing his impressive goalscoring form.
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Coote’s 16 league goals in 15 games this season have often turned one point into three for his side and if the talisman can continue in that same rich vein of form, it would be hard to look beyond anyone other than Achilles for the title.
Achilles’ closest rivals and arguably only serious competitors this season look to be Grundisburgh.
After a slow start which featured three defeats in six, including a 5-0 thumping to Felixstowe Harpers, Steve Moore and Mickey Squirrell’s men have ignited their title push this season and have been in unstoppable form of late.
Grundisburgh are currently unbeaten in 12 games in all competitions and demolished Leiston St Margarets 8-0 in their most recent league game.
Another vastly-experienced side, it seems Grundisburgh are growing stronger as the season progresses with Dean Tournay-Godfrey in particular in inspired form after scoring 14 league goals so far this term.
Five points separate Achilles and Grundisburgh as things stand and they are the only SIL clubs to still be in the Suffolk FA Senior Cup, and will face each other in a mouth-watering New Year fixture tomorrow.
There are still a lot of games to play after this encounter but psychologically, whoever triumphs should have the confidence to push on and stake their claim for the league title.
Much will depend on tomorrow’s outcome.
If Achilles win, they will go eight points clear and, having shown that they really mean business this season, could finally end their wait for the elusive trophy.
However, having just signed Liam Scopes and Aaron Churchyard from Woodbridge Town – players with proven quality at a higher level – Grundisburgh might just triumph on Saturday and pinch the title from under Achilles’ noses in what promises to be an epic final half of the season.
Other runners and riders
Ipswich Valley Rangers will feel aggrieved at not being included in the race for the title but after going on a winless run of six games where they only picked up two points out of a possible 18, they are very much off the pace at the top.
And although Rangers, who possess a trio of attacking talent in Josh Trenter, Chris Dennett and Clarke Bruce, will argue they can still challenge, with plenty of points still to play for, their catastrophic run, which included a heavy 4-0 defeat to Crane Sports, may just condemn them to a third-placed finish.
The return of centre-half and vice skipper Leigh Hammond is crucial as they look to assert themselves in the coming weeks.
One team that will be there or thereabouts is Felixstowe Harpers United.
Under the guidance of Ian Watson, a former winner as a player of the SIL with Grundisburgh, Felixstowe are always in the mix for the top spots come the end of the season.
And after an indifferent start to the season, where there was a lot of change in personnel, sure enough, Harpers have started to put together a run of results that has seen them creep up the league.
Nine wins from their last 13, including a 5-0 demolition over Grundisburgh, have propelled Watson’s men into third as things stand and the Felixstowe side, who finished in third place last season, are very much the dark horses for the title this campaign.
Capel Plough have emerged as this season’s surprise package.
Under Archie Arnold and Pat Tynan, Capel have established a good side, possessing a resolute, determined bunch of players who all work their socks off for each other.
Eight wins from their opening 11 fixtures left the 2009 Suffolk Senior Cup runners-up challenging at the top of the table in November.
However, a recent mini-blip which saw them lose to close rivals Achilles and Cranes, as well as incur defeats in the Senior Cup and Bob Coleman Cup, has knocked them off their perch a little.
Although challenging for the title may now be out of Capel’s reach, despite still maintaining games in hand, Arnold’s men will be sure to replenish their efforts in the New Year.
But they will have to be on their ‘A-game’ straightaway as they host Felixstowe Harpers followed by Grundisburgh when they return to league action.
Crane Sports are another team who made an impressive start to the season.
After winning six of their opening seven fixtures, Cranes, semi-finalists in the 2013 Bob Coleman Cup, showed they meant business in the opening stages.
But Iain Radnor’s men then lost focus for a spell and gained only one point out of a possible 15.
They recovered sufficiently though, just before the turn of the year, with high-scoring wins over Capel (4-3), IVR (4-0) and Stanton (7-3).
Cranes tend to score a lot but also leak their fair share of goals.
Top six prediction
3. Ipswich Valley Rangers
4. Felixstowe Harpers United
5. Crane Sports
6. Capel Plough
As with any league, the Touchline SIL senior is as unpredictable as they come.
I think Grundisburgh will win the league with Achilles in second.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the likes of Haughley United, Wickham Market and East Bergholt United try and force their way into the ‘Europa League’ places of the SIL Senior in 2014.