Chatteris Town boss Ashley Taylor believes his side can reign victorious on rival territory as they begin their pre-season campaign tomorrow.
The Lilies tackle March Town at The GER on Thursday (7.45pm kick-off) in the annual Bill Salisbury Memorial Cup fixture, their first test of a five-match friendly programme, in which they seek to reclaim the prestigious trophy back from the Hares after losing 1-2 at West Street last summer.
Taylor’s men have only had three training sessions since completing their return season in the Kershaw Premier Division in May, but he feels this is not a major issue against higher opponents.
“I’m optimistic and will always go into a game believing we can win”, Taylor said.
“March are a few weeks ahead of us in terms of preparation, but the lads have kept themselves in good shape.
“It would be nice to win the cup for Bill Salisbury’s family and if we do win, it will be good for our confidence with March being higher-level opposition.”
Activity off the field is in full flow for Town, having lost two star players from last season in Craig Gillies and Aidan Hollis to King’s Lynn Town and Wisbech St Mary respectively in recent weeks.
We are looking at all options right now – Ashley Taylor
And Taylor is committed to looking far and wide to replace them, but also wants to utilise pre-season for other reasons.
He said: ‘The main aim is match fitness, but also cohesion in the team, working on patterns of play and building team spirit.
“It (Gillies’ and Hollis’ presence) impacts how we used to play, but we are looking at changing the way we play this season and if we get things right, we will be fine.
“We will be looking to improve our squad in defence, midfield and attack.
“I would like to bring in three new players, but this is never easy with a lot of competition to sign new players.
“We are looking at all options right now.”
Pre-season training for the Reserve Team has began, while sessions for the A Team get underway tomorrow.
Reserve Team sessions run every Monday and Wednesday from 7pm at West Street, with A Team sessions, from tomorrow, running every Tuesday and Thursday thereafter, same time and venue.
New and current players are all welcome.
Friendly schedules for both sides have yet to be confirmed.
It may be the biggest challenge of his career so far, but one that he’s certainly ready for.
Striker Craig Gillies’ switch to step three King’s Lynn Town, who ply their trade in the Evo-Stik Southern Premier Division, may leave some wondering if he can succeed at a higher standard.
But Gillies, who netted 38 goals for step-seven Chatteris Town in the Kershaw Premier Division last season and finished runner-up in the league’s golden boot, is confident he can compete a few levels above than what he has been used to.
“Step Three is a massive step up and I really like the challenge to see how I can compete at that level”, he said.
“I enjoyed my time at Lynn last time and performed alright.
“I played three, scored three, but with work commitments, it was difficult at the time.
“I am going there with the intentions to score goals and win games, so hopefully it goes to plan.
“The club’s ambitions are to get promoted and be challenging along with a good cup run, so hopefully I can contribute well to that.”
The Lilies front-man has signed a one-year deal with the Linnets after impressing Lynn manager Ian Culverhouse, having previously featured for the club’s reserve side last year.
But Gillies admits there are still areas that can be bettered.
“There are a couple of aspects to my game I know I need to improve, but hopefully with a coach of Ian’s calibre, he can help get the best out of me.
“I had several other offers from clubs in different leagues, but when I knew Ian was interested in signing me, it was a massive privilege.
“From someone who has such experience was a big plus for signing for Lynn.”
The 25-year old forward also had strong words for Lilies boss Ashley Taylor, who has overseen his development since teaming up at Doddington United.
“Ash has been amazing since we first joined forces at Doddington.
“I have so much respect for Ash and I’ve loved playing every second for him.
Having not reached the heights of what many may class as a successful 2016/17 season, Chatteris Town A have still achieved progress.
The A Team won 11 from 24 league games this campaign, six more than the previous year, and finishing one place higher in eighth, with an increased number of fixtures played compared to last season’s 18 matches.
Just over two goals a game were scored in all competitions on average, which adds to the impressive record the A side had at West Street, losing just four games on home turf, including an unbeaten run lasting over four months.
And with such a good-looking set of statistics, manager Roger Manchett is proud of what his players have accomplished one year after narrowly avoiding relegation.
“The A Team has had the best season in years”, he said.
“(Home form) was very important and we had a lot of support this year.
“We have improved our goal rate on previous seasons and as a team, created many chances with good attacking football.”
Manchett’s men were front runners during the first period of the season, but slowly fell away into mid-table, which he believes was down to one main reason.
It’s very hard when players get taken and none come back down – Roger Manchett
“We lost players at crucial times”, he added.
