Suffolk and Essex collide as football makes welcome return
A NEW club, rookie managers and just two players signed on.
That was the unenviable situation facing Glen Knight and Brad King when they were handed the reins of the newly formed Maldon & Tiptree.
But arming themselves with playing targets even before their interview with chairman Edward Garty, the pair have slowly built a team capable of challenging for the top spots in the Ryman League Division One North.
And with Tony Tucker in fine form in goal and 13-goal Joe Sweeney and Colchester United loanee Craig Arnott leading the line, they will have a perfect indicator of how far they have come when fellow contenders Needham Market visit Park Drive this afternoon.
King said: “When we took over in pre-season, we had just two players - Paul King and James Abbott - so we had to build a whole new team. Even before we were interviewed, we had a shortlist of players we wanted and we managed to get about 80% of them in.
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“Glenn and I might be young managers but he was an experienced player and I have been involved in the Ryman League since I was 17. We wanted to sign proven players at this level as it is a tough league where you have to grind out results.
“Some have had to drop down a level or take a pay cut but it is testimony to the players that they have wanted to do this.”
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Maldon go into today’s fourth versus third clash having won eight of their last 11. A predictable slow start given the pre-season upheaval has become a thing of the past and with both sides going into the match missing players through suspension, a much tighter affair is predicted than when Needham won the corresponding fixture 4-0 in August.
King said: “I wouldn’t read too much into that match - we’re certainly not. We went into that game with a very small squad and probably four or five of the players who will start this time weren’t even at the club in August. I think when we have our strongest squad available we can be a match for anyone.”
Needham have been the league’s frontrunners since virtually day one and have three players, Craig Parker, Nathan Stone and Sam Newson, who have amassed 33 goals between them.
But Maldon are no slouches in that department either. Sweeney is the league’s second top scorer - Parker is the first. And the Maldon striker has been joined by Arnott who has settled in quickly since his loan move from the Weston Homes Community Stadium.
The link-up with neighbouring professional clubs is something the management duo have quickly taken to. Right back Ade Osifuwa, brought in two months ago on loan from Southend, has been one of the star performers.
Maldon’s remarkable progress has not gone unnoticed with King admitting that they have had to contend with numerous seven-day approaches for their players - keeper Tucker and Sweeney being the prime targets.
With the Ridgeons League not playing until Monday, the spotlight falls well and truly on the Ryman League where AFC Sudbury host Heybridge Swifts in another cracking Suffolk-Essex encounter.
In the Blue Square Bet South, leaders Braintree Town travel to Bishop’s Stortford and Chelmsford host Thurrock.