New signings galore as last season’s National League South high-fliers gear up for start of 2020/21

The best part of seven months after the last National League South season was abruptly ended, the curtain is lifted on the new one on Tuesday night.

Monday, 5th October 2020, 7:47 pm
Updated Monday, 5th October 2020, 7:48 pm
New season, different clubs - Wes Fogden, left, and Darren McQueen during Hawks' play-off semi-final loss to Dartford in July. Fogden is now at Dorking while McQueen has joined higher division Dagenham & Redbridge. Pic: Dave Haines.

The final regular season games of 2019/20 took place on Saturday, March 14 - a week before the UK went into lockdown.

After much debate, the play-offs finally took place in July with Hawks crashing out to Dartford at Westleigh Park at the semi-final stage.

The Darts were then beaten on penalties by Weymouth in the final.

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The 2020/21 season begins without any spectators allowed into grounds, and without Hawks playing.

There is an uneven number of clubs in the South division this term due to two clubs going up - champions Wealdstone and Weymouth - and only Ebbsfleet United coming down.

Hawks have been handed the first ‘bye’ ahead of Maidstone’s arrival on Saturday for the first competitive match on the club’s new £500,000 3G surface.

Boss Paul Doswell expects the clubs who finished last season with promotion aspirations to be challenging again.

In addition, Ebbsfleet - under new manager Dennis Kutrieb - have signed virtually a whole new squad as they aim for their third National League South promotion in 11 seasons.

Doswell has signed a host of new faces since Hawks lost in the play-offs, with seven making their competitive debuts in Sunday’s FA Cup win against Horsham.

His latest signing, defensive midfielder Christian Rowe, was an unused sub at the weekend.

Rowe was recommended to Doswell by his good friend David Hughes, the former Southampton midfielder, and the player was recruited last week after a few weeks spent on trial at Championship club Wycombe Wanderers.

Doswell hasn’t finished his rebuilding yet, admitting he is keen to bring in another striker alongside Tommy Wright and Joe Iaciofano.

Rival NLS managers have been busy too while the record-breaking wait for the resumption of league action has gone on.

Dartford boss Steve King has lost last season’s top scorer Darren McQueen - whose two goals ended Hawks’ promotion dream in the play-offs - to Dagenham & Redbridge.

He has revamped his defensive options, signing ex-Cardiff right-back Jazzi Barnum-Bobb from Wrexham, left-back Gavin McCullum from Welling and Abdul Osman, a centre half who made over 100 appearances for Partick Thistle.

They all started in the weekend FA Cup loss to Slough, as did goalkeeper Craig King following his summer switch from NLS rivals Oxford City

David Ijaha and Ricky Modeste - signed from Dulwich and Dover respectively - started on the bench.

Ebbsfleet’s starting XI in their FA Cup penalty shoot-out win against Hastings contained only two players at the club in 2019/20. And both Adam Mekki and Josh Payne were on loan last season.

Among Fleet’s host of summer signings is striker Lee Martin - who started his career at Old Trafford and has also played on loan at Glasgow Rangers - and defender Will Wood, who was on loan to Hawks from Accrington in 2018/19.

Dorking reached last season’s play-offs at the first attempt and since their last league game - a 2-1 home loss to Hawks on March 14 - have signed Alfie Rutherford and Wes Fogden.

That takes their ex-Westleigh Park contingent to four, alongside Ed Harris and Jason Prior.

Rutherford netted on his competitive debut in Saturday’s incident-packed 3-3 FA Cup draw with Eastbourne Borough.

Prior netted the other two goals in a tie which saw Eastbourne miss two penalties in normal time and each side have a player sent off.

Prior and Fogden then both missed their spot-kicks as Eastbourne won a penalty shoot-out.

The two teams meet again tonight in their league opener.

Slough - also beaten in last season’s play-offs - have signed attacking midfielder Jack McKnight from Eastleigh and brought in Norwich City centre half Louis Lomas on a season-long loan.

Both played in the FA Cup win at Dartford, where McKnight struck the only goal - a 90th minute penalty.