“Why is he dressed like a traffic cone?”

Photo by Phil Standfield.

Pre-season is a strange old time. It is a period where results don’t matter and it is all about fitness and shape – that is until you lose two games and it’s going to be a disaster of a year again and the club has gone backwards. A time when you’re happy to see some deadwood depart the club before deciding based on nothing other than a hunch that their replacements aren’t good enough and you’d be glad to see said deadwood back and that all is forgiven. There is either too much or not enough change to the squad with no Goldilocks option in the middle to please all sides, and a time when you get your hopes up about the real issues that make a club tick; is the beer going to be more palatable this season, as in many ways I’d rather see the lager improve than our midfield.

With all those things in mind, it has been a difficult season to gauge Dorch’s progress from afar. So, Tuesday night’s friendly against what was hopefully going to be a strong Yeovil side, would be a pretty good indicator of where we are and would give some sort of insight into what to expect for the new season. With the earlier kick off time at 1900, I waddled my way down to the ground and was pleased to see what was a busy Avenue Stadium by usual matchday standards. There was a sizable Yeovil contingent to boost the numbers but the home numbers seemed very good for a friendly, so that was a positive straight off. Positioning myself on the Bovril just in time to witness Alfie Stanley launch a shot onto the bypass, the usual routine bollocks chatting was resumed with Luke From The Board, Kriss and I running the rule over our summer dealings and scrutinising the XI that was to start that evening’s game.

Two noticable inclusions on our team sheet were the pair of trialists, who for the purpose of this blog shall be named Trialist A, and Trialist B. One was a familiar face, the other not so, and it was the man of mystery in Trialist A who was noticeable both in warm up and in the game. Playing in central midfield and having very good experience in both this league and the two leagues above, he caught the eye of nearly all in the crowd and possesses the biggest set of thighs I’ve seen on a football pitch since Noe Pamarot played for Pompey. The usual faces soon trotted out to the Bovril as the Isaacs, Cranes and others emptied from the bar. I took this as a good time to head into said bar and was pleased to see a bottles of Bath Ales’rather delightful ‘Gem’ available, so electing for that rather than risking a lager, I was a happy man as I resumed my Bovril vantage point.

Noe Pamarot did not skip leg day.

The teams made their way out and a couple of things were immediately noticeable. The first of those was Mark ‘Deadly’ Derrien’s refereeing shirt. It was fresh out the packet as he informed me post game, and given it is what is best described as traffic cone orange, I hope for his sake it fades in the wash before it blinds anyone. Aside from Deadly looking like a cross between someone who will tarmac a road and a carrot, one thing that immediately struck me is that we have some serious height and will not be a physical pushover for any side. Kieran Douglas is a very tall man, and the back three of him, Callum Buckley and new man Keith Emmerson are imposing opposition for anyone at this level. Add to that the fact that Louie Slough is possibly the tallest man to play as a wing back that I’ve ever seen, and we have a genuinely physically imposing side which is something we have lacked at various times over the last few seasons.

Trialist B (this image has been doctored to protect his anonymity). Photo by Phil Standfield.

It was close to a full-strength line up for us but not quite. Harry Dillon was in goal with Brad Snelling absent, Harvey Bertrand occupied the right wingback slot with Louie Slough, the left, and the aforementioned trio of Douglas, Emmerson and Buckley the central three slots. Trialist A and new man, Matty Neale, were in midfield, with Alfie playing the number 10 role behind Shaquille Gwengwe and Trialist B. Well, that’s how Shaq told us the forward set up was post-match. Unsurprisingly, from ground level on the Bovril I couldn’t see a fucking thing about shape really, but it all became somewhat clearer in the second half when I sat in the stand.

Kieran Douglas is not short. Photo by Phil Standfield.

It was as good a side as we could put out, and it was a near to full strength Yeovil as well as we were informed by the Isaacs, who have the grave misfortune of following both Yeovil and Dorchester. They must have been terrible people in a past life. As you’d expect against a team two leagues higher, we spent large parts of the first half, and indeed the game, on the backfoot. An early shaky moment from Harry Dillon saw him fail to gather a bouncing ball but somewhat get away with it as a lucky deflection saw the ball roll away for a goal kick. Dillon would soon settle himself down somewhat with a more alert piece of keeping to stop a volley as Yeovil did most of the early pressing. 

