Versatile Jopling could prove pivotal in Willows’ title quest

PIVOTAL SIGNING:  Walsham manager Paul Smith believes Stuart Jopling's arrival could prove key in the Willows quest for league glory
PIVOTAL SIGNING: Walsham manager Paul Smith believes Stuart Jopling's arrival could prove key in the Willows quest for league glory
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Walsham-le-Willows manager Paul Smith believes new signing Stuart Jopling could prove to be a vital addition and not just for his goal scoring threat.

The veteran striker, who last featured for Diss Town, made his debut for the Summer Road-based outfit on Saturday as a late Andrew Cusack penalty snatched a somewhat fortunate share of the spoils against Stanway Rovers, after the visitors dominate for long periods.

That result kept the Willows sitting pretty at the top of the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division, but just one point ahead of Mildenhall Town, as well as a host of other clubs including Brantham Athletic, Gorleston and Dereham, who could also leapfrog Walsham with games in hand.

And although Jopling is usually renowned for his goal scoring prowess, with the continued long-term injury to centre-half Gavin Johnson, it is at the at the other end of the pitch that Smith feels he could prove pivotal as he aims to keep his side challenging for the title.

“Stuart is a fantastic signing for us because as well as playing up-front he can comfortably fill in at centre-half,” he said.

“That’s where he first started his career and he could quite easily end it there as well.

“With Gavin Johnson still out for at least four weeks, Stuart will be very useful for us and could prove vital until the end of the season.

“We didn’t do ourselves any justice on Saturday, but that point kept us top for the time being which is great

“There is the concern other sides have games in hand, but with all the fixture congestion, they will have two games a week and hopefully drop points.

“If we can get three points this weekend then hopefully that will give us a bit of leeway.”

That challenge for three points comes in the shape of a trip to ninth-placed Kirkley and Pakefield tomorrow (3pm) who will be looking to bounce back to winning ways after three straight defeats in all competitions.

Midfielder Paul Musgrove could be back in contention for a starting place against the Royals after coming through a return to action unscathed, featuring for Stanton last week.

Despite not suffering defeat in their last three encounters, the manager has called on his side to get back on the winning trail, after missing out on maximum points in their last two matches.

“Kirkley and Pakefield are a strong side and we will have to be back to our best to get a victory,” he added.

“We can’t afford many more draws, we’re not losing games, but we have to start getting three points again.

“If we can do that then hopefully we can start another winning run and maintain our position in the league.

As well as the return of Musgrove to his ranks, Smith has also revealed that he is confident striker Ollie Hughes will remain with the club until at least the end of the season despite reported interest from Wycombe Wanderers and Bury Town.

“At the moment Ollie will be staying with us for the time being,” he said.

“In the summer he could go, I won’t stand in his way if a good opportunity arises.

“If he keeps playing well teams will be interested and that is something we will deal with then.”