Part One – A new season…. and a new era
By Neil Winsor
Photographs supplied by Lee Myers
FOLLOWING a summer of reflection, Hall Road Rangers set about planning their return to the NCEL top flight, as they looked to rubber stamp their claim to be Hull’s best non-league club.
Returning to pre-season training in late June the club were boosted by a number of returning players from the championship winning campaign the season previous, but we also said goodbye to those who left the club.
The captain, from that successful season, Ash Dexter (right) announced his retirement, whilst Jamie Coulson and Joel Drewery also moved on, however Rangers recruited Louis Bruce, a former Barton Town and North Ferriby defender, whilst former Grimsby Town midfielder Jack Griffin also joined.
French goalkeeper Thibault Granger returned to his homeland to complete his studies, whilst Jake Vernon also left the club to complete his masters degree.
Rangers would also lose free-scoring midfielder Joe Cooper, who signed for eventual Humber Premier League champions Chalk Lane. Jamie Reeson, left for Garforth Town, whilst Archie Brown linked up once again with Curtis Woodhouse at Bridlington Town.
There was a sprinkling of youth added to the squad though in attack as the highly-rated youngster Fraser Hansen, joined the club from Harrogate Railway, whilst Danny Chambers committed to the club from Goole, having featured sparingly the season before.
The early part of Rangers pre-season campaign was full of intensity, and wins against higher ranked opposition in Goole and North Ferriby kicked off their season to further raise expectations.
The wins kept mounting up as Hall Road cranked up the tempo as the season began to loom.
They saw off Humber Premier League sides Beverley Town and Westella and Willerby before Rangers added Armthorpe Welfare to their list of pre-season conquests.
Two late additions to the pre-season schedule saw two trips to the Bradley Development Centre, first came a 0-0 draw with Grimsby Borough, before being well beaten against the impressive Cleethorpes Town a week later, a side that had won the division just two months earlier.
After a largely promising pre-season, the season itself started slowly for Rangers as they had to wait five games to register their first win back amongst the NCEL’s elite.
They suffered heartbreak in the FA Cup Preliminary round, losing at AFC Mansfield.
Josh Batty’s (left) diving header before the break cancelled out Ollie Fearon’s opener before a mistake from David Birch in the Hall Road Rangers goal allowed Craig Mitchell the opportunity to tap home at the far post in second half injury time.
Then despite leading with ten men at home to Bridlington Town, Rangers ended up losing 2-1, to two quickfire Brett Agnew goals which would sink them.
Two away draws at Parkgate and Hemsworth MW would follow before Hall Road would wrap up August with their first win of the season, at home to Harrogate Railway.
So with five points from their opening four games, and only one defeat, although unspectacular, Rangers had given themselves an early taste of what life was to be like back in the NCEL Premier Division.
They started September with the ‘Humber Derby’ at Barton Town, who were still assisted by former blues defender Paul Foot, after a stint in charge at the Easy Buy Stadium.
It was Foot’s team-mate though, the evergreen Gary Bradshaw who netted the opener, cleverly looping the ball over Phil Dobson on twelve minutes, before Chris Spinks levelled from the spot, seventeen minutes later.
Hall Road had a number of former Barton players amongst their midst but their winner came from the unlikely source of Sam Belcher who smashed home from distance in the second half to help record back to back wins.
A midweek home defeat followed, this time to high-flying AFC Mansfield as Ollie Fearon struck the only goal of the game.
Rangers had enjoyed a decent FA Vase run in the previous campaign and after their early FA Cup exit, targeted the Vase once more.
They began this year’s campaign with an unconvincing 2-0 home victory over Midlands side Gedling MW, as Louis Bruce and the returning Fraser Hansen netted, following a brief spell with Pickering Town.
It was announced 24 hours after the Gedling win, that Dave Ricardo had been relieved of his duties as manager, and Bill Gill would temporarily take charge of first team affairs.
Gill’s first game on an interim basis was a much improved performance at Maltby Main, but the performance was not enough to take anything from the game as another late winner left Hall Road empty handed.
Rangers would then gather a point at Bottesford Town in another good performance, but they had to rely on Tom Bennett’s first goal for the club five minutes from time, to salvage a draw, after earlier leading.
The improvement in performances then led to Bill Gill accepting the permanent role of manager, with Andrew Watts stepping up to be his assistant to end weeks of speculation surrounding the post.
Gill would later set in place a new vision for the club, alongside Paul Richardson, Nick Daniels and John Piercy as well as chairman Darren Sunley, which would see members from its reserve and Under 19-s given an opportunity at first team level.
Further immediate progression in the FA Vase followed though, as a 4-1 victory against a game Skegness Town side, saw Rangers enter the first round proper once again for the second season in a row.
The club were then treated to one of its most memorable nights in recent memory, as they tore apart Handsworth Parramore at their shared Sandy Lane ground.
Danny Chambers helped himself to a stunning hat-trick, whilst Chris Spinks added a fourth, ten minutes from time.
The only blot on a perfect evening was Jonathan Froggatt’s 47th minute strike, but Rangers would not be denied as they nudged into the top half of the division.
They were brought back down to earth however though with a frustrating day at Albion Sports to see out September, a day which was compounded by the sending off of Fraser Hansen, as on a wet and murky afternoon Hall Road would lose 3-1.
With Hall Road firmly tucked in mid-table though, and with youngsters such as Alex Stock starting to appear more regular the omens looked good that Rangers return to the Premier Division would be one of progression and would see them continue to push forward as the winter months grew closer.