MATCH PREVIEW: Hungerford Town vs Chippenham Town | National League South | Saturday 28th January 2023
Simon Lawrence previews our away tie against Hungerford Town.
It’s back to the road this weekend for Chippenham Town. That road being the M4 for the 38-mile, 44-minute trip to the home of the Crusaders, Hungerford Town FC in the Vanarama National League South.
What a crazy month it has been not just for Bluebird’s supporters but for football in general as most have been left feeling the sting of the icy conditions with many teams not playing due to the freezing conditions that England has endured over the last month. But, for Chippenham it will feel a little more unfair as this killed a run of FOUR home fixtures at the Thornbury Surfacing Stadium, taking with it both the chance to play at home and gather momentum but also much needed revenue. It has also seen the last 4 previews condemned to the cutting room floor however, we will do our best to recap the month and bring you up to speed as we prepare to ‘hopefully’ return to action this weekend.
It seems an eternity ago since we were heading into the first of these four home fixtures on a run of form that had seen us amass 8 from a possible 12 points over the festive period. A 3-1 win against Bath City on Boxing Day at Twerton Park saw the Bluebirds end a winless drought against the local rivals that extended back to 2017/18, the was followed up by a 1-1 draw against Braintree in Essex. A side that hadn’t been beaten at home all season when Chippenham arrived, it took a late equaliser from the home side to deny Chippenham all three points again. Back to the TS for the return fixture of the A4 derby and Bath City came with a different style, a different formation and a different game plan and a flat game fizzled out to a 0-0 draw however, the bigger picture for the Bluebirds is that 4 from 6 against Bath is a huge improvement from previous years.
With the lads in fine form, Chippenham headed to fourth placed Chelmsford City where a sterling performance from the boys in blue saw the lads come away with a 1-0-win courtesy of a resolute defensive performance and a wonder strike from Joe Hanks. In a brief break from the National League South, Chippenham had a chance to give some of the academy, fringe players and returning lads a run out in the Wiltshire Premier Shield against Swindon Town. This was due to kick off a run of games at the TS Stadium that would see us take on Weymouth, Welling, Worthing and Farnborough however, the weather had a different plan, and this game would be the last of the month at the TS Stadium with Swindon running out 3-1 winners, a sole strike from Dan Warre for Chippenham giving supporters another view of just how far our academy has come over the last few years. Speaking of the academy once again have proven what an asset they are to the club in recent weeks as our Under 19’s travelled to Merseyside to take on Liverpool and came back victorious following a 3-0 win in the NYFL Under 19 League Cup.
In the absence of drama on the pitch, Chippenham supporters have been glued to the socials for the last week or so with comings and goings within the playing squad taking centre stage and coupled with the club’s revived form in terms of results, has left supporters excited and looking forward to 2023 and what it may hold.
One in, one out
Firstly, departing the club was talisman youngster, Jordan Young. Young joined us from Gloucester and made his debut for the club in January of 2022 and signed permanently with the club in February. He quickly established himself as a fan favourite with his creativity and flair, alongside his tendency to shoot from anywhere on the pitch with a good level of success. Some of his goals were truly special including a Goal of the Season winning strike against Concord Rangers from just inside the Concord half, lobbing keeper Myles Roberts and sending the TS Stadium into elation after witnessing one of the best goals any of our supporters would have ever seen at the famous old stadium. Jordan’s goals were vital in seeing us reach the play-offs last season, popping up many a time and probably none more so celebrated than his double strike against Havant & Waterlooville to send Chippenham 7th in the league on the last day of the season and taking a coveted place in the National League South Play-Off Eliminator against Dartford. He would miss a penalty in the shoot-out that night however, Chippenham prevailed due to the heroics of Will Henry and in his first season, Young would take the field against Ebbsfleet United alongside his teammates where after a heart-breaking extra time winner from Lee Martin would seal the Bluebirds fate and end their season at the penultimate hurdle.
