By Jack Thomas:
With the Dabbers’ preparations for the upcoming season well under way, training resuming, transfers looming and the turnstiles ready for turning, let’s take a look at another team that will be joining us in the Evo-Stik Premier Division, as we analyse Morpeth Town and what they’ll be bringing to the league.
Last season’s Standings:
Position: 1st (Promoted from Evo-Stik East Division )
Top Scorer: Sean Taylor & Liam Henderson (15)
Morpeth were certainly the standout performers of the Evo-Stik East Division last season, with the Highwaymen cruising to the league title, notching an impressive tally of 88 points along the way. Both devastating in attack and resolute in defence, Morpeth were the second highest scoring team in the league last time out, with an impressive 90 goals scored during the campaign, averaging 2.36 goals per game. Equally as imposing at the back, Morpeth were able to boast the best defensive record in the league, conceding a mere 33 goals all season, emphasising the versatility of the side. The standout players of the campaign were former Sunderland midfielder Sean Taylor and former Watford Striker Liam Henderson, who added the firepower to the side, both scoring 15 goals in all competitions.
However, despite the season ending in impressive fashion the Highwayman’s season got off to a poor start, losing 1-0 away to Belper Town on the opening day. Fortunes soon changed for Morpeth, with the side embarking on an incredible run of form, going on a 14-game unbeaten run in the league, drawing only three times during this period, with the run coming to an end in a 2-1 loss away to Loughborough Dynamo. This excellent start to the season saw the team rewarded for their efforts, with them receiving the team of the month award for September/October. In spite of their excellent league form their cup performances were less consistent, crashing out of two competitions during this period, losing 2-1 at home to Ashton Athletic in the FA Cup and 4-3 at home to Brighouse Town in the FA Trophy.
A run of excellent form soon resumed over the Christmas period, losing only one of their eight games during this time, in a 4-2 home loss to Cleethorpes Town, with notable victories coming in an 8-3 drubbing of AFC Mansfield and a 4-1 win at Marske United on Boxing Day. Once again, the curse of the cup struck for Morpeth over the festive period, as they crashed out of the League cup on penalties to Marske United after a 0-0 stalemate in normal time. Business resumed in 2019 as it left off in 2018, with a 1-0 win against Tadcaster Albion on New Year’s Day.
The North-East side finished the season in the same vein as the rest of their campaign, with dominant performances and an outstanding run of form, losing only twice and drawing once in their remaining 14 games, with a 4-0 win away at Lincoln United and a 3-1 win against title challengers Pontefract Collieries being the pick of the bunch, as they gained back to back promotions. The team once again won the team of the month award in March, their second award of the season. Furthermore, the Highwayman finally added some cup form to their already impressive season, beating Heaton Stannington 3-2, Newcastle United CC 2-0 and North Shields 2-1 in the final to lift the Northumberland Senior Cup.
In the Dugout – Nick Gray
The main man behind the new era of success at Morpeth, Gray is going into his fourth season in charge of the side, having previously managed Seaton Delaval Amateurs for four years and Newcastle United academy. He guided the side to a fourth-place finish in his first year in charge, following that up with back to back promotions. His most notable achievement to date however was his FA Vase triumph, as his Morpeth side came from behind to beat Hereford 4-1 at Wembley in 2016. Gray has recently achieved his gained his UEFA ‘B’ licence and received the March Manager of the Month award during the 2018-19 season.
Home Comforts – Craik Park
Named after W and R Craik, the clubs secretaries between 1920 and 1985, the ground was previously used as an athletic track prior to the club moving there in 1994. The ground has one covered terrace behind one of the goals and a 100-seat stand on one side of the pitch, with the ground having a 1000 people capacity. The ground has a function room with bar and is currently undergoing refurbishments ahead of the new season, with the changing rooms being upgraded, a new boardroom being built, as well as the pitch being resurfaced. For travelling fans, the stadium is a 40-minute walk from the train station.
Ins and Outs
The Highwayman have been busy already in the transfer window, as they look to bolster the squad ahead of the upcoming season, bringing in towering centre-back Kris Thackray from Spennymoor Town, to give the side more defensive options. The side have also brought in more attack minded players, signing attacking midfielder Sean Reid from Blyth Spartans. Three players have departed the club with Jordan Fry joining Seaham Red Star and Danny Carson penning a deal at Hebburn Town. The most notable departure however is the supporters’ player of the season David Carson, with the midfielder signing a two-year deal at Scottish Championship side Inverness Caledonian Thistle.