The first game of a brand new season is always exciting, but it’s especially so for Sittingbourne when they travel to Chipstead on Saturday.
Because it’s a completely restructured Sittingbourne team that make the trip, so no-one really knows whether they’ll be better, worse, or even similar, to last season’s side.
The changes were forced on manager Nick Davis when the two men who ran the club’s successful under-21 team, John Embery and Jermaine Darlington, got the job as Herne Bay’s new joint managers.
They took all the club’s young players with them, as well as scooping up captain Jono Richardson, leaving Sittingbourne very thin on the ground for resources with other players drifting off as well.
It was all so unexpected after the togetherness of last season, with players and fans celebrating as one after the final game at South Park, but once Herne Bay took the under-21 bosses, a rebuilding job was totally inevitable.
Davis – along with assistant manager Tony Cornwell – has worked night and day to plug the gaps, bringing in players from Faversham, Herne Bay, Whitstable, Canterbury and further afield as well.
Although they’ve been thrown in together in the deep end, the newly-structured side have looked very promising at times in pre-season friendlies, and Sittingbourne have twice beaten teams from Bostik Division One North (Bostik have replaced Ryman as league sponsors this season).
Along with the newcomers there’s some familiar faces with four players in the squad who have played for Sittingbourne previously.
Gil Carvalho and Kane Phillip joined towards the end of last season and both are talented and exciting players who will be looking to add consistency to their games this season.
Back at the club are former players Miles Cornwell and tough-tackling midfielder Ollie Brown. Cornwell, a striker, midfielder, or a No 10, played successfully at a higher level last season when he went off to join Folkestone, and still ended the season as Sittingbourne’s highest scorer even though he hadn’t played for the club since October.
This time last year he scored probably Sittingbourne’s best goal of the season, a stunning effort in a dramatic 3-3 draw at Cray Wanderers on the opening day of the season.
Among an exciting crop of newcomers, goalkeeper Darren Hawkes, defenders Ben Gorham and Chris Webber, striker Kane Rowland and midfielder Bola Dawodu, have all done impressive things in the build-up to the season, as Davis looks to impose his new players’ strength and pace on opposition teams.
Saturday’s opponents Chipstead are always tough nuts to crack and Sittingbourne have failed to beat them the last four times they’ve met.
It was only in April when they were last on this pleasant Surrey ground, Keanu Williams giving the Brickies a two-goal lead only for Chipstead to fight back and draw 2-2. Phillip is the only current Sittingbourne player in the starting XI that day.
Chipstead have won at Woodstock the last two occasions they’ve visited, and in fact the last time they were beaten by Sittingbourne was in 2014-15 when they had three players sent off and Harry Smith – now at Swindon on loan – scored a late winning goal.
The Chips have had a good pre-season and are said to have improved their squad this season so a tight and exciting match should be in store.
Sittingbourne’s first home match of the season follows on Tuesday night when Herne Bay, of all teams, are the visitors.
Look out for a preview of that match, along with a report from the Chipstead game, on this website.
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