Old Streetonians face up to their winter of discontent
FROM promotion dreams at the start of the season, Old Streetonians now face the prospect of a long winter struggle against relegation, says the club’s captain Nick Barham.
Barham led his side to their third successive promotion last season, and as they began life in London 2 North East in September, confidence was flowing through the Islington side.
Seven games into the new season however, that has all changed. Decimated by player departures and injury, Street have lost five of their first seven matches and sit third from bottom of the league – and next up are the division’s three leading sides.
If there is one moment which neatly encapsulates Old Street’s miserable season so far for Barham, it is the night on which two of his key players, second rows Andy Cooper and Patrick Gibson, broke their noses in the same training session.
“That was a blow, and that has been the problem, we keep losing players in key positions,” said Barham. “It is turning into a relegation scrap. Maybe we were being naive at the start of the season but we genuinely believed we could go up again.
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“We haven’t been able to get any consistency in our game, and the turnout at training sessions has been poor.
“We’ve got big problems up front. We’ve really missed John Perkins, who is away on an archaeology dig in Kenya, and we’ve got other guys away at college or doing exams.
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“We weren’t able to add as many players before the season as I had hoped, and the result is that we’ve been competing with teams for 60 minutes, but because we don’t have the strength in depth we’re losing games in those final 20 minutes.”
Having had a weekend off, Street face a crunch trio of games when they return to action.
Second-placed Braintree make the trip to north London on Sunday, before Barham and his team-mates travel to third-placed Romford & Gidea Park the following weekend, and then host leaders Rochford Hundred on December 4.
Those games may well define Old Street’s season, and Barham forsees no end to his team’s struggles.
“It may be a case of going for bonus points. If we could maybe sneak one win it might make a difference, but they are going to be three hard games,” he added.
“To be honest, we knew the run of promotions would stop at some point. We’ve always taken the view that there is no point in spending a season consolodating when you can improve. But now we might be forced to do that, it’s a transitional period for us.
“There is a vast difference in quality at this level. Teams are much more competitive in this league and, at the moment, we’re not matching them. We’re confident we can turn things around, but it is going to be a real scrap.”
Old Street will certainly get little help from the RFU, whose policy of reviewing the league structure towards the end of each season means the number of teams to be relegated is yet to be decided, and is unlikely to be until the spring.
“That’s the way it has been for the last few years. It is frustrating but there’s not much I can do about it,” said the skipper.
“The RFU like to look at the league and try to keep a regional balance. That obviously makes it very hard to know exactly what your targets are.
“At the moment, all we know is that we have to stay away from the bottom four.”