END-OF-SEASON REVIEW: Top-four spots just out of reach, but a solid return to Step Seven football for Taylor’s Lilies

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.

Taylor encouraging his players at West Wratting

 

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.

Craig Gillies (pictured) scored 38 in 38 appearances, nine short of last season’s tally

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.”

The Lilies celebrating with the Cliff Bullen Challenge Cup during their promotion-winning season

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.

REACTION: A decision Taylor-made to perfection

It’s been a memorable spell in charge of Chatteris Town for Ashley Taylor.

Two seasons, one promotion, three cups and Step Six ambitions have made an arrival of a young, promising manager turn out to become arguably one of the most successful bosses in the club’s history, in such a short space of time.

His decision to step down from managerial duties may have been a shock at first, considering how far the club has moved on since Taylor took over in 2015, but in his opinion, this was a plan in the making.

“After four years of management, I felt like I needed a break”, he said.

“This was something I have been thinking about for a while and now, I feel the time is right.

“Some people may find my decision to take a step back a little strange, but I am only doing this for the benefit of the football club and I’m confident it will all work out.”

It seems a new resurgence continuing on from the project that Taylor built may well look to carry on into the future, hoping to advance even further into new and improved territory, on and off the field.

Eyes are now firmly in place to search for the successor to Taylor’s throne, trying to build on the status of a football club that is ever-growing and heading in a forward direction, not looking back.

But with this in mind, it seems surprising that the current crop of youthful and able Lilies are unlikely to wilt in light of recent events, let alone due to a top-four spot becoming increasingly out of reach.

Speaking on whether his players could be affected by the news, Taylor stated: “We had a meeting last week, they fully understand my reasons and I will be asking them to finish the season strongly.”

Aspirations to achieve big may be the aim for a club on the up, with Taylor to move into his new role as Director of Football from the 2017-18 campaign as The Lilies plan ahead for their second successive season in the Kershaw Premier Division.

I know what we need to take Chatteris Town to the next level

His expertise from the dugout is set to transfer over to the stands, and one of the main ways of giving something back to the new chief(s) coming into West Street could be useful, as well as futuristic.

“My aim for next year will be to assist the first-team the best way I possibly can, to support the new manager and to make the experience enjoyable for the new management team and players”, Taylor said.

“I know what we need to take Chatteris Town to the next level.

“I feel we need more players, but the players we require I am unable to attract, so we will be looking to find a new manager that can strengthen the squad.

“I will also be looking to make all the teams stronger and I’m very passionate about youth football, which is something we will start on next season.”

So all’s well that ends well for a man that has accomplished something that will be noted in the Lilies’ book of all-time memories.

It’s not often you hear one man achieve so much in the time it has taken Ashley Taylor to fire one team to glorious success, but as they say, anything is possible these days.

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions: An unbeaten run and cup progress the main Lilies’ aims

Chatteris Town manager Ashley Taylor believes his side will improve further if they can maintain their unbeaten run.

The Lilies have made a solid start to the new year with a derby draw against Outwell Swifts in the Kershaw Premier League, followed by a 7-1 thrashing of Over Sports.

But with the next three games, including against two teams in the top half of the table, Taylor remains optimistic the run can continue.

“We now have back-to-back home games against Brampton and Linton Granta and although these are tough games, our target will be nothing less than six points”, he said.

“Come the end of January, if we can have 10 points from 12, I will be very happy and this will be a clear sign that the team is progressing.

“So far, we have got four points out of six, but really, we should have six points in the bag.

“After the Outwell draw, we were left frustrated, but credit to the lads who reacted perfectly on Saturday.”

I’ve been very happy with the additions of Carl Powell and Karl Anderson who have fitted perfectly into our squad

Injuries to key players in the first half of the campaign may have had potential to disrupt Chatteris’ run of good form, but new additions seemed to have steadied the Lilies’ ship, according to Taylor.

“The squad right now is looking strong, even though we are missing Lee Barnett (knee ligaments) and Alex Ashley (hernia), who is out for the rest of the season.

“I’ve been very happy with the additions of Carl Powell and Karl Anderson who have fitted perfectly into our squad and have been putting in impressive performances.

“The Reserve Team is also looking strong now, which makes things a lot easier for me.”

The second string look to maintain their quest for glory by booking a second cup semi-final spot out of a possible three.

