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Getting to know the opposition – Alfreton Town

By Jacob Greenwood
Woking play their fourth game in seven days when Alfreton Town visit Kingfield on Saturday.
The Cards come into the game off the back of a 3-0 loss to a strong Cambridge United side which seemingly ended their late surge for a play-off spot.
Gavin Williams scores in Woking's 3-1 loss at Alfreton earlier in the season
Gavin Williams scores in Woking’s 3-1 loss at Alfreton earlier in the season
The Reds have had an impressive season and find themselves just one place outside the play-off zone with six games to play. We talked to Alfreton Town reporter Ashley Wilkinson to find out more about the Derbyshire side.
You have looked like strong play-off contenders but just dropped out of the top five with your defeat to Aldershot Town on Tuesday, do you still believe you can go up via the play-offs?
It’s not going to be easy but if this season has proven anything, it’s that Alfreton Town like to upset the odds. Who would have predicted at the start of the season the Reds being in the play-off mix come April 2014?
The Aldershot defeat was worrying in one sense; the performance was one of the worst of the season. The Shots were quicker and stronger in midfield and largely dominated at the Impact Arena, which has truly been a fortress for the Reds this season (they have only lost 3 games at home this campaign). 
The lads didn’t come off the pitch necessarily too downbeat, just incredibly angry and frustrated at themselves. They know they are capable of much, much better and if I know this Alfreton team, they’ll be itching to make it right on Saturday. 
The playoff race isn’t over yet and although the teams around them have a game in hand, Alfreton’s run-in consists of three teams they have already beaten this season. Saturday will be a tough away trip but the lads know that they still have an excellent chance of finishing in the top 5.
You have surprised quite a few people this season, how much of the credit has to go to Nicky Law for getting this team together on one of the smaller budgets in the league?
Nicky deserves massive credit for his approach to this season. When the reversion to part-time status was announced at the end of last season, Nicky told me that staying in the division would be a huge task. But rather than complain about reduced budgets and tight purse-strings, Nicky has been extremely pragmatic in both the transfer and loan markets. First-teamers Bradley Wood, Chris Westwood, Nick Fenton, John Akinde, Jon Worsnop and Shaun Harrad all joined over the course of the season on free transfers while the likes of Godfrey Poku (Mansfield), Lathaniel Rowe-Turner (Luton) and Michael Hoganson (Derby) have all arrived on loan. 
Law let a number of players leave last summer, from Ben Tomlinson’s acrimonious departure to Lincoln to Anton Brown, Leigh Franks and Ashley Worsfold all left to join Skrill North side Harrogate Town. In their place, Law has assembled a squad with greater experience of non-league’s top-flight and that has shown in his side’s performances this season.
Also, don’t believe some of the Twitter rumours you hear about “significant backing” and “sugar daddy’s”. Having spoken at length with both manager and chairman about the club’s finances, it’s clear that Alfreton’s team has been assembled on a lower-table budget. Much lower.
Your ground got approved by the Football League earlier in the week, has that been a moment of realisation that you could be playing in League Two next season?
I think it’s been a realistic goal ever since December. After being thoroughly demolished by Luton 5-0 at the Impact, Alfreton went on a run of five straight wins over Kidderminster, Wrexham (twice), Dartford and Southport. That took us to third and we stayed in the play-offs until the recent 1-1 draw with Nuneaton (with Braintree’s 0-0 with Halifax later on in the week knocking us down to 6th). 
The ground approval from the Football League is subject to expansions taking place in the event Alfreton stay in League Two, and the Chairman Wayne Bradley told me that within three years the current ground would be “unrecognisable”. The problem is that, with attendances falling in spite of the great progress made on the pitch, life in League Two may not be financially sustainable. 
But that’s not going to deter this squad, who are absolutely determined to take a play-off spot.
 
John Akinde trailed with Woking in pre-season and Garry Hill was keen on signing him. However, he joined Alfreton and is now your top scorer, what does he bring to your team?
Well so far, 16 goals and a focal point for a potent Conference attack. John is not just an excellent target man but he can finish superbly (if at times a little erratically), capable of turning in near-post crosses and 20-yard worldies in equal measure. 
 
His pace is deceiving for a lad of his size, and when he has the ball at his feet it is damn near impossible to take it off him. He has great awareness of the defenders around him, able to take the ball into those tiny pockets of space and keep the ball away from the defender’s foot. John is absolutely devastating when he’s on form, he can be scary to defend against but he can equally drift out of games when not getting sufficient service.
Who else will Woking have to look out for on Saturday?
Shaun Harrad is a League Two centre-forward currently playing in a Conference side. I was hugely surprised when Bury released him and even more surprised when he signed a contract at the Impact Arena, only because I fully expected a club in the Football League to pick him up. His movement and running off-the-ball is excellent and he’s as capable as Akinde of finishing chances.
 
Dan Bradley can play across midfield but is most effective on the right-wing, where he can utilise his pace and charge at full-backs. Bradley Wood has converted from solid right-back into extremely solid central midfielder and Jon Worsnop has been outstanding in goal since signing from FC United in December.
 
