With 2021/22 season looking like it potentially be the return to complete normality after two broken seasons due to Covid, the CSKA recruitment team would have their busiest window to date. By the time pre-season had gotten underway, no less than eleven new faces were at the club with a strong bias towards younger players. Connor Williams, Dan Danes, Caine Ward and Harry Beaumont all 19 years old showed remarkable potential in the early sessions, with Connor Williams immediately finding his way into the First Team, and winning Man of the Match on his friendly debut against Braunstone Park in a 3-2 win.
Jack Westley, Ruben Capp and Ash Jones all made their debuts the week before as CSKA suffered a 5-4 defeat at the hands of Enderby and Social. Meanwhile in at CSKA II, Harry Beaumont was lighting the place up with two Man of the Match awards in his first two games, the latter seeing him scoring a hat-trick before suffering an unfortunate ankle injury that would rule him out of the start of the season. Max Butters and Arun Bhalia would also sign at the back end of pre-season, joining Lee Cleaver, Joe Coleman, Josh Lee and Hiten Makwana as the class of 21/22.
CSKA bid farewell to Adam King, Tommy Henfrey, Dean Asling, Aaron Withers and Damian Wright.
August ended strong for The Mods with impressive pre-season wins over FC Poplar and Oadby Owls, and set out in positive mood for the season hoping to improve on what had been a promising 20/21 campaign (albeit slightly broken up by Covid restrictions).
West End United were the visitors to Rawlins for the season opener in Division 2. There were competitive debuts for Capp, Williams and Westley. A back-and-forth game eventually ended 4-3 in favour of The Mods, with Brad Parker making a strong impact off the bench to come on and assist two goals. Tate, McCafferty and a brace for captain Payne sealed the win.
The West End win would be the highlight of the month however, with injuries already picking up, Adam Gent was rushed back into the side for the trip to Braunstone Park and would come away with nothing but stud marks down his thighs for his efforts. Despite taking the lead through Andy Pettitt, the home side got in behind and were clinical in front of goal, 1-3 the final score.
And a week later a trip to Davenport Drive to face an in-form NEBA who had had a successful transfer window themselves. CSKA succumbed to a 1-6 defeat, their heaviest since January 2019.
With McCafferty still out injured from the opening fixture, youngster Harry Beaumont was called up to the first team for the trip to old adversaries Black Dog Oadby. Two goals from Danny Chapman and one from Andy Pettitt resulted in a much needed 3-0 victory. And a week later it was raining goals and tantrums as CSKA beat off another old rival North Kilworth by 6-2, with the opponents bizarrely walking off the pitch with a minute to spare. Tate, Mistry, McCafferty and a Chapman brace on this occasion.
There were more injury woes a week later, Gent and Walker both ruled out of a key fixture against CFA at Judgemeadow. Despite some early chances, CFA ran home deserved 3-1 winners, with Chris McCafferty’s free-kick as the consolation goal.
But this would be the only setback for the month, and The Mods would see out October with a victory away at FC Tumar thanks to goals from Brice and Parker, and then a week later a dramatic 4-3 victory over Black Dog Oadby that saw stand-in goalkeeper Gaz Walker sin-binned in the final minutes meaning veteran Sean Brown went in between the sticks for the final minutes with the game teetering on 4-3. A horrific goal-kick looked to have landed him in all sorts of trouble, but redeemed himself with a (some would say) lucky save to deny a last minute equaliser. The goals from Payne, McCafferty (2) and an own goal would be enough on the day. McCafferty’s goals would take him to a landmark 100 for the club.
The strong results in October gave The Mods a bit of confidence in being able to catch the unbeaten pair of Braunstone Park and NEBA sat at the top of Division 2, but a torrid November would put a screeching halt to any progress. A woeful performance at home to Enderby & District at the begging of the month that saw The Mods go in at half time 1-5 down. And pull back just one more consolation goal in the second half as they limped to a 2-5 defeat. A week later Braunstone Park were in town and saw out a 4-1 victory despite CSKA playing some of their best football of the season.
