Under new management

Avoiding relegation is the priority for Hampton & Richmond’s new management team. Avoiding a return to last season’s long-ball game is another of their objectives.

Placed in charge following the summer departure of Alan Devonshire, Hampton boss Mark Harper has the job of keeping Borough in the Conference South.

Harper was Devonshire’s assistant, having previously led the club’s reserve team to a league title.

Andy Smith, now Harper’s right-hand man, was also part of the coaching staff, so both men were well placed to assess what needed to change.

And after a season of struggle, in which Hampton managed a mere three home wins in the league, they believe what needed to change most was the team’s style of play.

“We’re going to try and consolidate. I think the chairman would be happy with that.”

“The club needed a slightly different direction from last year,” Smith told West London Sport.

“This year we’re not going to play long balls, we’re going to play long passes. There’s an importance difference and it’s one we’ve been stressing to the players.

“What Mark Harper’s brought is a style in his own image. He was a nice footballer when he played and I liked to play football too.

“If you play nice football it excites crowds and hopefully gives you a few more in terms of gates. And if you keep possession it’s very hard for the opposition to beat you.”

Harper has also opted to switch to a 4-4-2 formation, and much emphasis will be placed on effective counter-attacking.

“We’re doing a lot of work on shape and the players have responded well. We’ve gone 4-4-2 and will play with two banks of four,” Smith explained.

“We’ve asked the players to play in a certain way this year. We’ve really got into them in pre-season and worked on patterns of play.

“The back four will be utilised in that they can push forward when it’s right to do that. We want to try and draw teams onto us and then make the right pass at the right time.”

The Beavers certainly showed plenty of invention during Saturday’s 2-1 win against QPR’s reserves in a pre-season friendly.

But the real test for Hampton will be maintaining their new passing style should the going get tough again next season, when once more their target will simply be to stay up.

“The target is not going down. In the last couple of years we’ve flirted with relegation and ‘Dev’ did a fantastic job, I must say that, in what he did,” said Smith.

“This season, to be honest, we’re going to try and consolidate. I think the chairman would be happy with that as well.

“We’ve a very young side – the average age is about 22. Anything from 14th upwards would be a great season, considering the number of youngsters we’ve got.”

Those youngsters include defender Dean Inman, 20, and strapping centre-forward Dan Thompson, 17.

There is also Brazilian midfielder Gustavo Sousa Mota, who recently turned 18 and made his first-team debut last season.

“What ‘Harps’ keeps telling us is that this year we want to play football, get the ball down and pass it,” Mota explained.

“That’s what we’re all hoping to do. Obviously sometimes you do have to give a long pass, but I definitely think we’ll play more of a passing game this season.”