Saturday 23rd February 2019
Thame United v Dunstable Town
Southern League Division One Central
Thame United host Dunstable Town on Saturday at the ASM Stadium looking for their first win in seven but amazingly they are still only a single place and point off the play-off places despite the recent poor run of form. The realistic aim is one of the bottom two play-off positions as the top three look to be too far away to catch now, thirteen points separate Thame and third placed Corby and with just twelve league games left to play there are still a number of teams below United who will feel they can put together a late run to make those end of season promotion battle raffles. Four losses in their last six in all competition is hardly the form required going into the season finale, and this week they face a side who have only suffered one defeat in their last five games which include wins over high flying Bromsgrove Sporting & Corby Town but they were brought back to earth with a bump last week as they conceded seven without reply at home to top of the league Peterborough Sports. A tough battle lies ahead…..
This week Sports Shots caught up with goalkeeper Craig Hill but first of all asked midfielder Ben Sturgess how long he’s been at the club, what attracted him and how it’s been in his time here:
I joined the club at the start of the 2017/18 season, I’d been speaking to the gaffer Mark West all summer but was torn between a few other options that I had but arrived here late during pre-season. Obviously the facilities are always a massive factor at the club and the people behind the scenes do an amazing job keeping them up for the standards that they are at. It was tough to start as I’d had many battles with the lads over the years when they were in the Hellenic League but soon won them round and it is a pleasure being captain of the side now
Craig also took the facilities at The ASM into consideration:
I’ve been at the club now for a season and a half, I was told to have a chat with the management team after I left Oxford City and it went from there, I really liked the management and the lads, as well as the facilities. The team had just been promoted so it was a really good time to join. I settled in really well, everyone was very welcoming and the lads are great
How does Craig feel his own personal season has been so far?
I feel that I’ve performed well this season. I’ve been picked to start most games throughout the season apart from the short time I had out due to a back injury. Getting to play as much as I have, has been great as it’s given me lots of experience and helped me keep consistent. I feel like I’ve played a valuable part in the team, making some key saves in important games, and being a contender for the playoffs at this stage in the season is amazing. I think my highlight of the season so far was the match against Corby where we won three-one away
Ben also feels he has been performing well especially as he’s had a couple of awards this season:
I feel I have contributed to certain aspects well within the season, to get the accolades of two player of the months is always good recognition to what level you’ve been playing at. Saturday wasn’t good enough from all of us, we look forward to putting it right in the coming weeks, I work hard within the fitness side of the game as it’s my big asset. My highlight has to be Corby away as that was the best performance from this side I’ve seen in the two years I’ve been here
How strong is this Thame squad this season and have any players stood out for Ben?
The squad is the strongest I’ve seen it here, we have players that are capable in every position and having players that can play in more than one position always helps. I don’t like to single individuals out as it’s a squad vibe at Thame and everyone contributes in every area, it’s been more about team ethic this year than individuals. We relied heavily on Westy (Dan West) and Lynton (Goss) last year and that’s something we need to address going forward with goals from other areas. It’s not a shock to me we’ve done well this year, problem being it’s only February though and we need to kick on now. It’s a tough league and make no doubt about it we are punching above our weight, let’s see what the next 10 weeks bring but we will do everything we can to stay where we are
Craig agrees that it has been a squad effort this season:
The team’s performance as a whole has definitely improved on last season, where we are sitting in the league proves we are a good side and everyone has played their part in where we are. I think we have worked hard as a team and we are worthy of being where we are as we have strong team with talented players. It’s a competitive league; there are no easy games. Everyone will give you a good game
Has Craig always played in career during his football career?
Yes I have always played in goal, ever since my dad put me in goal when was five or six and he would kick balls at me in the garden. I loved it and it went from there and I started progressing into academy football
So what is Ben’s favoured position?
My favoured position is centre midfield and my only position. I’m more of a defensive player but have got it in me to get forward when I put my mind to it
We asked Ben to detail his football career path from junior level to now:
My football career started early as my dad took me to football on a Saturday morning at the age of five and I’ve played the whole way really to now, still going strong at thirty-two. The highlight was wining the English schools cup at twelve at the old Wembley Stadium, a few of the boys will like that as I’ve told them enough about it! Also winning a non-league title and captaining the side was a big achievement, it was an incredible side at Flackwell that year and winning it with mates was even better. Also winning every competition at that level was a big achievement, having played many games within the Vase and Trophy had many highlights but those stick out in my mind
Craig has been at a couple of professional clubs along the way:
I started off at Swindon Town, from there I played for the Chelsea Academy and then went on to Aston Villa as a scholar. I gained a further two year professional contract with Villa and I left when I was twenty. Since then I have played for Kettering Town, Oxford City and now Thame
How does Craig feel the recent poor run has affected the squad?
I think all teams end up having a bad run at some stage during the season, it’s about how you react to it as a team. It’s not easy going a lot of games without positive results but we will keep working hard for each other and stay positive. I think we are more than capable of getting to the playoffs by the end of the season
Ben admits the squad have talked about the run of form but believes last week could be a turning point:
It’s something we have talked about and something that needs to be sorted quickly. The result at Kempston was a big one for us having ten men for seventy-five minutes, and probably deserving not just a point but all three! Last Saturday was poor from all of us and only us as players can sort this, the buck stops with us; individual mistakes for all three goals and that’s simply not good enough. I feel looking that far ahead is always difficult but have said to all the lads just win your next match and the rest will look after itself. To even think about us being in the play offs as the size of the club would be probably one of my best achievements. That’s a long way off for me though I feel
Looking ahead to Dunstable this weekend who beat Thame in the reverse fixture, what does Ben remember of that day?
Dunstable were very good on the day, there were young and willing to play football the right way. I felt we weren’t at it at the time and something that this Saturday won’t happen again. We will be hopefully at the races as three points is vital for us
Craig admits Town were the better team last time out:
It was a disappointing game last time round, they gave us a great game and they were the better side on the day. We just need to approach the game this time with the right frame of mind, be positive and work hard as a unit. Hopefully we can get back on a winning run
Finally, we asked both players to pick any team mate and a TV programme they’d like to see them on, Craig went for management:
I’d put Blaiky (Stuart Blaik) on The Chase
Ben picked the same show but a different contestant:
Westy would be my choice. The amount of battles we’ve had over the years is laughable but when I came to the club we just clicked & he’s one of my good pals now. I think we would have a good go at The Chase, Dans surprisingly intelligent. We could bounce of each other and prob end up winning the thing
Sports Shots would like to thank both Craig & Ben for their time this week