Aside from a tame effort from Trialist B, we didn’t threaten too much, but looked pretty solid in defence. The central three of Douglas, Emmerson and Buckley looked very organised, with both Bertrand and Slough dropping in when necessary to make a very difficult to break down back five. That said, Bertrand was fortunate to get away with giving away a freekick rather than a penalty for a somewhat clumsy challenge after he’d lost the ball in the sun and found himself caught out. Having spoken to the man in the middle post-match, I was assured that this was in fact clearly not a penalty and I must have been mistaken… Trialist A impressed with his physical presence, calm manner and ability to hold off opposition players at will when carrying the ball forward, and his performance probably gave Matty Neale far more confidence to go about his duties as the slightly more advanced of the two. Alfie, Shaq and Trialist B didn’t have much to feed off, but we were looking steady at the back, with a couple of blocked shots and a Max Hunt effort which ended up heading towards the Ridgeway when he really should have scored being as close as Yeovil came.

After topping up my supply of Gem at halftime and bizarrely finding a poppy in the gents, I headed up to the stand for the second half and joined El Generale for a more elevated view of proceedings as we analysed the second half like a budget Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher. Well, maybe more Danny Mills and Phil Neville, but either way, you get the idea. The introduction of the very impressive Ollie Balmer for Alfie at halftime seemed to liven us up a bit and the game became a bit more of a contest. A Kieran Douglas header was easily saved, Shaq had a much better chance but could only poke his effort just wide under pressure from the defender, and two Yeovil efforts were only just off target but the scores were kept level as a fantastic reflex save from Harry Dillon kept our clean sheet intact. There were more subs from each side with Connor Callow, Jordi Foot, Ollie Griggs and Brinley Doyle all coming on, but as the final whistle blew, a draw was probably a fair enough result given the defensive endeavour shown.

The bar had an odd mood of cautious optimism after the game, and I’m not sure any of us quite knew what to make of it. We looked well organised, disciplined, kept a clean sheet, carried a threat going forward against a decent Conference National outfit, and there was a decent crowd in. It all felt a touch surreal. I got the opinion of the man in the middle, who was in a less offensively coloured post-match outfit, in between his slurps of Strongbow and chomps of a Ginsters pasty, and even he seemed to think we had done well. It was all very unsettling compared to our usual post-match post mortem. A lot of the conversation centred on Trialist A and whether we could keep him, and we did see Scott Symes, Glenn and James Wood emerge from the manager’s office with said trialist after a while. Did he sign? I’d have been reluctant to let him leave until he did so, but I understand there are laws against such conduct. On the whole it was actually very good, much better than I had expected. But what to expect from the current squad and the season as a whole?

As a Dorchester fan, you learn not to get your hopes up too much, so the aims for this season are modest at best in that I hope we’ll be clear of a relegation battle at the business end of the season, and that as much as I’d love to see us challenging for the playoffs, mid-table mediocrity isn’t a bad thing after six or so seasons of battling or being reprieved from relegation. 

In terms of the transfer business we’ve conducted, it’s been steady if not spectacular, and I’d like to see another one or two in key positions. I feel we’re a central midfielder or two light and I’d also like to see a goalkeeper more familiar with the level we’re playing at come in. If we can add those before the season begins, be it on loan of permanently, I can see us having a steady season. Without it, I can see us getting overran and struggling to get a foothold in some games. Glenn has been well backed to build his own side by the board and we seem to be on a very stable financial footing, but getting things right on the pitch is always the hardest part with us.

No three quarter lengths in sight. Photo by Phil Standfield.

Defensively we’ve added some quality and experience in Keith Emmerson, Kiean Douglas is a fresh face who comes with a good reputation, Callum Buckley was excellent last season and will play an important role this time around, and Louie Slough never let anyone down in his previous loan spells and is a good player to have around. Jordi Foot returning to the club is an interesting one and I’m pleased to see him back. He had an excellent last season at Shaftesbury in the Wessex League by all accounts, and he comes back a much more experienced player having been at the club in the youth setup for several seasons prior to his Shaftesbury move. With Tiago Sa and Harvey Bertrand likely occupying the wingback slots, it looks as solid a defensive setup as I can recall for a few seasons. 

