RING OUT THE OLD, RING IN THE NEW
As we (finally and correctly) come to the end of the Millenium, as well as the approximate half-way point in the football calendar, this is an opportunity to take stock and review progress so far. As far as December was concerned, it was another month of varying fortunes on the field. With four succesive league wins consolidating the club's position behind league-leaders Andover, most clubs would be delighted; but the manner of the Linnets' exit from the FA Vase at home to Stotfold gave some cause for concern.
It should perhaps be noted at this point that manager Derek Binns' achievements with the team this season have been against the background of wholesale changes in the squad. While this has meant the loss of a number of what might have been considered key players, new blood has been introduced and performed well thus far. As any football manager will tell you, it takes time to integrate the various talents and ambitions of a group of players and this may go some way to explaining the odd erratic performance up to now.
However, if 2001 is bring to fruition the club's aim of Dr. Marten's League football, it will surely have to be achieved the hard way. With leaders Andover looking virtually unstoppable at the moment and champions Wimborne lurking in mid-table but with many games in hand, nothing can be taken for granted. Perhaps losing the distraction of so much cup football may turn out to be a blessing in disguise!
RUSSELL COTES CUP COMPETITION SUSPENDED
Further emphasising the fixture chaos that is enveloping the Wessex and Hampshire Leagues, the Hants FA have announced the suspension of this charity cup competition until February 2001. The decision has ruffled some feathers amongst competitors, with Havant & Waterlooville of the Doc Martens League in particular expressing annoyance that their scheduled fixture at Brockenhurst, with both teams and a playable pitch available, was axed at the last moment.
However, in view of the various comments made by both leagues in recent weeks, a return to action in February must be in doubt given the current backlog. A glance at the Linnets' own fixture position, with eight league games waiting to be re-arranged, lends weight to this point of view.
This will nevertheless be a disappointment to the club since Lymington & New Milton are the current holders, having beaten Eastleigh in the final at Fawcetts Field last May, and would doubtless like the opportunity to make a continued defence of the trophy.
MATT HUSSEY ARRIVES AS JIMMY SHEPPARD DEPARTS
The Linnets have completed the formalities in signing Matt Hussey, previously with AFC Totton. Matt and his younger brother Stuart left Totton at the beginning of November following a falling out with the club management. Manager Derek Binns was quick to take advantage of the opportunity and offered both players the chance to sign for the Linnets. Stuart signed last month and has already figured in goalscoring action for the club. Now, after observing the 28 day gap required under FA rules, Matt has also joined the promotion chasing squad.
In the meantime, Jimmy Sheppard has been released by the club and, following a number of former Linnets players has signed for local rivals Brockenhurst. It is a condition of the move that he will not play against the Linnets in the Boxing-Day fixture with Brock.
LEAGUE CUP COMPETITIONS SUSPENDED
With the early December weather bringing more yet more fixture postponements, a meeting of the Wessex League management commitee decided, with immediate effect, to suspend the League Cup and Combination Cup competitions; to try to ease the problem. The situation will be reviewed in the New Year.
BRIGHT SPOTS DESPITE THE RAIN
Local supporters might be forgiven for thinking that the monsoon season had reached Hampshire with many fixtures, during what had promised to be a busy month for the club on the field; being washed away. League progress was particularly slow, with the club only able to play one match and that was away at Fleet! In truth, the club was less affected than many in the Wessex league and continuing cup progress by the Linnets as well as other Wessex teams accounted for a number of the league fixtures being postponed; including the much anticipated league encounter with Andover which had already been held over from September.
This may turn out to be a blessing in disguise however, since the first team squad had been significantly depleted by injuries towards the end of last month. Many of those affected are now playing their way back to full fitness and Manager Derek Binns has not been idle during the period, bringing in fresh blood in the form of striker Nick Miles, for whom the club paid £1,000 to Salisbury City, and brothers Matt and Stuart Hussey from AFC Totton. This can only be good news for the club after suffering the departure of a number of first team regulars during the summer and credit must be given to those who have "stepped up" from the reserves in the meantime and not looked out of place.
