UNDERDOGS Leiston St Margarets are eyeing up another CNet Training Suffolk Senior Cup upset on Saturday.
The Macron SIL Senior Division side raised a few eyebrows with their 3-0 first-round victory over Debenham LC, who play in Thurlow Nunn League Division One North.
Kevin Hadley’s side now welcome another Step 6 side in Haverhill Borough to Junction Meadow in the second round on Saturday.
The Saints are enjoying a much-improved season, sitting 11th with eight points from their opening ten fixtures, compared to last season when a draw on the final day secured their Senior Division status.
Hadley, who took over at the start of last season, said: “Last season was extremely challenging. The general feeling around the club was very low off the back of the Covid-hit seasons and many players were looking to drop down leagues or join different local sides, some even went to our local rivals who took a crop of our better players.”
The club took the tough decision to fold the Reserve side and recruitment was difficult as many players had already made commitments to other clubs, leaving Saints with just 14 signed on heading to Henley Athletic for the first game of the season.
Hadley continued: “Over time we recruited a few more players due to some not getting game time at other clubs along with wanting to be part of ‘The Great Escape’ as it had been called. As the season progressed we gave over 30 senior league debuts to players who stepped up with no fear and did unbelievably well.
“We created a team spirit within the football club and the players wanted to be part of it, eventually it got so that every Saturday we left the changing room believing we could stay up and as it turned out the last game of the season, we got the point that secured Senior football for another season.”
Hadley said the club’s survival “turned a few heads and caused a few people to eat some humble pie” and the tremendous team spirit built over time has carried through into the current season.
“Generally, the whole atmosphere at the start of this season is incomparable to that of last year. Naturally some of the players who had left previously had been over to watch some of our games towards the end of last season and they decided they wanted to be involved in the rebuilding of the football club, helping to push us on this season.
“If you look at the early league table you can see a swing in the fortunes of our local clubs and this has helped to generate positivity within our club. We have struggled to survive for a number of years while watching other local sides prosper so a determination has been built around wanting to be better than others in the area, I think you can see a lot of that on the pitch every week,” he said.
The club decided to restart the Reserve side and acquired the services of another local manager in Ian Price and his management team, with the Saints currently fifth in Division Five.
“A good reserve side helps push the standards of the first team and we are seeing that currently; we have players disappointed at not making the first team and this helps drive the club forward,” said Hadley.
The Saints are looking to knock-out a second Thurlow Nunn League Division One North side on Saturday, after defeating Debenham LC in round one.
Hadley said: “It was a great result for the club, the team played extremely well that day and couldn’t be faulted. There was a clear game plan set out by the management team and the players executed it to perfection.
“We maybe had a little bit of luck but then I think we have earnt that over the years! As a team being the underdog is something we have faced regularly over the past few seasons and it seems to bring the best out in our players.
“We are extremally proud of what we do at Saints, we are a club run by a small number of volunteers and so games like this are an opportunity to bring in additional supporters who maybe haven’t been to watch us in a few years.
“This in turn brings in additional funds that help us continue to provide football for local players across not only the two men’s Saturday sides but also the men’s Sunday side and the ladies’ team.
“We are providing a platform for local adult footballers, and we welcome anyone who wants to be a part of it, so games such as this help to fund and advertise us as a club.
“Aside from sponsorship we rely heavily on self-funding events throughout the season to help us pay for the running of the club so any extra chance to sell a few more coffees at half time helps the whole club tremendously.
“We are very much looking forward to hosting on Saturday and hope to have a large crowd along to cheer on the boys and hopefully we can get another upset along the way and be in the hat for the next round.”
The tie is one of eight second-round fixtures on Saturday, which sees two other SIL sides host Thurlow Nunn League Division One North opposition.
East Bergholt United, last season’s losing semi-finalists, take on high-flying Framlingham Town, and Sporting 87, playing just their second match in the competition, entertain AFC Sudbury Reserves.
Halesworth Town travel to Needham Market U23s, while Beccles Town welcome Kirkley & Pakefield Reserves in their first home tie for six matches in the competition.
Ipswich Wanderers skipper Kris Rose (left) is pictured above introducing Andrew Stevens, CEO of competition sponsors CNet Training, and Suffolk FA Chair Phil Lawler (third left) to his team before last season's final against Leiston Reserves. Photograph: Paul Voller.
Sunday sees the second round of the Suffolk Girls’ Under-12 Cup and Match Day 2 in the Suffolk Girls’ Under-15 Cup.
Kick-offs 1.30pm unless stated:
CNet Training Suffolk Senior Cup Second Round: Brandon Town v Henley Athletic, Beccles Town v Kirkley & Pakefield Res (2pm), East Bergholt Utd v Framlingham Town, Haughley Utd v Claydon, Leiston St Margarets v Haverhill Borough, Needham Market U23s v Halesworth Town, Sporting 87 v AFC Sudbury Res, Wickham Market v Ransomes Sports.
Kick-offs 10.30am unless stated:
Suffolk Boys’ Under-12 Cup Second Round: Moreton Hall Athletic v Bury Town Colts.
Suffolk Girls’ Under-12 Cup Second Round: Capel Plough v Ipswich Vale Exiles Black, Chantry Grasshoppers v Debenham, Coplestonians v Haverhill Rovers, Felixstowe & Walton Utd v Kesgrave Kestrels, Ipswich Vale Exiles Red v Ipswich Valley Rangers, Kirkley & Pakefield Royals v Kesgrave Kestrels Blue, Saxmundham v Waveney Lionesses, Woodbridge Town v Kirkley & Pakefield Diamonds.
Suffolk Girls’ Under-15 Cup Match Day 2: Group A – Haverhill Rovers Thurston; Group B – Saxmundham v Coplestonians.