Humbugs facing tough Vase task

CUP HOPES: Mark McLean
CUP HOPES: Mark McLean

Halstead Town manager Mark McLean expects a tough game on Saturday when Tower Hamlets are the visitors in the Buildbase FA Vase, but it’s one he’s looking forward to.

Halstead’s injury and unavailability problems are not yet a distant memory, but McLean will certainly have a much larger squad to select from for the first-round tie at the Milbank Stadium (3pm), than in recent matches.

McLean has had his Essex Senior League opponents watched twice, in a home game and again on Tuesday night when they won 5-2 at Stansted.

“We know they are a good side, you only have to look at their league position. But it’s a cup game, and we will be up for it,” he said.

Halstead have not won since beating Stanway Rovers 2-1 in the second qualifying round of the Vase on September 23.

Tuesday night’s 3-1 defeat by Braintree Town Reserves in the second round of the Thurlow Nunn League KO Cup, Harry Salter scoring in the second half, was their sixth game without a win.

The Humbugs drew 2-2 at King’s Lynn Reserves on Saturday. “We came away with a point, a good point when you look at the strength of the squads. But I was disappointed with just a draw,” said McLean.

“It’s been a tough period. We started the season so well, but then injuries and unavailability have meant several changes for each game. We need to get a consistent squad.”

Halstead, among the early pace-setters in the Thurlow Nunn League First Division, have now slipped to ninth, a position McLean expects to improve over the coming weeks.

The Humbugs, at Step 6 in the football pyramid, will be looking for a third successive victory over Step 5 opponents, having beaten Thurlow Nunn Premier Division Long Melford 2-1 after extra time in the first qualifying round.

Tower Hamlets enjoyed a spell of eight straight wins in September, but results since then have been mixed, with defeats in two of their last five matches.

Their victory at Stansted in the league on Tuesday leaves them fifth in the Premier Division.

Hamlets beat Hackney Wick 2-1 in the first qualifying round, and then crushed Thurlow Nunn First Division Little Oakley 10-1 in the second qualifying round.

The club, which was founded in 2000, enjoyed its best Vase run in 2011/12, losing 3-0 in the last 16 at Dunston UTS, the North East side going on to win the trophy.

Halstead, whose best seasons in the Vase were in 1993/4 and 1994/5 when they reached the fourth round, are not planning anything different for Saturday, treating the tie like any other game.

Prize money for the winners is £825. Both clubs have already collected £1,275 (£550 and £725) from their previous victories.

n FA restructuring proposals will mean two Step 6 divisions next season, split north and south of Ipswich, creating a Step 6 division in Essex for the first time.

This will effectively unite the Thurlow Nunn and Essex Senior leagues, although the FA has yet to reveal more details.

Suggestions that seven clubs could be relegated from the Thurlow Nunn Premier Division as a result of restructuring, put both Hadleigh United and Long Melford under threat.

“We need to know where we are likely to be next season,” said Halstead manager Mark McLean. “If it cuts down travelling that’s good, but will we lose games? It’s difficult to have an opinion until we know all the facts.”