Benji Brittin’s men capitalised on their Cambs Junior Challenge Cup exit to Bassingbourn by securing their place in the last four of the Creake Charity Shield with a 1-0 win at Soham United Reserves the week after.

I still feel a top-four finish is achievable, and the younger players pushing into the team is fantastic for their potential

However, the Reserves head-coach thinks cup progress was never so assured after the long festive break.

“Our departure from the Cambs Junior Challenge Cup hit home to the lads”, Brittin said.

“Take nothing for granted, playing teams like Bassingbourn away was never going to be easy.

“Taking a one-goal lead was never going to be enough and the opposition wanted it more.

“Fitness was always going to be key after coming back from a two-week break, so a response was needed away to Soham United Reserves.

“The lads needed to show me the desire they had during pre-season, and although another scrappy cup game, up stepped 16-year-old Brandon Ransome to grab us the winner.”

Cup involvement may have hindered a possible climb up the Mead Plant & Grab 1B standings, with nine points separating them and the top four.

But having played the fewest games compared to any other side, Brittin is confident a top-four spot is still there for the taking.

“The squad is strong and at full strength, which is why I still feel a top-four finish is achievable”, he said.

“Our progress will be a huge test and will be fantastic for the lads and the club.

“The next few weeks will show me who will be regular starters now our cup run in two competitions has taken us to two semi-finals as we now need to work on our fitness and balance to the team.

“Selection for a starting line-up is proving a good headache for me.

“The younger youth players are pushing into the team, which is fantastic as their potential is looking very promising, which is what is needed for our season.

“Overall, it looks like an exciting cup and league run-in to be.”

The Lilies begin a run of three consecutive home league games against Brampton this Saturday (21st January), 2pm kick-off at West Street.

The Reserve Team are without a fixture this weekend, but return to league action next Saturday (28th January) away at Swavesey Institute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Christmas Number One, but progress has been made

It may be argued that Chatteris Town could have improved on their season so far heading into the festive break, but it’s safe to say they have already confirmed their status as a top-flight team.

The Lilies sit fourth in the Cambridgeshire Kershaw Premier League, 11 points adrift of third and 16 off leaders Great Shelford, their first league victims of the campaign back in August.

But after a promising start, a run of inconsistent results has left Ashley Taylor’s men a fair distance behind the leading pack, having dropped 19 points so far.

Winning six of the first eight games of the season saw the Lilies leap into the top four, before a dry patch of four wins from the last nine have seen Taylor’s side fall off the pace and into a battle for top-four status.

With our team being so young, we can only get better

Despite this, Town’s boss remains optimistic with the improvements he has witnessed.

“At this stage, I’m satisfied with where we are”, Taylor said.

“The expectation this season was to establish ourselves as a competitive Kershaw Premier team and so far, we have done that.

“Progress has definitely been made and I would say we are the youngest team in the league, but the best thing about this is we are always getting better.

“With our team being so young, we will only get better, but to do this, we need to all have the right attitude and keep working hard.

Looking for more: Taylor (centre) thinks his side can improve further this season (Credit: Steve Snell)
Looking for more: Taylor (centre) thinks his side can improve further this season (Credit: Steve Snell)

“Having no cup games can only be a positive for us as we can solely concentrate on the league.

“The top three are very strong and this is evident with how the league stands at present.

“We are doing well, but we must believe that we can do better as everything can be improved.”

The Reserve Team look to be making progress of their own having recently rose into the top six following three wins in their last six games in Mead Plant & Grab 1B.

It’s not just the league where things are looking up as the second string’s involvement in three cup competitions has raised hopes of silverware.

Our progress so far has probably been expected

However, advances on the pitch have not been easy to come by.

“The job is tougher than I expected”, manager Benji Brittin said.

“The availability of players has been hard to come by due to injuries and progression into the first-team, but that’s what the Reserves are there to do.

“Losing key players hasn’t helped injury-wise and you accept this in football, but losing them to the first-team, however, is great as it means I’m doing my job properly.

“The league is tougher than the lads first thought, but our progress so far has probably been expected.”

Goals, goals, goals: Brittin believes his side should be more clinical in front of goal (Credit: Steve Snell)
Goals, goals, goals: Brittin believes his side should be more clinical in front of goal (Credit: Steve Snell)

Alongside the difficulties of forming a full squad is balancing progress in both league and cup, which Brittin believes is minimal, although having scored the fourth-lowest amount in the league so far.

“Our progress in the cup hasn’t really affected our league performance”, Brittin added.