December brings yet more cup action with the Linnets continuing their defence of the Russell Cotes Cup and anticipating further progress in the Hants Senior Cup with home draws in both of these competitions. Fawcetts Field is also the venue for a third round tie in the F.A. Vase against Stotfold from the United Counties League and expectation must be growing of a repeat of the 98-99 run in which the quarter finals of this competition were reached, although there is no longer the prospect of playing at Wembley to aim for! Of all the scheduled matches however, the most revealing may be the League Cup draw against Wimborne, the first match between the clubs this season following the postponement of the league clash in September. The Magpies have proved tough opponents over the last few seasons and this represents an opportunity to reverse the Cup final defeat of last season.
LEAGUE DEFEATS BUT CUP PROGRESS
No sooner had the plaudits for performance been awarded (see below) than the club stumbled to their first league defeat of the season away at Totton in which former Linnets 'keeper Shaw excelled in proving a point to his former team mates. This was followed at the end of the month by a surprise home defeat at the hands of Thatcham in (it must be said) appalling conditions and the consequent loss of top spot in the league to Andover. Those defeats, while disappointing were, hopefully, only a blip in the club's progress towards the ultimate aim of promotion. Meanwhile, satisfactory progress was being made in the various cup competitions with wins in the F.A. Vase, Russell Cotes Cup & League Cup while November brings the start of the club's participation in the Hants Senior Cup with expectation of progress in that competition as well.
All of which is likely to stretch the club further, with league fixtures dropping by the wayside as cup match follows cup match with the obvious likely consequence of injuries, suspensions etc. Such is the price of success! In addition, the November schedule contains two of what are likely to be the most testing league matches of the season, away games in succession at Andover and Fleet, who currently lie immediately above and below the Linnets and, on recent form, are the clubs most likely to challenge for promotion. It may be recalled with some chagrin that the club's only league defeats last season were at the hands of Wimborne, the ultimate champions pipping the Linnets for the title by a mere 5 goals! Enough said.
CLUB OF THE MONTH
Congratulations to all the players and staff of the club on being voted Daily Echo "Club of the Month" for September. Hopefully there will be more such accolades through the course of the season.
UNBEATEN START TO THE LEAGUE SEASON
Fans and Members of the club could hardly have asked for a better start in the Linnets' campaign to progress up the football "pyramid". September closed with L. & N.M. FC sitting proudly on top of the Jewson Wessex League with a straight run of nine wins from nine league games yielding maximum points. This has been achieved despite the loss during that time of several first-team regulars, through suspension or injury; giving opportunities to other squad members that seem to have been well taken.
All of which augurs well for the rest of what will again be a packed season, with Cup interest in the F.A. Vase, League Cup and Russell Cotes Cup competitions in October, to add to a fixture list already swollen with the addition of two extra teams to the Wessex league this season. In fact, the only blot on the club's copybook, so to speak, was the F.A. Cup 1st Qualifying Round defeat at the hands of Oxford City. Having had an excellent F.A. Cup run last season in reaching the 4th Qualifying Round only to bow out in front of crowd of 1,500+ at home to Aldershot Town, it was disappointing for the club to fall at only the "second hurdle".
GROUND UPGRADE MEETS SOUTHERN LEAGUE
Those attending the club's annual general meeting were assured by football director Terry Morris that L. & N.M. FC have reached the required ground standards for (Doc Marten's) Southern League status, including perimeter fencing and turnstiles. It was the lack of such facilities that denied the club promotion to that league at the end of the last two seasons.
The club intend to qualify for higher status this season and announced the introduction of a second Sunday team, adding to those already competing in the Wessex, Combination and Bournemouth leagues, as well as a youth team which is to be run by Nick Keeping.
A tribute was paid to the senior side by Goff Beck on behalf of the club's landlords, New Milton Town Council, for only failing on goal difference to clinch a second successive Wessex league championship in the two seasons since the amalgamation of the Lymington and New Milton clubs. The club was also congratulated by Mr. Beck "on the manner in which it is run". Thanks were extended to retiring commercial manager David Armstrong, who leaves to take on more radio work and is replaced by John Potter on a commission earnings basis.
Administration director, Denis Nash, praised bar and catering staffs and the band of volunteers who assist the club in many ways. He also stressed that the club intended to retain a community oriented outlook through its involvement in a wide variety of social activities, many of which contribute to general income. Membership secretary, John Thompson, reported that there were currently 719 members. Sewards remain the main football sponsors but concerted efforts are to be made to raise more commercial sponsorship.
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