A swift return to National League North football, as AFC Fylde welcome Southport F.C. two days after Saturday’s successful outing in Herefordshire.
The Coasters have made a perfect start to this year’s campaign and remain undefeated after wins against Guiseley, Boston United and Hereford took them to the summit of the division. Considering this Bank Holiday fixture will be the only game along the Fylde Coast, it’s guaranteed to be a lively afternoon at Mill Farm. ‘Get to Know’ the Sandgrounders ahead of Monday’s encounter, courtesy of Jose Ferreira.
Southport Football Club originated as a rugby team. They faced some heavy defeats in rugby, which led to the club switching to association football. Their first game dates back to the 12th of November 1881 against Bootle Second XI, and on the 7th of October 1882 the Sandgrounders hosted Liverpool Ramblers in their first ever English Challenge Cup fixture, which ended in a 1-1 draw. Ralph Rylance is often noted as someone who was of utmost importance in establishing football in Southport, and he heavily supported the club in achieving success in football whilst playing. In 1884/85, the club merged with Southport Athletic Society and moved to the Sports Ground, Sussex Road. The club then folded, with some members moving to Southport Wanderers who were renamed to Southport Football Club.
Southport F.C. plays their home games at Haig Avenue, where they have been since moving at the start of the 1905/06 season. The Sandgrounders were founding members of the Football League Third Division North in 1921, and would go on to remain in the Football League until being voted out in 1978, which led to Southport moving to the Northern Premier League. Southport were founding members of the Conference North in 2004/05 and were the League’s first champions earning the chance to join the Conference National. The Sandgrounders would then be relegated to the Conference North again, but eventually bounce back to the Conference National between 2010 and 2017 before being relegated back to the National League North at the end of the 2016/17 season. This saw an overhaul of the club’s board ahead of the 2017/18 season. The club has remained in the National League North since.
The Manager – Liam Watson
Liam Watson has been with the Sandgrounders as manager since being reappointed permanently for the club on the 7th of May 2018. Previous to this reappointment, Watson had acted as an interim manager for Southport over the 2017/18 season after joining the club as part of the board of directors. Watson’s connections to Southport can be linked as far back as 2003, when he initially took charge of the club as manager between 2003 and 2006. He would go on to return to the club as manager in 2008, remaining at the club until 2013.
Watson went into management after a professional footballing career, which was cut short due to a severe injury. The 51-year-old manager had a spell at Warrington Town as a player, before moving to Preston North End after a £60,000 sale – a record transfer fee for Warrington. After his retirement from playing, Watson would go on to start his management career at Runcorn FC Halton, before managing the likes of Burscough, AFC Telford United and Stalybridge Celtic in between his time with Southport F.C.
The Captain – Russell Benjamin
Club captain is Southport-born Russell Benjamin. The 29-year-old midfielder has been with the Sandgrounders since re-joining ahead of the 2019/20 season from Warrington Town. Benjamin was named club captain prior to the 2021/22 season, as previous club captain David Morgan departed to Accrington Stanley after the curtailment of the 2020/21 campaign. Benjamin started his footballing career at the Sandgrounders, rising through the academy ranks and into the first-team. The midfielder earned moved to Football League side Rochdale in 2009, before returning to Southport two years later. He made seven appearances for the Sandgrounders upon his return, before going on loan to Colwyn Bay, making four appearances. He then went on to join Liam Watson at Telford United prior to the 2013/14 season, where Benjamin would make 22 appearances. Benjamin then signed for The Coasters’ fierce rivals Stockport County in 2014 after a successful trial period, before an off-the-field event led to a temporary break from football.
Watson remained in contact with the midfielder and supported the future Southport captain in a return to football in 2019, when Benjamin joined Warrington Town for a period of time in the 2018/19 season. He finally completed the full circle, ending back on the Sandgrounders books prior to the 2019/20 season, once again under Liam Watson’s stewardship, and has remained with the club since.
1 Cam Mason
6 Doug Tharme
18 Jack Bainbridge
14 Chris Doyle
5 Adam Anson
3 Jack Doyle
8 Charlie Munro
15 Josh Hmami
17 Niall Watson
7 Connor Woods
11 Marcus Carver
Southport currently sit 16th in the table, following a difficult start to the National League North campaign. Southport’s opener saw them host Gloucester City, holding out for a 2-2 draw. They suffered a close 3-2 defeat away to Spennymoor Town, and drew once more to Kidderminster Harriers at home in their last fixture this past Saturday. They will be hoping for their first League win in the local derby.
The Coasters continued their excellent form on Saturday, and will head into this fixture with high spirits. Fylde achieved a dominant win in Saturday’s fixture to Hereford, which saw an impressive long-range Nick Haughton goal featured within his brace. Joe Piggot and Stephen Dobbie completed the scorers for the Coasters. There was also special congratulations to Academy product, Harvey Gregson, who made his AFC Fylde debut in this fixture.
The previous encounter between AFC Fylde and Southport F.C. saw the Coasters host the Sandgrounders for an FA Trophy fixture, which was played at Mill Farm. On record, considering last season’s cancellation, this seems to have been the only time the teams have ever gone up against each other. With this in mind, the history favours the Coasters, after their dominant 4-1 display in the 2019/20 season – which featured a Nick Haughton brace, as well as goals from Jordan Williams and Dan Bradley.
Sadly, the Sandgrounders will be without captain Russell Benjamin for this fixture as the midfielder is nursing a broken ankle and will be ruled out. Watson has experimented with his line-ups this season, and considering the quality at his disposal, there are several different options he could play around with.
In goal, the talented Cam Mason is expected to start, having joined the Sandgrounders prior to this season. The defence should consist of Blackburn Rovers academy product Jack Doyle down the left, with a central defensive combination of current captain Adam Anson, Chris Doyle, and former Sunderland defender Jack Bainbridge. Doug Tharme should complete the defence, having joined Southport prior to this season from Welsh Premier League champions Connah’s Quay Nomads FC.
The midfield will be left without Russell Benjamin unfortunately, a hard player to replace, but should feature Charlie Munro. The exciting Josh Hmami should also feature, having joined this season from the 2020/21 FA Cup surprise side Marine FC. To complete the middle of the park, we could also be seeing Niall Watson although AFC Fylde academy product Dylan Vassallo has also featured. The exciting winger Connor Woods should also start for the Sandgrounders. Southport’s number 7 has shown a lot of promise since joining the club, and should be an exciting part of this fixture with his skilful dribbling and pace.
Up front for Southport FC, we should see the prolific Marcus Carver, who also had a spell with AFC Fylde. Carver has scored in every league fixture for the Sandgrounders this season and could be a threat to Fylde’s defence on Monday afternoon.
One to Watch
Given his current form, Marcus Carver is the danger man for Southport. Carver is currently averaging a goal per game this season, having scored against Gloucester City, Spennymoor Town and Kidderminster Harriers. Carver is a strong forward with an impressive aerial presence, as well as possessing the ability to spin off defenders and create goalscoring opportunities for himself.
Carver began his career in the youth ranks at League One side Accrington Stanley. He made his professional debut for Accy in the 2011/12 season, and went on to make 38 appearances for them between 2011 and 2016. The 27-year-old forward also has a number of non-league loan spells amongst his CV, appearing for Marine, FC Halifax Town, Barrow, AFC Fylde, and Chorley. He finally joined the Sandgrounders in 2020 from fellow National League North outfit Chorley, and has made an immediate impact at Haig Avenue.