“Before Christmas, we were top of the league and then we lost two players – my goalkeeper and right-back/goalkeeper to our Under 18 manager who left the club – which was a big blow for us.
“I then found another goalkeeper only to lose him to the Reserves due to their ‘keeper being injured.
“Sadly for us, this happened when we were playing the top teams in the league.”
Despite losing key squad members, young forward Matthew Walshe was one of the most influential players for the A Team, netting 16 times in 23 games in all competitions, finishing as the team’s top goalscorer.
With Walshe’s impact on the side, Manchett feels fortunate to have kept him for as long as he did, but also thinks other areas of the team, particularly in defence, should be optimised for improvement.
“Matt Walshe is a player that always has a goal in him.
“We were very lucky to keep him this season as I believe he should have been with the Reserves, and when he did get the chance, he progressed to the first-team.
“He is a bright young talent.
“The loss of the ‘keeper didn’t help with goals being leaked and we are always looking to improve on this home and away.
“I want to improve on fitness, start training a lot earlier and want to train the A Team and develop them as a team.
“It would be nice to have a good cup run as it creates that winning mentality, which is always a good thing.”
Even higher expectations are set ahead of the new season as Manchett wants to develop the A Team further, but being able to even field a line-up could prove to be a major stumbling block.
“My ultimate aim would be to gain promotion, but as the A Team are the third team (in line), it’s very hard to when players get taken on a Friday or Saturday and none come back down”, he said.
“As a club, this needs to improve or the A Team will just get further away from the Reserves and then it’s too big a step up or down for players.”
For next year to be an even greater success, it seems the ever-present player shortage issue that looms over Chatteris Town A has to be minimised if development is to become a realistic possibility.
From cup agony to a possible promotion, it’s been a season of near misses for Chatteris Town Reserves.
Losing two cup finals and finishing nine points behind second spot may make head-coach Benji Brittin reminisce on what could have been.
Compared to the 2015/16 season, the second-string were five places better off in Mead Plant & Grab 1B after finishing eighth, perhaps showing signs of progress.
However, Brittin believes more can be achieved in the next campaign, with the added bonus of first-team assistant manager Sean McKay, who will step in as joint-manager at the start of the 2017/18 season.
“On the whole, I’m pleased with the season”, Brittin said.
“A cup final and a top four finish was our aim.
“I think we’ve surprised ourselves with what was achieved; two finals, a quarter-final and third place, wow! I want to better that next season.
“We won’t stop at just one possible trophy; we want all three, along with promotion.
“Bringing in Sean as joint-manager will be brilliant and we both can’t wait to get started.
“We have great expectations with what Sean and I have planned next season already.”
It hasn’t always been plain-sailing, with players having to switch teams, plus the regular worry of injuries and other absences.
Losing both finals in seven days was soul-destroying – Benji Brittin
Despite potential problems with inconsistency and misbalance within the team, these haven’t caused any major downfall to the Reserves’ trend of results, according to Brittin.
“Players stepping up or even down at times caused a problem balance-wise in setting the team up, but with that said, all involved have done brilliantly.
“We are what it says on the tin: Reserves.
“We support the first-team as and when and those who have done did the job well.
“Our squad was strong enough to cope with what was thrown at us.
“In all, I’m very pleased and would like to thank everyone who played for me when asked.”
Even though there wasn’t a damaging plummet in form or possibly performances, there was one time that Brittin thinks could have changed the end-of-season outcome for his side, particularly in the league.
“Up to the finals, we were buzzing, but losing both in seven days was soul-destroying”, Brittin added.
“Sitting them down and getting them believing in themselves again was the key.
“Once we did that, our run spoke for itself and I’m very proud of them.”
The Reserve Team were red-hot in front of goal, averaging over two a game in all competitions, scoring four or more in a single match on 13 occasions.
Defensively, it’s been a different story, having kept just seven clean sheets all season, but this hasn’t dampened the head-coach’s praise for his numerous goalkeepers.
“Goalkeepers have been a problem this season.
“We’ve used a total of five ‘keepers this season, all have been fantastic.
“Jordan, Matthijs, Ryan, Ben and Ed have all done brilliantly.
“Goals came from everywhere, which is good.
“We are planning working with individuals and improving their game and we are lucky to have great coaches at the club now, willing to help and progress players.”
Progress has been there to admire, particularly at West Street, which acted like a fortress having lost just once there all season, and on the road, only six defeats in 16 fixtures were accumulated.
There are great times ahead and silverware is a must – Benji Brittin
Even so, there still could have been further improvement from Brittin’s men.
“West Street has been a great place to be this season”, Brittin said.