“We seem to be up for cup matches, we never give up and our desire to win these games is brilliant.

“Our league form could do with improvement, but we’re now aiming for a top-four finish, which I’ll take.

“For us to improve, we need more bonding and fitness. I’ve struggled to start the same team for two games running, but any side I field, I trust and believe they can do the job.

“We know we’ve not been more deadly with our finishing in and around goal, but we are creating chances all the time and if that was not happening, I’d be concerned.”

Eight wins in thirteen matches has seen Roger Manchett’s A Team climb to second in Mead Plant & Grab 4B, something of a major difference compared to last season’s second-from-bottom finish.

And as Manchett says, there have been a few areas that have lead to his side’s development, including only one home league defeat so far.

“The A Team has made a good start to the season”, he said.

“The players have grown since last year and are playing some good football.

“They are playing for each other and we play an attacking style of football, which is good to watch.

“There is a togetherness about the side and we’ve managed to keep a settled side week in week out.

“There is encouragement within the team and we’ve signed a couple of new players.

“We are currently second, which speaks volumes for the effort the players have put in.

“If we can keep the team together, we aim to finish in the top five.”

 

 

 

 

 

Lilies back on track, but there is still room for complacency

Chatteris Town manager Ashley Taylor believes his side’s current form needs improvement after a mixed run of results.

Since their narrow cup exit to fellow league outfit Fulbourn Institute on 12th October, the Lilies have won and lost twice, the latest victory coming in a comfortable 4-0 win at Sawston United in the Kershaw Premier League.

But Taylor thinks complacency is the reason for their recent downturn.

“At present, I’m happy with where we are in terms of league position, but of course, I’m unhappy with our current form”, he said. “The last few games we have become complacent and not performed to the level that I expect.”

Currently fourth in the Kershaw Premier League table with eight wins and three defeats so far, adapting to life in the top tier of the Cambridgeshire County League doesn’t seem difficult for the Lilies.

After clinching promotion to the top flight last season, plus winning three cup competitions, Taylor’s men know the taste of success, but he feels his team have played well after stepping up a level.

Lilies 1-2 Hemingfords Utd
Stunned: The Lilies let their lead slip in the 1-2 defeat to Hemingfords United (Credit: Steve Snell)

“We have performed well, but we could have done better. I know this and the players know this. The most important thing is we are always learning and improving as a team.”

Captain Stuart Porter, now in his second spell with the club, added: “I think we always knew we had quality in the side, but whether we believed we could win things, I’m not so sure. The team spirit in the side is one of the best I’ve been involved in.”

Home form has been instrumental for Town’s rise, having lost twice at West Street since August 2015, the most recent a 2-1 loss to Hemingfords United.

Speaking on the importance of playing at home, Porter said: “Chatteris sides have always performed well at West Street. We are fortunate with the facilities we have and the outstanding local support we get at every home game.”

Although home comforts may not be the issue, away form may be the current problem to deal with, despite the expectation of the odd bad result.

“We have a very young side, so a freak result now and then is more likely, but it’s up to the more mature players to try and limit these performances”, Porter said.

Confidence all-round ahead of a testing week of fixtures

A weekend of potentially challenging fixtures are ahead for Chatteris Town. The 1st Team, Reserve Team and the ‘A’ Team are all in action tomorrow, but each are not guaranteed an easy ride for what could be a testing time for Ashley Taylor’s, Benji Brittin’s and Roger Manchett’s sides.

Speaking on the Lilies’ visit to eighth-placed Hardwick, Taylor, however, feels there is not much to be nervous about for his squad.

“We are looking forward to the game. We want to be challenged and this is definitely a tough challenge as Hardwick have been blowing away teams so far this season. The game plan will be slightly different as I know Hardwick play a different system, but I don’t think about the opposition too much. The main thing for us is to concentrate on what we are best at and we go into the game full of confidence.”

Consistency has also worked in the Lilies’ favour, having extended their unbeaten start to the campaign with a 3-1 victory away to fellow Kershaw Premier League side Brampton in the League Cup a fortnight ago, followed by a 5-0 demolition of Sawston United. Due to this, there is a growing sense of belief that a run of solid performances can be put together, not just on home turf.

“We proved we can go to tough away grounds and get results”, Taylor added. “No disrespect to Brampton as they are a good team, but this is a tougher test against a team that finished second last season, so let’s be challenged and see what we’ve got.”

