Date Posted: 27/06/2018
Progress was the keyword for the Green Lions in 2017-18, as they ended the season three league places higher, 11 points and four victories better off compared 2016-17, when they were entrenched in an Isthmian South relegation battle. GuernseyFC.com summarises a testing but ultimately promising campaign…
There were tough spells, with a club-record eight straight defeats and club-record 14 games without a win set at different times of the campaign, but Tony Vance’s side came out of those setbacks strongly with valuable lessons learned to give fans plenty to be optimistic about for the coming year.
More bad injuries and the loss of star striker Ross Allen midway through the season meant Guernsey had to adjust and meet new challenges that were thrown at them. Vance will be particularly pleased at a new-found steely resilience his side found in tough away games, especially against some of the stronger sides in the division – backs-to-the-wall away points at promotion-chasing Walton Casuals and Carshalton Athletic stick in the mind.
Nine players (Bournemouth loanee goalkeepers Callum Stanton and Will Dennis; brothers Harry and Frank Tobin; teenagers Miles Hardill, Zac Felbabel and Callum Le Lacheur; River Marsh and Bristol City forward Kelechi Akpobire) made their debuts for the Sarnians in 2017-18, while it was also pleasing to see midfielder Ben Coulter return to the island from Australia to help the team for a spell.
Add to all that another positive campaign to build on an outstanding debut season for Thomas Dodds, teenager Charlton Gauvain showing he is already more than just a promising youth, and a real improvement for emerging youngsters Seb Skillen and Paris Pereira, and GFC can look back on a challenging season with a sense of satisfaction – but there is plenty of work still to be done in this transitional period for the club. Fewer fixtures – and therefore hopefully fewer midweek away trips – will be a blessing for the boys in Green in 2018/19.
For the first time since reaching this level, Guernsey kicked off their campaign at home. They looked in fine scoring form as Ross Allen and Dave Rihoy bagged a brace each in a 4-2 win over East Grinstead Town at Footes Lane, with Harry Tobin also catching the eye on his debut at left wing-back.
Narrow defeats to two of the leagues strongest sides, Lewes and Greenwich Borough followed as well as a last-gasp defeat at Horsham with an already-stretched squad, were the first three of a record eight-game losing run that convinced many – prematurely as it turned out – that the Green Lions were in for a miserable campaign.
Having used two different goalkeepers in the first two games of the season, Vance felt he needed consistency in such an important position and thanks to the contacts of former pro Chris Tarif, was able to secure the services of Callum Stanton on loan from Bournemouth, whose calming and communitive presence in the last line of defence, coupled with several point-earning saves and performances were enough to earn him both the fans’ player-of-the-year and young player-of-the-year awards at the end of the season.
The losing run was ended in dramatic fashion in October when the Green Lions came from behind twice and beat Molesey in the last minute at Footes Lane, Paris Pereira netting his first goal in nearly four years to provide one of the most memorable moments of the campaign with both players and fans ecstatic.
Pereira was on target again with what also turned out to be the winner against Faversham Town in the next fixture, and Harry’s brother Frank Tobin coming into the side at the back also helped a sudden improvement of four wins in six – the only defeat coming to title-chasing Lewes at Footes Lane.
Two disappointing back-to-back results at Footes Lane - first being undone three times at set-pieces in a 4-2 defeat to Herne Bay, then blowing a three-goal lead late on to draw 4-4 with threadbare Whyteleafe – dampened spirits somewhat, but comprehensive wins over Molesey (4-2, the Green Lions first midweek away win for two-and-a-half years) and Shoreham steadied the ship once more.
During this time, an ankle injury to Callum Stanton meant Will Dennis, also from Bournemouth, swiftly replaced him between the sticks and was to catch the eye just as much during his 13-match spell.
Ross Allen also announced at the end of November that he was relocating to New Zealand, but a thrilling attacking display in a 4-2 win over VCD Athletic in early December suggested there was plenty of life in the side without his goals.
