St Neots Town on brink of step two in most successful season ever
- Credit: Archant
St Neots Town found their first-ever season at step three level to be very challenging and more competitive in 2012-13.
Having enjoyed back-to-back promotions in the preceding campaigns they flattered to deceive after a great start to the Southern League Premier Division campaign.
And having sat in second place in October, they slipped down the table to finish 12th with 15 wins, seven draws and 20 defeats, scoring and conceding 77 goals.
Among the benefits were a far greater scope of interest with play-offs for promotion and the challenges of a greater number of automatic relegations.
Their final game of the season at Gosport featured a home side needing to win to seal the final play-off place which they did with the only goal of the game in first half injury time, before they went on against the odds to beat Stourbridge and Hemel Hempstead both away to earn promotion to the Conference.
A long-lasting memory for Neots was a 5-0 thrashing of Cambridge City at Milton Road, with Stefan Moore scoring one of their fastest-ever goals (26 seconds) and Ben Mackey claiming a hat-trick.
The most memorable match was a 4-3 home win over Kettering Town, having been 3-0 down after 55 minuets, as Lewis Hilliard hit a stoppage-time winner.
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Neots won the Huntingdonshire Senior Cup after beating Huntingdon Town on penalties, finishing with three wins and three losses from six ties, scoring nine and conceding seven.
Mackey topped the goal charts with 23, ahead of Dan Jacob (11), Hilliard (11) and Moore (10), while Hilliard appeared in 47 of 48 matches, with Jay Davies (38), Gavin Hoyte (37) and Arthur Lee (37) next in the charts.
Iain Parr served as manager following his promotion from director of youth development.
St Neots lifted the League Cup silverware for the first tie in 45 years, after a barren run in the UCL.
The Southern League Trophy featured 67 teams and five rounds prior to a two-legged final, with Neots making a 410-mile round trip to Tiverton for a 0-0 draw and returning home at 3am.
Lewis Hilliard netted a 43rd-minute winner in the return leg in front of a crowd fo 522 as Neots won 10 cup ties out of 14, drawing two an losing two, scoring 33 and conceding 12.
They beat St Ives 2-0 in the Huntingdonshire Senior Cup final in front of 563, as Hilliard and Shane Tolley struck, but their league form was not so good as they won 15, drew nine and lost 20 of 44 matches in the Southern League Premier to finish 16th out of 23 clubs, scoring 74 and conceding 76.
They lost six of their first seven matches and saw a 3-0 home win over Hinckley expunged following their withdrawal from the league.
And a scheduled Saturday fixture at Frome fell victim to a waterlogged pitch, which meant a 320-mile midweek round trip that ended in a 5-4 loss having led 3-2 at half time.
In a season of change on the field they used 46 players in league and cup, with Hilliard playing in 51 of 58 matches ahead of Gavin Hoyte (51) and Jay Davies (48) and topping the goal charts with 24 ahead of Tolley (19), Davies (13) and Jake Woolley (10).
The reserve side was re-invented as the St Neots Saints – largely an under-18 – and in Division One of the UCL alongside first teams such as Eynesbury Rovers and Potton Unite finished a creditable ninth.
Iain Parr started the season as manager, sharing the role with Gary King for a while before the King/Zema Abbey partnership finished the season.
This season proved the most successful ever in the history of St Neots Town as they found themselves only 25 minutes away from achieving step two status.
After finishing fifth in the Southern League Premier Division to earn a play-off place they travelled midweek to fancied Poole Town to earn a Bank Holiday Monday Final and a 666-mile round trip to Truro City thanks to a Lee Clarke goal.
But they suffered heartbreak in the form of a controversial ‘non-penalty’ after an incident that led ultimately to the loss of manager David Batch.
They had won 20 matches, drawn 16 and lost eight during the regular season, scoring 82 goals and conceding 58, as a good winter saw only one match at Hungerford postponed.
In a busy April, they played six times in 25 days, leading to an overnight stay ahead of their historic final in Cornwall.
A crowd of 715 saw their 3-1 FA Trophy win over former Football League side Darlington, whose supporters arrived in a double decker bus, before a replay defeat in the next round at Sudbury, the former club of manager David Batch, who arrived in December and took over from Gary King, who had parted company with Zema Abbey earlier in the season.
Neots opted not to defend the Huntingdonshire Senior Cup, withdrawing after defeating Eynesbury in the first round, due to the obvious priority given to the quest for Conference level football.
Interestingly, St Ives Town also withdrew which allowed Godmanchester to go on to lift the trophy for the first time since 1924!
Neots won four, drew two and lost four of their cup ties, by an aggregate of 14-10, as Drew Roberts topped the appearance list with 48 of a maximum 55 and also the goal charts with 30.
Hilliard was second on both counts after netting 13 times in 43 matches, with Nathan Frater (12) and Matt Spring (43) occupying third place in those lists.
The reserves, playing in Division One of the UCL, were deducted 11 points for rule breaches and denied re-election so withdrew after just two seasons at that level.