“To be honest, our away performances could and should have been better.
“Vital points were dropped and we made sure we learned from those losses and put the results right in the return leg.
“Injuries and a lack of players in certain games didn’t help, but we learnt from these issues.”
With high hopes for success and targets to overcome missed chances at glory, Chatteris Town Reserves’ search for supremacy looks to begin early.
Plans to build on eight months of promise and heartbreak are already in the making as Benji Brittin looks to make the second-string’s quest for stardom a reality come next year.
“A huge learning curve has been taken on board by myself”, he said.
“I’ve learned a lot and will use this to take the team forward.”
“Our aims for next season are keeping the team together and bringing in a couple more players to strengthen the squad and push for promotion.
“Having Sean as joint-manager will make this happen.
“A good pre-season is planned and there’s always room for improvement on and off the field with the players.
“The league is important next year and finishing third must make us favourites.
“There are great times ahead and silverware is a must.
“The 2017/18 season is going to be the Reserves’ season to remember.”
Perhaps not a season to remember compared to last, but it has been a solid return to the Cambridgeshire top flight for Chatteris Town.
The Lilies finished fifth in the Kershaw Premier Division after spending much of the season in the top four spots, having not enjoyed the successes of the 2015-16 promotion-winning campaign.
But one success is for certain and that’s consolidation, the aim which departing manager (at the moment), Ashley Taylor, set out for his side in August, which was exceeded by a long stretch.
I believe we are a top four team right now – Ashley Taylor
Even so, a year that has gone above and beyond initial targets could have got even better, potentially once Taylor’s decision to leave his managerial post at the end of the season was made.
“When I made my intentions clear to the team midway through the season, our performance levels dropped and also the injuries we have had”, Taylor, who is set to become the new director of football at the club, said.
“In my opinion, I believe we are a top-four team right now, but this season, we lost very important players at crucial stages of the season.
“I know and the players know we could have done better, but we have to be happy with a fifth-place finish.
“Overall, I think we have had a good first season back in the Kershaw Premier League.”
Town endured a run of one win in six games between February and April, a time where Taylor believes cost his side dearly.
“I think this was a crucial time where we lost ground on the top four.
“I knew at the start of the season, we were going to experience tough times where we would have back-to-back defeats and it’s all about how we dealt with the tough times.
“Generally, I was happy with how we stuck together and tried to find solutions to come through the tough moments.”
Hitting the back of the net wasn’t a cause for concern, converting 86 goals from 38 games in all competitions, 45 of those at West Street.
However, they accounted for very little in terms of victories against any of the teams above them, claiming just one win during the season, which Taylor thinks is down to one reason.
“We relied too much on Craig (Gillies) to score this year and the other teams around us simply had more firepower.
“Since I’ve been manager, nine times out of 10, we have put in excellent attacking performances at home and it’s created excitement within the town.
“Attendances increased because of the way we go about attacking the opposition.”
Striker Gillies was the team’s top goalscorer for the second successive season, with 38 goals in 38 appearances in all competitions, which his predatory instincts in front of goal can help inspire the youth within the squad, according to Taylor.
“Craig’s been a role model this year and any young player that wants to do well in the game should just look at his application and attitude towards the game.
“The lad’s a born winner and he’s not missed a game this season.
“He deserves all the credit coming his way and he’s been very important to our success.
“Craig’s been important, but so has every player that has played for us this season; it’s all about being together as a team.”
Since Taylor’s arrival in 2015, The Lilies have been through arguably their most successful time in the club’s history, winning promotion, three cups and achieving a top five place in the Kershaw Premier.
And in his view, there’s more development on the pitch to come next season as the Fenland outfit’s bid for promotion to the Thurlow Nunn League was cut short in March.
“Our pre-season was spot on last year, hence why we started so well, but this is all down to the new management team.
“This is a team that can only get better.
“Most of the players in our team have not reached their full potential yet with their best years still to come.
“If they stick together, I see very exciting times ahead for this football club.”
With a new manager set to be announced before the start of the new season, it seems Chatteris Town’s hopes of progression look to be enhanced as they try to improve on a strong start to life back at Step Seven.
University may not have been an easy choice to make, but over the past year, it has been a decision worth taking.
Life as a first-year degree student has been a different kettle of fish than first thought; tonnes of support, forming new friendships and best of all, learning in an ideal and comfortable environment.
Although nervous of what to anticipate back in September 2016, receiving these beneficiaries has made learning at Post-18 level an enjoyable journey so far.
