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Sweetman hoping Holyport FC can earn promotion at the second time of asking

Dan Rapley

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Holyport boss Derek Sweetman believes the side are more than capable of replacing the goals of Fabian Driffill as they seek to secure promotion to the Thames Valley Premier Division at the second time of asking. Port were well on course for promotion last season when the opportunity was cruelly stolen from them by the arrival of COVID-19 and the FA’s decision to void all the league seasons from step 3 downwards.

Port have seen last season’s top goalscorer Driffill depart for Marlow FC in the close season, but Sweetman has called on all the players to step up and start chipping in with goals.

They did that on Saturday, when Andy Forisky, Dan Rapley and Liam Bradley – a striker, midfielder and defender – got their names on the scoresheet to help 10-man Holyport to a 3-0 win over Thame Rangers. Jack Woodbridge was sent off for the home side after only 10 minutes, but Port still came through for a reasonably comfortable opening day victory.

Woodbridge redeemed himself with a goal in Tuesday's 2-2 with Wallingford Town. Sam Whitfield was also on target as the side picked up another point. Port will now look to book their place in the next round of the FA Vase when they host FC Deportivo Galicia this Saturday.

“The crowd for Saturday was higher than a normal first game for us,” said Sweetman. “With Maidenhead United not having a competitive fixture we managed to entice one or two of their fans to come and have a look and they were happy with what they saw and said they’d come back. Hopefully they will because we’re the second-best team in Maidenhead.

“That’s what non-league football is all about isn’t it? People support their clubs, but they want to see exciting, open football and at our level you see lots of that. You also see some star quality, but in general people walk away saying ‘I really enjoyed that’.

“There were some differences with the social distancing and the COVID bits and pieces we have in place. It’s strange but it’s also very sensible. The non-league crowds are used to not having too many people around them, so things like this aren’t a big thing for us. But it’s about having everything in place and doing all the necessary checks to make sure everyone is happy coming into the ground. It’s also a little strange for the players, with the changing rooms being sanitised and things like that, but, if anything, it helped relax everyone a little bit.”

Sweetman wasn’t feeling particularly relaxed when his tall centre half Woodbridge was red carded after what he saw as a ‘coming together’ in the opening minutes on Saturday.

However, it inspired his players to a much-improved performance thereafter and they deservedly ran out winners.

“Our focus is still the same,” he said. “The top four clubs will be promoted at the end of this season so long as there are no further interruptions so to speak. Our aim is to finish in the top four and the boys still feel a little aggrieved that they’re not playing Premier Division football this season. But it’s a measure of them that most came back to see if we can have another go at it and get promoted.

“On Saturday the sending off allowed us to step up a level or two in terms of our levels and commitment. The lads did fantastically well, and, although it wasn’t comfortable, we never looked in any danger.

“Fabs will be a hard act to follow, but we’ve got some strikers at the club now who will hopefully chip in with goals. I’ve said to the players if they chip in with goals from all positions, we’ll get close to what we had with Fabs in the side. They certainly took that on board because Dan Rapley scored, Andy Forisky scored and Liam Bradley scored from right back, and you don’t get many right backs on the scoresheet at our level.”

Looking ahead to Saturday’s Vase clash, Sweetman added: “We had a good run in the competition last year and it would be nice to get through another couple of rounds. Whoever wins on Saturday will play either Rayners Lane or Hanworth so we know who our opponents will be if we get through.

“Sometimes though you don’t want to go too far in these competitions because you don’t want a backlog of fixtures. Our main aim is to try and get promoted and any help we can get in that from a breather now and then will be much appreciated.”

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