PREMDIVPRE

Raiders goalkeeper Jake Doffman in the thick of the action against Hendon

As we approach the half-way point of the Jewish football season, Premier Division managers reflect back on the first four months of the season, and tell us what they’re hoping for from the second half of the season.

The reigning Premier Division champions enter the New Year four points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand, and are favourites to make it back-to-back wins.

North London Raiders A also have a 100 percent winning record to date, have won their opening eight games. Manager Rob Richman said: “We’re delighted with the start, our consistency has been great so far. When we’ve been tested in games, we’ve made sure we’ve raised our level and the team is functioning really well currently. We have an experienced group and the dedication and commitment from all has been as good as last year and that’s really helped with performances. “

Not though being complacent, he adds: “We’re well aware that we’ve had a very good start, but we still have a long way to go and a lot of hard work ahead to achieve our aims for the season.”

And playing down their tag of title favourites, he says: “Our start to the season has provided us with a good platform to push on in 2016 but we will be tested every week. If we can try and maintain our consistency then we should be there or thereabouts come the end of the season.

“Obviously we would like to pick up some silverware this season, particularly after securing the double last season. That was the aim at the start of the season and is still the case as we approach the New Year.”

Redbridge A manager Jon Jacobs is keeping his cards close to his chest. The closest challengers to Raiders, he says: “My ambitions at the start of the season were to get to the end of the year and review where we were and possibly reassess our target. We are still involved in three competitions, will give it a real go in all three and then let’s see what happens. The squad is talented enough, we just need a bit of luck and who knows what might happen?”

Saying he’s pleased with how the squad has completed to date, he adds: “Jewish football is all about strength and ability of squad linked with a commitment to playing every week with the added ingredient being that little bit of luck at key times. We have the first two elements in spades so just need the third one when required and we shall see.”

Oakwood A manager Daniel Kristall sees his side in third spot, eight points off top spot, and is hoping to at least end the season at the top end of the table, if not now as champions. He said: “We’ve been delighted with our progress so far this season. Our issues have been going forward, we haven’t scored anywhere near as many goals as the top two sides and that’s probably reflected in our league positon. We know that if we start to be more ruthless in front of goal and improve our composure, we’ll be challenging for the title. Our defence is without doubt the best in the country. We have numerous options at centre-back and are very strong in the full back areas. The defeats against Hendon and Redbridge are the low points in our season so far, we know we must start to win these tight games as they are the key for us achieving our goals.”

But hoping to win silverware, he said: “We fully believe that with this season’s squad, we have every chance of competing for the cups. Our ambitions at this stage are the same as at the start of the season. I still believe the title is achievable, although it would involve us winning every game including beating Raiders twice. But I’m very confident. We must improve in certain areas, but if we sort our final ball and our composure in front of goal, we’ll be right up there.”

Harmen may be down in fifth spot, but their joint-manager Oliver Leslie believes they can still challenge for the title. “That and winning a piece of silverware was our aim at the start of the season and very much remains the same,” he says. Saying a slow start, losing to both Redbridge and Raiders may have them the title, he is nevertheless delighted with the response. He said: “We’re now six games unbeaten in the league and are still in both cup competitions, we’ll continue to be extremely optimistic about our title chances and cup success and will enter the New Year with plenty of confidence and full of belief that we will win a trophy this season.”

No one would have predicted Hendon A’s current low standing in the table at the half-way stage of the season, with them down in sixth spot and nine points behind the leaders having played two more games than them.

Describing their campaign so far, manager David Garbacz said: “It’s very frustrating. This is going to be the first season in about seven that we’ll finish outside the top two in the league and it has been an unenjoyable and hugely frustrating experience. We’ve not been anything like our usual selves in terms of quality commitment skill and attitude – I know it and the players know it but we will improve in the second half make no mistake about it.

“Obviously our ambition at the start of the year was to challenge strongly and hopefully win the league. Clearly that has now changed – our aim now is to steadily climb the table to finish respectably mid table and to win at least one of the cups. It may well be our biggest challenge in the last few years to finish this season with silverware bearing in mind how we’ve been playing.”

And pointing out what needs to be done in order to achieve that, he says: “We need a couple of wins to fully regain confidence. We have a Cyril Anekstein quarter-final against Redbridge on Sunday which will determine how we will go in the second half of the season – if we get through that one we could well go on to achieve a remarkable cup double – if we lose, the season will probably peter out to one of immense disappointment. Let’s hope it’s the former.”

While there are a handful of teams at the top of the table with their eyes on the title, there are a similar number of sides hoping they have enough to stay in the Division and avoid relegation.

Camden Park manager Will Castle is hoping his side can consolidate their place in the top tier of Jewish football, saying: “We’re hoping to remain in the league and challenge for a solid mid-table finish. We go into the break off the back of an encouraging performance against Redbridge with a depleted side so when players start to come back, hopefully we can cause a few more upsets.”

Hopeful for more success in the cups, he says: “I have a really good group of players who are committed and I know they won’t let me down. We’re still in the Cyril Anekstein Cup and on our day are capable of beating anyone – so I’m still hopeful we can end the season with a game at Wingate.”

Blizzard Storm boss Simon Linden concedes it’s been “a tough start to the season”, saying “but that was always going to be the case for us in the Premier Division, we’ve competed in 70-80 percent of games and to lose to Raiders, Lions, Oakwood and Camden by the odd goal is fantastic.”

Losing players over the summer didn’t help their cause, but he says: “We now have a settled group ready for the second half of the season and the future looks good with a lot of our players under the age of 25. I was though gutted to see Faithfold fold, which has now put us at the bottom of the table. But I’m confident in my group that we can pick up some results and avoid relegation.”

And as to whether they can do that, he says: “The hopes are exactly the same as pre-season, stay up, stay up and stay up, while I would also love a cup run. But I’m always confident.”

Maccabi London Lions A are currently in fourth, but have also played the most games in the Division. Adam Klein has been joint-manager for the past six games, and says: “Since I’ve been involved, we couldn’t have asked any more from the players. There’s a great team spirit within a very young squad and if they all stick together will enjoy a lot of success for years to come. The only game we’ve lost in those six was against Raiders side who will win this title, so no complaints there.”

Assessing the hopes for the side, he said: “I think at the start of the season the aim was to not go down, now it’s a case of taking this momentum into the New Year and see where we end up. Realistically, a top-half finish is the aim, which will be a great achievement. As long as we continue to field a similar team every week and then I’m pretty confident we will.”