Champs don’t always sit top

There is still one game to go in the Essex Olympian League as I write this, but that shouldn’t make much different to ACD United’s promotion party as they get promoted to Division Two as Champions.

If you read the table, the Champions oddly sit second and 2-points behind Hutton Reserves. Without a full season, the league have seen teams play enough games to get a points-per-game decision, meaning the four-games in-hand for United, would see them finish above Hutton with a 2.6 PPG, compared to the leaders, 2.15 PPG. Below them, the promotion fight goes to the final day as both Hutton Reserves and Manford Way Reserves also look to get promoted. As it stands fourth placed Manford would finish second and leaders Hutton would be third, but both with a game still to play. A win for Manford, whatever happens with Hutton would see them finish 2nd, although a win for Hutton and a loss for Manford Reserves would see them finish above their promotion rivals by a 0.2 PPG margin. Still, ACD United can happily watch one with their place confirmed.

Before the season had even started, they had their eye on the league title and promotion as the previous COVID affected season had meant they were forced to stay in Division Three for an extra season. “We definitely aimed for the title and promotion this year as we were almost guaranteed to go up last year, if it wasn’t for COVID” said player-manager Michael Wade.

They had made the perfect start to the season, winning seven on the spin, with two wins on the other side of the November lockdown, which brought a month of no football for non-league clubs. The season had began with a 4-2 win over leaders Hutton Reserves before they added a further 4-wins against Basildon Town Reserves, Collier Row, Wakebury, and Manford Way Reserves. After the first break, they returned with a further two wins against Hullbridge Sports ‘A’ and Leigh Town Reserves, scoring 9-goals and conceding none. “Everyone in the group was buzzing with the start we had made. We had a couple of tight tough games through that period, but we kept grinding results to put distance between the chasing teams before the COVID break.”

“We had only lost 1-game in the previous season [2019/20], so we definitely knew we were capable of winning most games this season. The first break definitely stopped the momentum we had and like most clubs it took a while to get back in the swing of things.”

After just two-games in December, the season was paused once again. The usual Christmas break was upon the teams, but the UK had entered another lockdown, which saw teams without games until April, four or so months from when the lockdown was brought on. They couldn’t carry the same form though this time around and faced their first defeat on the season, losing to Manford Way Reserves on their return to action. “We lost our first game back against Manford Way, but we knew it was going to be a tough game after the 4-3 win away from home earlier in the season and because they were also title contenders. We lost 3-1. A red card early in the second half cost us, otherwise, we think the result could have been different.”

The momentum had swung in their favour and the club put the defeat behind them as they won four games on the spin. A 3-1 win over Lakeside United, a 3-2 win over Collier Row, a 1-0 win over Buckhurst Hill Reserves and a home-walkover over Corinthians Reserves got their promotion hopes back on the right track. For Wade and his team, it was simple about believing in what they were doing on the pitch.

“The [four month] break wasn’t easy for anyone, but we had to deal with it and get the job done when we came back. The uplift in form was down to us going into every game, thinking we can win it and one defeat wasn’t going to stop that mentality.”

The clubs second loss came against Hutton Reserves, the side they beaten on the opening day. An own goal and a goal from Jamie Alexandrou wasn’t enough for any points as Michael Carson, James Gardener and Jack Shaw were all on target for the visitors in a 3-2 victory. The game could have finished different, but it was a minor blow to the promotion hopefuls. “It was a tough game against Hutton, who brought in a few players since the restart. We blew a 2-0 lead and conceded in the last-minute, but in my eyes, the scoreline could have been different. We were on top throughout, but didn’t take our chances.”

A win against Buckhurst Hill Reserves took them a step-closer to achieving what they had set out to do from the very off before a home-walkover meant they clinched the title with a game to spare. All clubs would hope to win titles on the pitch, but with Toby Reserves unable to field a team, the club had to settle with celebrations off the field. “It’s not the way you want to win it [with a walkover], but the season isn’t decided on one game. The boys won the league by performing well week in, week out from the first game of the season.”

The last game provided them with an opportunity to seal another 3-points before celebrating promotion and title with the curtains drawn onĀ  a tough season, but focus would soon turn to the upcoming season in Division Two. “It’s always going to be tough going up, but we believe we can challenge for promotion again. We’ve beaten sides in that division and the division above in cups in the previous seasons, so there’s no reason why we can’t go in confident of challenging at the top.”