Longlevens Surprised UHL Premier Division! - 24 June
After a 3 season run conquering all before them and winning 3 league titles in succession Longlevens first team were promoted in May 2015 and took their place amongst the "pyramid” Level 5 elite clubs of the Hellenic Premier League. A massive achievement for a Club coming from "grass roots” but with ambition and drive.
An excellent pre-season training and friendlies schedule ended with some notable wins against the likes of Gloucester City and Cinderford although not their strongest team(s) fielded, post-match opposition claims abounded at the Saw Mills!
Experienced UHL managers turned pre-season pundits forecast that Longlevens would be the "team to keep an eye on” or "will be the surprise UHL team of the season”. The surprise element was to prove a trump card in the first half of the season League proper.
An historic first ever match at Level 5 at home against an experienced and aggressive; former UHL runners up Highmoor IBIS ended in a narrow and unlucky 0-1 defeat with their substitute snatching a late win.
This was followed by a Longlevens away win 2-0 first ever UHL win on a balmy August evening at Ardley’s sloping ground. Longlevens were up and running.
From here on the Longlevens boys feared no one and well drilled by manager James French their possession style football playing out from the back was surprising many an established UHL team.
A watershed moment came in the game against Binfield at home, whereby Longlevens had outplayed the Berkshire side but only were leading by one goal to nil but two late lapses of concentration including an awful back pass letting in Binfield for two late gift goals and thus a 1-2 defeat that should never have been. The team started to learn the phrase "fine margins” was the name of the game…..teams on the ropes should be finished off and concentration of holding on was needed right up to the final whistle.
However the first team squad had a solid togetherness of 16 players with a great keep ball possession style ethos; great camaraderie and 6-7 quality players who found and matched this level against teams who paid their players, and who one could call themselves "semi-pro” enjoying large budgets.
The UHL "big boys” so to speak were the Thatcham's; Kidlington's (eventual UHL Champions and FA Vase quarter finalists); Flackwell Heath's (season before League winners); Ascot but Longlevens put in some superb performances against these very well organised experienced sides. Often succumbing by the odd late goal but registering wins too notably 3-1 away to a high flying Ascot on their lovely ground backing onto the famous race course. 3-2 win at home to Flackwell Heath
Away from home Longlevens often rose to the occasion and coped with the pressure (and some strange refereeing!) and produced memorable wins at Brimscombe & Thrupp (2-0) ; Bracknell Town (1-0) ; Tuffley derby (2-1) ; Royal Wotten Bassett (1-0 but a sweet last second goal by Brad Martin ) but still the best was winning at Ascot where James French had to call upon the "kids” off the bench to see a brilliant performance out and supress a late Ascot rally lead by their disgruntled substitute who pulled a goal back and "put himself about physically”!
In the cups Longlevens played their first ever game in the FA Vase at Hartley Wintney a very strong team in deepest Hampshire border territory. Longlevens gave a very good account of themselves against a team who ran away with their own league and progressed well into further rounds of the Vase.
Other than capable wins at Cheltenham Sarencens, and home to Clanfield, Longlevens did little progress in the multitude of Hellenic cups. The home defeat to a vocal Bitton team was very disappointing with poor defending particularly heading ability handed the tie to the Bristol team in the GFA cup. With a magical and first FA Cup qualifying round to come next season one hope’s Longlevens show up in the Cups next season!?
The "back 5” defence had been the back bone of the team’s success so far in the season but match weariness and injury niggles started to take its toll as the long season wore on. Goals started being shipped in embarrassingly six at Lydney (beaten earlier in the season at home) and four in the awful second half at Thame. Right back became a problem position to fill and the excellent first choice goalkeeper wasn’t always available. Midfield was always strong and competitive but a few more goals will be needed to be contributed next season, we have one of the best strikers in the League but he lacked support at times. An over reliance on one attacking outlet was a problem towards the end of the season
The team, despite losing 3 good players to go off traveling abroad mid-season, rallied magnificently and for some weeks held the lofty position of 6th in the competitive UHL for a time and comments of "over achieving could be heard”. Then we slipped down to still a commendable 8th but late in the season despite good points accumulation, other teams then caught up with outstanding fixtures played as Oxford City Nomads notably bolstered by some higher level players came and overhauled us. Final 10th place was still commendable. During the season another big loss was the competitive midfielder Dave Rich who broke his leg; then made a comeback against Royal Wooten Bassett but aggravated the injury (he was red carded too!). A full return to fitness pre-season is forecast though for unlucky Dave.
However their first season at this level was superb and the boys and coaching/management team of James French; Tim Hall (multi-tasking Assistant!) and physio/coach Tony Dunn should be very proud of their work and season progress.
At the Supporters Presentation night the individual awards went to Brad Martin ; Jonty Welch (Most Improved Player); Mark Harris (stand in goalkeeper who had stood in bravely against Tuffley and other games post operation!). Ashley Baker club ambassador was awarded Supporter of the Year (not to mention pessimist of the year?!)
At the Club Presentation night the Manager’s awards deservedly went to again leading goal scorer Brad Martin and stalwart left sider Craig Beaton.
The main core squad over the season was Ollie Hall; Mark Harris Luke Kavanagh; Ed Smyllie ; Ellis Sausman; Jonty Welch; Brad Martin; Scott Montgomery; Craig Beaton; Rob Why; Dave Rich; Dave Merrick (thankfully returned late season); Courtney Hamilton; Ryan Dunn; Brad Vanstone; Adam Phillips; Jack Byard . The team was admirably captained by the versatile Craig "Spider” Martin.
Pre-season training commences 28th June and with a few squad additions of reliable and "pyramid” level 5 standard players, then, who knows Longlevens firsts "may do a Leicester?” next season. Cutting out the "fine margins” defeats more should be the theme too. The squad have the team spirit and ability to improve on 10th place next season 2016-17.