By Jeff Brazier
Sometimes there’s more to a game than 3 points. Fierce lo### By Jeff Brazier cal derbies are a matter of pride and bragging rights, but that’s not why two of this weekend’s Vanarama National League fixtures are looking particularly feisty. Sometimes managers who were sacked or felt they had no option but to leave have a major point to prove when returning to their own clubs. Both Neil Ardley and Dean Brennan will have the chance to do exactly that when Notts County host Solihull and Wealdstone host Barnet this Saturday.
Both men will inevitably play it’s poignance down. After all, that’s the nature of the game. But if you were sacked whilst in a play-off position with just months left of the season or if your position was made to feel untenable only for your assistant to take over your role, would you not want to show your old club what they were missing when you next measured yourself up against them? I know I would!
Notts County v Solihull Moors
October’s Manager of the Month Neil Ardley got sacked on the 24th of March 2021 with Notts County sitting in 6th place following a draw with Yeovil, which meant they were 4 unbeaten at the time. In fact, they’d only lost 4 games in 20 in all competitions, which is why some fans were quite surprised and upset by the dismissal.
They looked like they would reach the play-offs under Ardley anyway, but Ian Burchnall delivered on that front, putting any doubts over his appointment to rest. It appeared to me that they replaced a perfectly competent manager with another perfectly competent manager, a sideways step with the only glitch being the expense of another FA Trophy run to Wembley. Burchnall’s first game was ‘that’ home defeat on penalties to 7th tier Hornchurch.
Solihull Moors currently sit in 6th place on 26 points and Ardley’s side have conceded just once in 6 league games (or 8 if you include their draw against Wigan in the FA Cup and their 1-0 win v Hereford in the Trophy). They’ve only lost twice in 16 in all competitions. Not too dissimilar to how he was doing at County last season?
Under Burchnall, County are just a point and a place below their opponents and have recently recovered from losing 3 consecutive games by going 7 unbeaten in all competitions, including the FA Cup draw away to Rochdale that earned them a home replay next week.
Two sides in great form with a potential climb to 4th in the table ahead of those FA Cup replays. My feeling is that both sides would settle for a draw and won’t want to risk any injuries ahead of a potential money-spinning cup run.
Wealdstone v Barnet
Dean Brennan left Wealdstone on the 2nd of February 2021 with the club 6 points above the relegation places and 4 straight defeats having got them promoted in the previous year. Brennan had himself said that tensions behind the scenes had led to him feeling like he had no choice down to contract issues and his relationship between the chairman and his then assistant and current Wealdstone manager Stuart Maynard.
Barnet had been interested in signing Brennan after the sacking of Peter Beadle 8 weeks prior to him leaving, but out of loyalty Brennan decided to stay at Grosvenor Vale. He was then disappointed to learn that another manager had been offered the Wealdstone job while he was still in the role. It was a situation that Brennan said cost him his friendship with Maynard and Saturday’s game might have a little bit more riding on it than the result itself.
Maynard’s Wealdstone have just 1 win in 5 but what a win that was, beating Grimsby 1-0 last time out with a Matt Buse goal. Barnet’s run of just 1 defeat in 7 since Brennan took over from Harry Kewell in the dugout has seen them climb to 14th with 16 points, Wealdstone are down in 19th on 14 points with a game in hand so a win could see Stuart Maynard’s side go above Brennan’s Barnet.