Subject to pre-season gossip about a move away from the club, Jordan got his head down and had a good return this year as well scoring vital goals in both the league and cup competition to help the Bluebirds reach the FA Cup 2nd Round for the first time in history, the FA Trophy 3rd Round and of course, famously slotting the winning goal at Twerton Park to end the drought against local rivals Bath City and give Chippenham and their supporters a Christmas present like no other. 4 goals in 4 games renewed the interest around Young and with the player keen to make the jump back to full time football with hopes of making it back into the EFL, Yeovil Town jumped at the chance to bring Young to the Glovers and with terms agreed, Chippenham supporters waved goodbye to Jordan Young and he goes with the very best of wishes from all the club. A truly special player that on his day, is worth the price of admission alone is now a Yeovil Town player.
With this move, Chippenham supporters would be forgiven for thinking that times were going to be a little tougher moving forward. However, on the 17th of January around 6pm, the worst kept secret in football was revealed as Matt McClure held up a Chippenham Town shirt alongside Chippenham Chairman Neil Blackmore and the news broke that the Bluebirds had signed the striker that many would argue the club has been crying out for. Departing Gloucester for the Bluebirds, McClure was the top goalscorer last season in the National League North and signs for Chippenham the second highest goalscorer this season as well notching 14 goals in 24 appearances for the Tigers. A huge coup for Chippenham Town with EFL experience in 110 appearances for Wycombe Wanderers before a further 103 games with Aldershot in the National League. A mercurial goalscorer for both Maidstone and Gloucester City after leaving the shots, Matt comes to the Bluebirds with an underlying promise of goals. Many a time this season, Chippenham supporters have been left wondering what if we had that real fox in the box finisher, that out-and-out goalscorer that could take advantage of our creative play and solidity at the back of the pitch. Matt McClure is that proven striker. Fingers crossed that Matt hits the ground running and help propel Chippenham Town up the National League South table. All of us here at the Bluebirds would like to welcome Matt and wish him all the very best of luck at Chippenham Town, hopefully starting with his long-awaited debut this weekend against Hungerford Town.
Hungerford, The Crusaders play at Bulpit Lane in Hungerford and are managed by Danny Robinson. For one of the nicest guys in the game, Danny’s teams are famed for not playing that way with a grit and determination to their style of football that has often seen them on the receiving end of negative comments from National League South’s ‘Big Boys’ however, it is to the credit of all at the Crusaders that those comments have usually risen from a Hungerford win against the odds. A club that has been defying odds for a while now with strong performances (particularly in the COVID era) seeing Hungerford challenging at the top of the table and hunting an unlikely place in the play-offs! Last season was no different with only a late run of bad form costing Hungerford a shot at the grand prize and it was to the benefit of Chippenham who’s run of form coincided with the decline of others, and they took the coveted playoff spot.
This season has been a bit of a difficult one for the Crusaders with key players such as Ryan Seager and Sol Wanjau Smith making the jump to the National League, replacing players of that quality was always going to be hard and so far for Danny and his men, the league has been unforgiving. They come into the game rock bottom of the National League South with 4 wins, 4 draws and 16 defeats. Perhaps slightly encouraging for Hungerford however is of those 16 defeats, very few of them have been by more than the odd goal with Robinson clearly instructing his men to stay competitive and take their chances when they come. Last time out for Hungerford, they did exactly that with a 1-0 win against Dover Athletic in the League. Encouraging also for the Crusaders, they are flying the flag for the National League South in the FA Trophy this season as well with Hungerford currently on their best run in the competition in club history as they await Farsley Celtic at home in the Fifth Round and we wish them all the luck in the world.