The second string face one of their pre-season opponents in AFC Barley Mow in the Creake Charity Shield. Also on an unbeaten run after two straight draws, although not at their strongest, manager Benji Brittin is still optimistic for his players against the Mead Plant & Grab 2B outfit.

“We have, again, a weak squad with a lot of players carrying injuries and who are away”, Brittin said. “New players will be used so I can look at them for later selection, but I have faith in the lads. The mood is strong and positive. We have a quality squad, and once we settle into our campaign, we’ll be okay.”

But even without a fully-fit side, Brittin remains upbeat in terms of squad selection, which could prove to be the catalyst for an upturn in form in both league and cup competitions.

“The balance for my starting eleven is proving difficult, but it’s a nice headache to have. Rotating players will also improve our chances. I’ll pick a starting eleven I think that have worked and proved to me they can do the job I ask. As things stand, I’m happy.

“Cups and trophies are always good for the club and the players. It’s down to the lads if they want it bad enough, and if they do, their football will shine through and win them.”

Two consecutive wins have seen Roger Manchett’s ‘A’ Team climb to second in the Mead Plant & Grab 4B table, but face stiff opponents in Hemingfords United ‘A’ in their third successive league match at West Street.

“The ‘A’ Team have been in good form as the results show”, Manchett said. “We’ve got a good bunch of lads who listen and always try to play football, so the signs are very encouraging.

“Hemingfords won 7-2 last week, so they will be no pushovers, but we will carry on playing the same as the last two weeks as we are creating a lot of chances.”

Things up-front may be running smoothly, but according to Manchett, things may also need to be worked on defensively.

“We will need to be tighter at the back as we are without Matthijs, who has been our captain, and a couple of our key defenders, but hopefully we will get another three points.”

All games kick-off tomorrow afternoon at 3pm.

 

Taylor optimistic against the champions after mixed friendly campaign

Chatteris Town manager Ashley Taylor feels his side are ready for the visit of last year’s Kershaw Premier Division winners Great Shelford after coming off the back of a hard-fought pre-season.

The Lilies return to Cambridgeshire football’s top flight after a three-year absence, but face a tough test in their first league fixture against the team they conquered to win the Cliff Bullen Challenge Cup in April when they meet on 9th August (Tuesday, kick-off at 7.45pm) at West Street.

But after fairly mixed fortunes in a short run of pre-season friendlies, Taylor thinks his players will be able to progress on what they have learned. “The whole purpose of pre-season was to play Step 5 and Step 6 teams, and the reason we did that was because of the success last year”, Taylor said. “I think it’s been a good learning curve because they (the players) have realised that when you do step up, energy levels, fitness levels and the quality has got to be improved. I think we’ve been competitive, which is really good.”

Determined: Taylor's squad prepare for their return to the top flight off the back of a promotion-winning year. (Credit: Steve Snell)
Determined: Taylor’s squad prepare for their return to the top flight off the back of a promotion-winning year. (Credit: Steve Snell)

Although there have been bright areas to see on the pitch, there are still more to be worked on, according to the former Doddington United boss. “An improvement to be made is teamwork. I also think knowhow and experience (can be improved), which we will gain from playing better teams. I think communication is the biggest improvement as we are a young team, so one part of our game we have to work on is giving each other better information and that is what we have been trying to do in training.”

Three defeats, a draw and a win may not be what the doctor ordered heading into the new season, but results are of low value to Taylor, with the main aim of gaining all-important fitness potentially being achieved. “I think fitness-wise and condition-wise, we are good and I think we are ready for next Tuesday”, he stated.

And in terms of facing their next opponents, as well as accomplishing the league objective, it seems weight may have been lifted off the shoulders of the Lilies. “The mood is good because there is no expectancy”, Taylor said. “The expectancy for Chatteris Town this year is to make sure we stay in the league and consolidate, so we have got nothing to lose. For me, there is nothing better than playing against the champions in the first game because it is the biggest challenge; they are the benchmark team so let’s see what we have got.”

Striking quality: the Lilies will need a touch of forward instinct (Gillies, left) if they are to survive. (Credit: Steve Snell)
Striking quality: the Lilies will need a touch of forward instinct (Gillies, left) if they are to survive. (Credit: Steve Snell)

The 2016/17 season could turn out to be a totally different campaign to what supporters and others alike saw last time out, but success could still yet be achieved, just in another form.