As 2019 draws to an end, we spoke with Margate Manager Jay Saunders to get his thoughts on the year that saw him return to Hartsdown Park where he appeared over 350 times as a player.
On the 7th February, Saunders took over the reins at HDP, this time as First Team Manager. Placed at the helm, Saunders’ start to his spell in charge of The Gate could not have gone better.
Safely guiding the club away from an impending relegation battle, Margate soon became one of the in-form sides in the Bostik Premier League, with new signings including Kadell Daniel and Noel Leighton instantaneously becoming firm favourites amongst supporters.
As Spring broke into Summer, so did news that Saunders’ appointment was to become a permanent one. Adding stability and triggering a re-build of practically an entire new squad, Saunders and his coaching team of Mike Sandmann and Craig Holloway got to work preparing for the 2019/20 campaign.
Reflecting on the year as a whole, Saunders has “loved being back” at the club that played such an integral part in his playing career. Assessing the 2018 segment of the year, Saunders said:
“When I came in, we went on a good run to keep us safe which was the main thing. It was good to come back and work with the players to ensure we kept our league status. From the moment I’ve come back the supporters have been fantastic and really backed both myself and the boys.”
Moving onto the 2019/20 season so far, Saunders admits the campaign has gone “how I expected”, as he explains.
“One of the things the club has needed is stability, and for me this season has always been about re-building the team. If you look at the work we did in the summer, it’s a new squad excluding Ben Swift and Jordy Robins.”
“At this level and around it, the good sides tend to be the ones who have been together a while, the likes of Folkestone and Worthing. With 16/18 new players I expected it to take a while to gel and the key word for me has been ‘consistency’.”
Saunders added, “I think supporters have seen glimpses of the potential and talent this group has. The displays at Horsham and Hornchurch spring to mind as performances that have been spot-on, but on other occasions we have not been at that level at all.”
Examining the factors as to why, Saunders says:
“Firstly, there is an element of patience when bringing a new group together. The club and squad needs stability and time to build and keep working forwards. Some signings work out well, some don’t. I’m not making excuses but we have endured a horrendous run with injuries this season; I have never experienced anything like it during my whole career.”
“I can’t re-call too many games – if any at all – where we have been able to put out the same starting eleven consecutively. When I look back on my successful spells as a Manager, I’d be putting out a consistent team, making one or two changes but injuries have made that impossible.”
Saunders added, “With the injuries and fixture schedule combined, it has been a challenge. Sometimes, we have had as few as seven players fit and able to train. It is those things that go on behind the scenes that people might not know about. Sometimes they’re playing through the pain barrier to get through games.”
On the injury front, Saunders was able to provide an update ahead of Margate’s New Year’s Day clash.
“It looks like we are going to be without Swifty for around four weeks with a hamstring injury which is a loss as I think he made a real difference coming back into the team. Elliott Reeves is struggling with a groin injury, so I think he is 50/50 for our match against Cray and so is Reece Prestedge who took a nasty knock on his knee. The injury needed stitches and I think he will probably miss out on our next game.”
With a busy January coming up, Saunders is having to re-jiggle his squad. With some new signings imminent, Saunders confirmed O’ Shane Stewart has returned to his parent club whilst talks are ongoing with Dulwich Hamlet to extend Kieran Monlouis’ stay. Saunders also updated on an additional departure from Hartsdown Park.
“We have released Kudus which was a difficult decision after he started so well. He has scored some good goals for us and was a great character to have around the place but coming back from his injury, I feel the best thing for him is to get a run of games which is something we can’t offer.”
“I’ve been having a lot of conversations with various clubs and we expect some faces in before our next game. We have paperwork that needs signing but once everything is confirmed, we will let supporters know.”
One player making a welcome return from the Physio Room and onto the pitch is midfielder Jordy Robins who Saunders believes will be a like “a new signing” after his spell on the side-lines.
“Jordy’s appearance was the one real positive of Boxing Day, getting him involved and giving him minutes was important. Jordy is a quality player and we’ve really missed him in the team. I’m delighted for him and it is a very welcome return especially with this tough January coming up.”
Relishing the challenge of building his team at Hartsdown Park in 2019, the year ended with a 4-0 defeat inflicted by locals Folkestone Invicta. A 90 minutes Saunders felt clearly illustrated where improvements can be made moving into 2020.
“I thought we played well in the first half and there was not a lot between the two teams. Unfortunately, it has been one of the themes of the season so far that we have conceded poor goals at the bad times which is frustrating.”
“We have let in a cheap goal and against a team top-of-the-league, it gave them tonnes of confidence, boosted the home crowd and had the opposite effect on us. I felt if we kept it to 1-0, we could have got back in the game, but we conceded a couple of minutes later and went down to ten-men making it a difficult ending.”
“Overall, I think it highlighted the difference between a consistent team and one that’s different from match to match but now we focus on Cray Wanderers and starting the year off in a positive way.”
“Tony’s side is another one that has been built over time, the nucleus of their team has stayed the same and they’re a very good outfit who I still think will be up there come the end of the season.”
“They’ve got the highest goal scorer in the league in the shape of Joe Taylor who supporters will be familiar with, but we will give it everything we’ve got and hope to put on a good performance at home.”
“There are so many games and points to play for in 2020. We will try to keep the team as fit as we can to make a late surge towards the play-off places. But whoever we put out, each week, they will give their all for the club and with the supporters backing us, let’s see where it takes us.”
Tuesday, 31 December 2019
By Charlotte Richardson