Going forward, any combination of Alfie Stanley, Ollie Balmer, Matty Neale and Shaquille Gwengwe will cause opposition defences problems. Alfie’s 13 league goals last season were the best return we’ve had in a long time (respectful nod to Tom Bath’s 12 in a relegation bound side in the covid season), and although the other three are making a step up, all do so with good seasons at their former clubs behind them, and all have impressed at various times in pre-season. Shaquille in particular has looked threatening in all the games he’s featured in; this is potentially as potent a forward line as we’ve had since some or the more prolific Mark Morris seasons. The addition of Trialist B would only strengthen this department.

Shaq asking Shane of the ball has crossed the line in our win over Hamworthy. Photo by Phil Standfield.

In goal and the centre of the midfield are the areas I have some concern over. Goalkeepers Harry Dillon and Brad Snelling are either new at the level or have not played it in a considerable while, and we were very lucky with both loanees we had last season in Gerald Benfield and Jack Byfield who were both excellent, with Harry Lee and Alan Walker-Harris not letting anyone down when they featured. I’d like to see a bit more experience or a quality loanee in there again, but will reserve judgement on Harry and Brad until I’ve seen them in a game situation.

365 days a year respect in the DTFC bogs.

In midfield I feel we’re a touch light on experience and quality and it is an area we’ve tended to struggle in over the past few seasons. Tom Purrington is going to be very difficult to replace – I thought he was one of our best players when fit and when he played well, the whole team did. This isn’t to say that he’s irreplaceable, but he’s a big loss. Matty Neale did himself no harm against Yeovil in what is an unfamiliar position, fans and Ollie Griggs will be hoping it’s third time lucky for him as he comes back to the club from Winchester (along with Balmer and Douglas), and the announced departure from the club before re-signing a few weeks later of Charlie Gunson was a strange bit of business. Brinley Doyle is highly regarded and Michael Lilley signing from Exeter is the one we don’t know much about, but having played in the EFL Trophy at his former club, where he was for ten years, he must have something about him. We have a decent recent history of players coming to us from Exeter, so hopefully that continues. A touch more of quality and experience in the middle would be great and would give us a much more balanced side. Will Trialist A join? Can his identity finally be revealed? Who knows, but he would make a massive difference to the squad.

With no relegated side dropping into the league from the Conference South, only teams stepping up a level, it’ll be interesting to see how the quality of the league is. We face one of those sides coming up, North Leigh, in our first game so we’ll find out quite quickly. Some clubs have made some eye-catching signings with Poole, Salisbury and Gosport all getting good backing from their respective boards as they look to make the most of no relegated side looking to bounce straight back. Poole in particular will be hoping their side comes of age as they look to bring home the bacon. Their additions of Toby Holmes, Wes Fogden and Luke Cairney would all walk into most sides in this division, and with a strong squad to begin with, they’ll certainly be up there for my money. I’d love for us to have a good go at making the playoffs this time around, but being more pragmatic, a finish somewhere between 8th and 16th and not looking over our shoulder going into the last couple of months of the season would be a massive improvement on relegation battles, last day survival, or reprieves based on global pandemics or clubs going bust. A 12th place finish and a nice cup run will do at the time of writing…

With our final pre-season game coming this weekend over the Ridgeway in the Fans Festival, that will be another good test and it’ll be interesting to see if Trialist A is once again in the XI. If he is, that would be a very good sign. I won’t be there, I can’t say the festival appeals to me personally, WFC is a place I’ll visit for a competitive fixture and no more. I’ll instead be playing cricket in the surrounds of Buckhorn Weston as I’m a bit of a weirdo. Up the sporting Dorchies, three wins for the cricket club and a good result over the ridge would be good day, and normal service returns for the visit of North Leigh in a weeks time in the season opener -we’ll be clogging a few ale houses that day. SV

For those not travelling over the ridge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s