Finally, what is your score prediction?
Tough one. At the moment I’m being considered a jinx by some at the club, as the Reds were winning games while I was covering Burton Albion games. Now I’m covering Alfreton again they’ve not won in 4!
 
If Alfreton can get the ball down in midfield and play, then they can beat any team in this division. But they need to react to their defeat Tuesday night in the right way. I think they will and for that reason, I’m sticking my neck out and saying Alfreton will win 3-0. 
You can follow Ashley on Twitter at – 
Photo by David Holmes – A full set can be viewed at wokingfc.co.uk

Getting to know the opposition – Alfreton Town

Woking travel to Derbsyshire on Saturday in search of their second win of the season. Things haven’t been going to plan of late for the Cards, who have lost their last three games, and they now face a tough game against Alfreton Town who boost a 100% home record so far this season.

Garry Hill now has a full-strength side to pick from as Josh Payne comes back from suspension. They also now boost further attacking options after bringing in Rodrigo Branco and Kema Darboe.

Betsy celebrates during Wokinga's 3-0 win last season
Betsy celebrates during Wokinga’s 3-0 win last season

I talked to Reds fan Ashley Wilkinson @WilkinsonAshley to find out more before our trip to the Impact Arena.

Hi Ashley,

After two solid seasons in the Conference Premier, do you see yourselves as an established Conference side now or are you still wary of relegation?

I’d say Alfreton Town are an established Conference side by any definition. They successfully avoided relegation in their first season, avoided that old cliché of “second season syndrome” and improved their position last campaign, and this one has begun with victories over very good Kidderminster and Hereford sides.

Relegation was probably at the back of some minds, but the Reds never looked in serious danger. They left it late to confirm their status in a very tight bottom half of the Conference Prem, but this season, despite reverting to part-time status, all the noises are about building once more.

What are your realistic expectations for this season?

 As I mentioned, Alfreton have reverted to being part-time after two seasons, which has inevitably meant cuts to an already shoestring budget. Despite that, Law has built what many think is the finest squad the Reds have had at the Impact Arena. The departures of key players like midfielder Anton Brown and striker Ben Tomlinson have been nullified; ex-Burton veteran John McGrath anchors the Reds’ midfield superbly and Tomlinson has been replaced with a number of hungry, young forwards such as Danny Wishart from Hayes and Yeading.

With that in mind, you would have to expect Alfreton to build on last season’s 13th. But with the side only training two nights a week, anything around midtable would be a superb accomplishment. I think the Reds will surprise a few this season.

You’ve won 3 and lost 3 so far this season, which include good wins against Hereford and Kidderminster, what is the mood among your supporters after six games?

 Home form at 100% and away form at 0%, it’s hard to have a more mixed start to a season! The home performances have been, without hyperbole, superb. Kidderminster were played off the park and the Reds really should have been four or five up against Hereford by the time Josh Law hit a 90th minute winner (they’d hit the woodwork three times). The mood amongst fans is one of cautious optimism, I feel. This has been, by and large, a good start to the season for part-time Alfreton and if Law can toughen up his defence and midfield on the road, you feel the Reds are capable of big things. Playoffs may be just out of reach, but with a bit more luck and some steel…who knows??

 John Akinde was trialling with Woking in pre-season but it was then revealed you offered him a better deal than ourselves, has he been a good summer signing?

 Akinde has been excellent since signing, and it’s clear this is a division below his level. He arguably isn’t at 100% and, given his record of 4 goals in 4 games (including a stunning hattrick against Kidderminster), you feel there’s still more to come. He’s become the focal point of Alfreton’s attack and, much as I hate the “good feet for a big lad” cliche, his composure on the ball does surprise given his height and build. He uses his strength to bully defenders, as all good target men should, and he doesn’t let it get taken from under him often. He wasn’t at his best v Forest Green and spurned several good chances inside the area, but you take a game like that for what he offers you in a game like Kidderminster.

Who else should Woking fans be looking out for on Saturday?

 McGrath, as mentioned, knows the non-league game like the back of his hand and will look to break up attacks before distributing out wide. Dan Bradley is an excellent “box-to-box” midfielder and is capable of killer passes, blinding runs and top quality goals, as is his wide-right man Josh Law. Nick Fenton is a man machine at centre-half and makes up for a slight lack of pace with a superb aerial presence. Keep an eye too on Wishart, who has come very close to opening his Alfreton account so far.

It’s Non-League Day on Saturday, do you think this will help boost your crowd?

 Possibly, and hopefully. Alfreton’s gates have fallen in recent years as ticket prices have increased, and with two well-supported league clubs nearby in Derby County and Burton Albion it’s difficult to get people through the gates. But Non-League Day, along with the fact that Derby are on an international break, will hopefully see a few more tickets sold.

Finally, what is your prediction for the game?

 Tough one. Woking picked up a great win at the Impact last season and finished just above the Reds, but the Cardinals have had a tough start to 2013/14. If I had to stick my neck out, I’d say Alfreton to continue their excellent home form and make it 4 wins from 4 at the Impact.

Questions and article by Jacob Greenwood @JGreenwood91

Photo by David Holmes. A full set can be found at wokingfc.co.uk

Come on you Cards!

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