The convenience of the location is also second to none, providing the opportunity to study in the comforts of your own home, one major reason for choosing University Centre Peterborough ahead of other more established institutions.
Even though the Multimedia Journalism course could have included other additions in its first year, understanding the core skills, plus the impact of modern technology on the industry, as made me want to pursue my aspirations of becoming a sports journalist even more.
On top of this, the level of teaching and guidance could not have been any more efficient in striving to achieve one of my personal goals in succeeding at university, with the added benefit of learning from a miniature class size.
It’s these reasons that I hope to continue making progress as a trainee journalist.
It seemed to be all over. A career-changing injury looked to have spelt the end of Craig Mackail-Smith’s dream of playing at the top level, a dream well on its way to becoming achieved.
A fruitful spell of form with Championship side Brighton and Hove Albion cut short by one moment of despair, but something that hasn’t tarnished a life-long ambition. “Mentally, it was tough because at the time, I probably had 11 goals in 22 or 23 games, so I was on a good run of form”, a cheerful Mackail-Smith said. “I still feel I can play in the Premier League and I will never give that dream up until I retire.”
Out for 15 months whilst looking on from the sidelines since arriving in 2011, it has been a gruelling road back into the fold for the former Seagull, still feeling he “would’ve had more of a contribution if I didn’t get injured.” But what’s happened is in the past, and now he feels “fantastic”.
“I’ve had to work really hard over the last four years to get myself back into this condition and hopefully, the injury is a distant memory. It’s an injury I’ve had and it’s an injury I’ve learned from so hopefully I can push on and be injury-free.”
Times like this haven’t come often for the 33-year old, but “if the opportunity never came about, I probably would have gone to university and have chosen a different pathway”, whilst a striker on the up at non-league Dagenham & Redbridge. But even before then, life could have been shaped a very different way.
Looking back, it was probably the best move to make
“Between 16 and 19, I worked at Wilkinson’s, Asda and Homebase and these jobs gave me money at the time.” Although a starting point in the world of work, this was never the ideal destination, only if he “didn’t work hard or put the effort in, this could end up being my life.” An offbeat proposition ahead, but “knowing I had other options, which relaxed me a bit”, the ideal career was soon becoming reality.
Signing his first professional deal with local club St Albans was the platform for progress, but although not his entire spell went accordingly, “it was something I wanted to do and it was a step in the right direction”. Understanding the differences between youth and senior level was a key learning curve in his development, as “it didn’t matter if you were 16 or 26, they would boot you, kick you, and I had to grow up fast.”
Getting noticed by higher-tier teams was the aim for Mackail-Smith, arriving at The Daggers in 2004, an opportunity that was grasped with open arms. “It was a great experience and it was a fantastic atmosphere to be in”. Promotion to the Football League and an international appearance for England ‘C’ soon followed, but although leaving to pastures new was always on the mind, “it was hard to say goodbye”. A move worth making, in the end.
“Looking back at it, it was the probably the best move to make”. Peterborough United’s new unrecognised signing transformed into a 102-goal club legend, at a team “moving in a direction that I wanted my career to go in, and that was forward”, easily resisting temptation for another move away.
Birmingham and Charlton just two of the teams interested in Craig’s services, even though “some of the moves were pretty good and if it wasn’t meant to be, I wanted to achieve something at Posh.” Indeed he did; three promotions in a four-year stay wasn’t bad going, his tenure being “amazing and I was very lucky.” Debuting for Scotland was another career highlight, preceding what setback was to come.
I feel like the old Craig is coming back
“I didn’t feel my career was ending”. A bold statement from a man who has endured the highs and lows of a footballer’s life. “It was disappointing to leave Brighton and I was hoping to stay in the Championship, but that’s the way everything went”, before ending up in League Two with Luton. Not a wrong move by any means, but “an ideal fit to get myself strong again and get myself back in the shop window”, after such a long absence.
A desperate need for games encouraged ex-employers Posh to sign Mackail-Smith for a second loan spell, which now, “I feel like the old Craig is coming back”, a move sparking from the fact he couldn’t play “four, five, six games in a row” to regain fitness and “get my body back into good shape”.
Turning a father may have affected the game of a determined striker, but actually, it “gives me the ability to come home earlier and spend more time with them”, alongside life as the son-in-law to someone he knows pretty well in Barry Fry. “He’s got fantastic energy and he’s someone I can go to”, something Mackail-Smith hopes his children have, but also his “’never give up’ attitude.”
It is with that mentality that, even with injury proving to hold him back, Craig Mackail-Smith’s ambition to reach the top could still be as clear and achievable as ever before.