However, things were about to take another turn for the worse with poor performances and results over the Christmas period halting the Green Lions’ progress. This included a meek 3-1 surrender at home to Horsham on Boxing Day and allowing a nine-man Hythe Town to snatch a point at Footes Lane before 2017 was out. Another blow was struck when teenage forward Robbie Legg, who was showing signs that he could become a prolific scorer for the club saw his progress derailed with a serious knee injury against Walton Casuals that will keep him out for the whole of next season.
This form continued into the new year and it was to be 14 games – a club record – before the Green Lions were to win again. Vance later admitted that experimention with different styles during this period (with safety virtually assured with Shoreham being miles behind anyone else with only one team going down from Bostik South) perhaps contributed to his side losing their way for a while.
Towards the end of that run, though, Ben Coulter’s return to the island helped bring resilience back and with Vance opting to return to basics, the final six games of that winless run included five hard-fought draws - and an unlucky narrow defeat away from home in midweek - against several strong sides to suggest that elusive win was just around the corner.
The most memorable was holding on for a 2-2 draw at free-spending Walton Casuals on a Tuesday night with more than a starting XI’s worth of key players out and two inexperienced teenagers making up the bench – Dave Rihoy’s nephew Callum Le Lacheur actually made his debut as a substitute aged just 16. Stanton was back from injury by now and made some vital saves as his defence faced wave after wave of attacks, amongst which they took a shock 2-0 first-half lead, including Charlton Gauvain’s first goal for the club. River Marsh’s debut for the club in this game made him and brother Keanu the fourth pair of siblings to represent the club after Jason & Luke Winch, Kieran & Liam Mahon and Harry & Frank Tobin.
During the early part of this resilient spell, Kelechi Akpobire arrived on loan for four games from Bristol City and gained vital senior experience as he endeared himself to the Footes Lane faithful with his hold-up play and hard work up front. He netted from the spot to earn a 2-2 draw at Thamesmead Town at Footes Lane, a team the Green Lions had recently been beaten 5-0 by - a clear example that GFC were tightening up at the back.
When that win finally came against Sittingbourne (3-0), it was more vindication than relief for Vance and his side after a real improvement over the previous few weeks. Stanton was a hero again in the next outing, as he and his outfield team-mates (again understrength and without a recognised senior striker due to the Muratti semi-final) put in a backs-to-the-wall display to keep out eventual champions Carshalton Athletic in a 0-0 stalemate on the club’s first official supporters’ away trip.
The Sarnians actually went eight games unbeaten as the steered themselves away from those scratching around in the basement towards the mid-table pack.
Ryan-Zico Black’s return to form was topped off with his first goal of the season away to Shoreham in a 3-0 win and the Green Lions followed that up with an excellent away display to see off Herne Bay 3-1.
Three defeats – one last-gasp to South Park in midweek after perhaps deserving to actually win it, and two heavier-looking ones to high-flying Corinthian-Casuals and Cray Wanders where the final score was somewhat harsh on the Sarnians – surrounded an exciting 1-1 draw with Phoenix Sports in GFC’s final home game of the season. The crowd was also treated to the long-awaited return in goal, and also the swansong, of veteran Chris Tardif, who came off the bench to a great reception for the first time since breaking his leg midway through the previous season to make his 200th appearance. The now Muratti coach announced his retirement after the game.
Alex Le Prevost and Dave Rihoy also reached their double centuries during the campaign, while Jamie Dodd became the second player to make it to 250 appearances. Kieran Mahon also reached a century having missed most of the previous two years with a serious shoulder injury.
In addition to Stanton’s double, the end-of-season awards saw a consistent Alex Le Prevost earn the coaches’ player-of-the-year and Manelanders’ player-of-the year awards as well as Dave Rihoy’s second consecutive dozen-goal haul earning another golden boot and Charlton Gauvain’s maiden strike for the club against Walton Casuals being voted as goal of the season.
Look out for a review of the Green Lions’ season in numbers on the website soon.