With all this said, predicting a game between Chippenham and Hungerford is almost one of the hardest tasks in the league, with league position, home advantage or superior quality in the squads never really telling the full story when these two local rivals collide. In fact, back in the days of the Southern Premier League and indeed on arrival in the National League South, Hungerford were considered a bogey team of the Bluebirds and even the most optimistic of supporter clenched a little tighter when the Crusaders were on the attack. However, recently Chippenham have got the better of this fixture with wins in the last three games, but as always, there was drama attached too. Last time it was a 1-0 home win for the Bluebirds with Luke Russe popping up in the 76th minute of the game to head home at the front post and give Chippenham their first goal and first win of the season. Last year a 3-0 away win was followed by one of the games of the season at the TS Stadium when playoff chasing Chippenham beat Hungerford 3-2 in dramatic fashion. Taking a 2-goal lead through Luke Russe and Jordan Young, Chippenham surrendered the lead in almost chaotic fashion with Max Ram scoring in the 85th minute and former Bluebird Rhys Tyler equalising in injury time to break Chippenham hearts and seemingly cost them their chance at the playoffs they had worked so hard for. And then in the most dramatic fashion with seconds left on the clock the ball was played back from kick off to Will Richards, a searching ball down the line found Alefe Santos who lobbed the ball over the Hungerford keeper Luke Cairney. As the ball bounced off the post, Chippenham supporters had their heart in their mouths before the place erupted as Noah Coppin stabbed the ball home and sent the TS Stadium into hysterics. The rest as they say is history, Chippenham went on to the playoffs where they would eventually lose to Ebbsfleet in the Semi’s, Hungerford would begin the rebuilding process after losing several key players and both sides would remain in the National League South.
Familiar faces is a nice easy one this weekend, with both a Bluebird and a Crusader getting ready to face their former employers. For Chippenham, Craig Fasanmade who might be the only beneficiary of the icy conditions could well be able to be in contention following a lengthy lay-off through injury. Craig of course came to us from Hemel via Wealdstone however it was from Hungerford that the Stones took the pacey winger to the National League and supporters might remember the last time Hungerford beat Chippenham in a 3-0 right at the beginning of the season, it was Craig Fasanmade that really put the dagger in with a wonder strike to put the game out of question.
For Hungerford, Rhys Tyler, a key component of the squad under Collier towards the end of his tenure, Rhys featured heavily in the league and of course the FA Cup run which culminated in the First Round tie against Northampton at home. It was Rhys who scored the third and final goal at Whyteleafe in the 4QR so sending the Bluebirds to the First Round will likely go down as his biggest achievement with us. However, consistently solid performances both for and against Chippenham over the years have been his real strength and will no doubt be looking for the last laugh with another great game. It would also be a bit naughty if we didn’t mention the biggest link between the two sides. In 2016, Chippenham signed, for a second spell, Hungerford utility man, Gary Horgan. Horgan would go on to play a critical role in the 2016/17 season with Chippenham Town lifting the Southern Premier League title. After his time playing, Horgan would become assistant manager, coach and eventually first team manager at the end of last season following the departure of Mike Cook. Horgan in this short space of time would take Chippenham to the play-offs and, in his first full season as manager, would guide Chippenham into the Second Round of the FA Cup for the first time in their 150-year history. An association that has proven one of the most valuable for Chippenham Town in recent history would not have been able to happen without Hungerford coercing Horgan out of retirement and then eventually allowing us to have him, so the biggest link between these two sides is our fantastic manager himself.
So, finger’s crossed Bluebirds fans, after a long time away from watching our beloved Chippenham Town, we could be on the cusp of watching the return to action and the lads need your support more than ever. I don’t usually preach my role in these previews however, as the Club Commercial Manager with all these games being moved to Tuesday nights and our home fixtures now more essential than ever to the day to day running of this fine football club, there is no better time to form the habit of not missing games of football. Despite this one being away and having no financial gain to ourselves, the lads need you to come and get them over the line as we prepare as a club for the stacked dance card of the next few months. Now more than ever your role as supporters is going to be as important as it’s ever been, and I know after some 25 long years of following this club home and away that our supporters are brilliant and will heed the call to arms. As a club united behind the cause. Get yourselves along to Chippenham Town, follow the Bluebirds and join the Blue Army!
COME ON YOU BLUEBIRDS!