Liam McDonald’s Solihull Moors are in great shape ahead of the 2017/18 National League campaign
A few weeks ago, Vital Solihull Moors produced a piece in response to supporters complaining about the business done early in this window.
At the time, Liam Daly and Jack Byrne were hot on the tongues of fans following their decisions to step down a division, Daly moving to nearby Kidderminster Harriers, Byrne joining Connor Franklin, Andy Brown and Daniel Lewis at Brackley Town.
The frustration was understandable but anger at ‘letting them go’ was futile given our inferior wage budget not just to National League Premier Division clubs but those in the North and South divisions too. McDonald didn’t let them go, they decided to move on.
That piece talked highly of the work McDonald had done to improve his squad and as we enter the opening weekend of the new campaign, it’s only worth highlighting how Solihull Moors are one of few sides who can boast an almost complete set of players for the upcoming campaign.
One of the key downfalls of last season was the inability to stand up and be counted when the opposition attempted to steamroll us. Games such as Torquay United, Barrow, Braintree Town amongst others where we would be hit by long ball after long ball, seeking to clear and regroup but failing to do so.
While we hardly possess a mean, monstrous looking defence, McDonald has been seeking leaders, players to stand up and be counted. Nathan Vaughan has returned while Joel Kettle, Kristian Green, Simeon Maye, Shepherd Murombedzi and George Carline are joined by Darren Carter, Tom Tonks, Paul Green and Jack Edwards. Leaders in abundance.
Attacking additions have been key to support on this front too. Luke Benbow has shown quick acceleration, a willingness to go down and win free-kicks while his barrel-chested frame helps him occupy defenders. Shomari Barnwell stands 6’5 and should start filling out and Jermaine Hylton will have learned a thing or two in the Football League with Swindon Town. In essence, we are no longer reliant on teenage striker Oladapo Afolayan spending the entire 90 running himself into the ground.
Despite the new forwards, pre-season has offered a glimpse into where our goals are most likely to come from next season – set-pieces. Eight of our 19 goals came from dead balls including one penalty, one direct from a corner, three from free-kicks and the final three from long throws.
Tonks and Liburd have supplied the lengthy throws with Carter, Tonks and Mellors-Blair useful with their feet in the absence of Ashley Sammons. With the increased height of the team, along with Carline and Maye’s remarkable aerial prowess, we have the players to make good delivery count.
There are more options tactically too in open play. McDonald advised he is looking at the option of a 4-4-2 this season but he will be confident that such rigidity is unrequired. Hylton & Afolayan are comfortable attacking from wide areas, Murombedzi & Carline are more than happy to help the team gain more control from central areas and Maye has been used in a wide right position during pre-season. The gaffer is usually unafraid to change things up when necessary.
That versatility stretches to the backline too where we are hoping the days of playing Connor Franklin at centre-back and Nortei Nortey at right-back are over. Kristian Green has shown he is comfortable playing at centre-back or left-back, Kalern Thomas has spent most of pre-season rampaging down the left-hand side and Flanagan is useful in the centre or left of the defence. Factor in Maye and Murombedzi offering options at right-back and if injuries occur, McDonald will be mildly comfortable moving one or two bodies around.
The final note is that there appears to be an impressive team spirit amongst what is predominantly a new group. There is respect for Carter and Paul Green who have been around the block and done the business, the boys from last season have not let their standards slip and there is a confident feel about the place. The competition for places is huge but stands us in good stead.
The National League Premier Division is no walk in the park and as the league’s paupers we are inevitably fighting against the odds.
Including the Moors, only seven clubs go into the new season as semi-professional clubs and one of those is Dover Athletic who train like a full-time outfit. Maidstone United and Woking are the latest sides to turn professional joining divisional giants Tranmere Rovers, Leyton Orient and Hartlepool United.
Three of the part-time clubs were relegated in the form of Southport, North Ferriby United and Braintree Town, replaced by ex-National League club FC Halifax Town, cash-rich Ebbsfleet United and AFC Fylde and Maidenhead United who secured the National League South title thanks to 30 wins in 42 matches. The league has only gotten stronger.
Yet as Tom Tonks and Liam McDonald have both eluded to in recent interviews, the underdog tag will spur us on. And it’s that fighting spirit that should keep Solihull Moors in the National League.