UEA Head of Football Paul Neary and his assistant Ray Harrison have reflected on a successful first half of the season which has seen their sides embark on cup runs, enjoy winning spells, and put themselves in good positions to fight for silverware and top league positions come Spring.
Since experienced coach Neary took his post in September, he has been involved in transforming the club. Creating a more professional atmosphere for the players, Neary has placed greater emphasis on game analysis, individual man management and Strength and Conditioning, employing the services of a number of specialist coaches alongside him. Neary is also running a Level 1 coaching course for members of the club.
And the results have been obvious. The men’s firsts currently sit fifth in the local Anglian Combination Division 1 with several games in hand over the sides above them, and are top of the BUCS Midlands 2A league, unbeaten with a two point advantage and a game in hand over second placed Loughborough thirds.
The seconds are also well placed in the top half of the Anglian Combination Division 4 with 21 points from 11 games and top the BUCS Midlands 3B league, while the thirds are mid-table in Midlands 5B after a mixed season, also with games in hand, and sit third in the Central and South Norfolk League Division 1 with 19 points from 9 games at the time of writing.
The firsts are also still in the Mummery Cup, Norfolk Senior Cup and BUCS Midlands Conference Cup, while the seconds are in the quarter finals of the Norfolk Junior Cup against Gorleston Reserves in January, perhaps the club’s most likely path to Carrow Road this season.
Winning the Senior Cup will be a big ask, but Neary’s experience at a higher level of local football, including a successful run to last year’s final with Downham Town, will undoubtedly help UEA against the superior Thurlow Nunn League opponents that stand between them and Carrow Road.
The Mummery (League) Cup semi-final against Kirkley and Pakefield Reserves in February presents a golden opportunity for UEA to progress in a competition in which they hope to pick up more silverware.
Neary also presides over UEA’s women’s and Futsal sides. Both women’s BUCS teams are in good league positions (in Midlands 2B and 4A respectively) with games in hand over the front-runners, well placed for an exciting end to the season. The women’s Futsal team scooped 10 points from a possible 15 in their first tournament of the season to keep them in the BUCS promotion mix.
The men’s first footballers were beaten by Aylsham in the league two weeks ago, ending a run of 21 straight wins in all competitions, but bounced back in the best manner possible with a characterful 4-3 BUCS victory away at Nottingham Trent seconds on Wednesday and a more comfortable 5-1 triumph over Stalham Town on Saturday at Colney Lane.
Neary has been working for Manchester United as a coach for years, and he took his new UEA charges away to the North-West early in the season where they beat a team of Red Devils scholars which sparked their incredible winning run.
Asked whether this was the turning point of their season, Neary replied: ‘It was our starting point, changing the formation for that game which we’ve stuck with, because our philosophy fits that system well and it’s an adaptable formation. It was a good starting point beating United.’
Harrison, who has been working with Neary since the pair were trainees together at the Old Trafford club during the early ‘90s, added: ‘Going there and changing formation was a big ask for the players, playing an excellent team. [United] were a fast, technical side. The fact we changed formation to play them and won says a lot, it was a tight game, but we played fluid football. [UEA’s players] showed themselves what they could be – that was the start.
‘21 wins on the bounce, started by beating Man United, speaks for itself.’
Asked for his assessment of the season so far, Harrison said: ‘We set targets going into Christmas, game-by-game. The lads have bought into what we’re trying to do at the university across the teams; the firsts, seconds and thirds, and they’re doing really well.
‘Last week was a blip, but 21 games, no team can keep that going, and the fact they went that far was superb. The way they brought themselves back from that defeat to win in the BUCS league on Wednesday and achieve a 5-1 win today just shows their attitude, will and desire to go forward.’
Neary agreed, adding: ‘I think it’s important that you evaluate where you are, and put those reflections into place in order to improve.’
In Saturday’s victory over Stalham in UEA’s penultimate Anglian Combination game before Christmas, Right-wing-back Nathan Edden was a revelation for UEA. Drafted into the team after impressing Neary whilst playing for UEA’s Futsal side, he enjoyed a solid home debut, slotting into the side perfectly.
Neary reflected: ‘[Edden is a] very very good technical player, if you play Futsal you have to be. We wanted something different from our wing-backs this week, especially coming back from last week. We wanted to play football through all the thirds of the pitch. We wanted that control across the middle third and I thought Nathan fully provided today.’
Neary was full of praise for his whole team after the 5-1 win: ‘In terms of the performance, against a team on the same points as us, we took them apart today, they didn’t get near us. We were fantastic.’
Two of UEA’s stars this season have been Ryan Swift and Luke Young, again among the goals against Stalham. Concrete asked Neary how they have gelled so well as an attacking pairing: ‘We’ve worked hard on them as a partnership in terms of distances between them and the right decision to shoot or pass. Movement off each other is important.
‘They’re two very different players. Luke’s work-rate is phenomenal. Ryan is deceptive, he can get the ball down and you’re not going to catch him. He’s very quick.
‘It was shown again today. The goal Luke scored was made by Ryan, a fantastic square pass. Would he have done that a month ago? I’d say probably not, he’d have shot.’
Neary’s answer when asked about his goals for the rest of the season was straightforward: ‘Win everything, it’s as simple as that. Play to win and win whatever you’re playing.’
And on UEA’s current form, that’s a more than achievable objective.