The last game of the month would be a chance to get back on track at home to Van Circle. Arun Bhalla was called up to the first team to slot in at right-back as Sean Brown stood between the sticks. A very evenly contested match would once again go against CSKA and would eventually lose 5-3 with, Chapman, Mistry and McCafferty in on the goals.
The last thing CSKA needed was more league woes, so the Billy Walton Cup was a welcomed distraction and would surely give The Mods a chance to gain a bit of confidence against a struggling Division 4 side. The game was a bit of a damp squib, heading all the way to extra time with the score at 0-0. Danny Chapman capitalised on some tired defending in extra time to ensure progression into the next round. A 1-0 victory and clean sheet was probably exactly what CSKA really needed.
With December came the inevitable rain, frost and fixture cancellations. Van Circle took advantage of the free week at Rawlins to reverse the fixture, so for only the second time in their history, CSKA played an “away” game at home. The Mods were in fine form on this foggy morning, and romped home to a 7-0 victory. McCafferty (2), Pettitt (2), Mistry (2) and Payne grabbing the goals.
Here…………The new year began with a feisty affair with CFA at Rawlins. Things got a bit heated in the latter stages of the match, but CSKA rescued a point thanks to Dave Payne capitalising on a goalkeeping error. Jon Brice also on the scoresheet in a 2-2 draw.
Next up was North Kilworth on a challenging January morning on a challenging January pitch, with a challenging January attendance. With a bare eleven, a makeshift CSKA ploughed through the mud and wind but came up short in a 1-2 defeat. Brad Parker’s bizarre strike was the only moment of note in the entire match for CSKA.
With the league completely written off at this stage and talks of imminent retirement from a few of the first team squad, CSKA turned to the Billy Walton Cup to look for one last shot at glory for many. Groby Internazionale of Division One came to Rawlins, but inevitable defeat ensued. Goals from Brad Parker and Jack Lucas weren’t enough as The Mods were knocked out with a 2-4 loss. It would also prove to be Jack Lucas’s last game for CSKA.
CSKA had all of February to lick their wounds and end the season strong. A trip to Enderby was next, Dan Danes would make his first start for the first team in midfield, whilst Caine Ward was also called up following impressive form with the reserves. A bizarre Nathan Tate own goal in the early stages was followed by a series of errors in defence, resulting in the home side racing into a 4-0 lead in the first 20 minutes. Pain inflicted by Enderby for the 3rd time this season.
It wasn’t going to get any easier in the next game. Champions elect NEBA arrive at Rawlins still unbeaten in all competitions and riding high at the top of Division 2. Youngster Connor Wills was signed from FC Midland for the remainder of the season and would make his first appearance off the bench. Against the odds, CSKA raced into a 2-0 lead thanks to Brad Parker. But it was a short-lived moment, and despite a penalty miss, NEBA were ruthless and stormed into a 7-2 lead at half-time. CSKA did their best to weather the storm in the second half, but the final 2-10 scoreline was a low point in what was already proving to be a difficult season.
The month concluded with a close encounter with title challengers FC Tumar. But goals from Parker and Tait weren’t enough as Tumar grabbed a late goal to seal a 3-2 win. Goalkeeper Rich Augustus in fine form on the day.
The end of the month signalled the end of the league season, and with it the retirement of several key players from recent years. Sean Brown, Adam Gent, Nathan Tate and player manager Jon Brice all announced that the FC Tumar game would be their last. Goalkeeper Rich Augustus also signalled his intention to hang up his gloves, albeit after the upcoming Arthur Moore Cup campaign.
CSKA moved on to compete in the Arthur Moore Cup for the second season in a row. The competition had previously been favourable to CSKA having reached the semi-finals in 2016, and produced a strong campaign post-Covid in 2021 that saw The Mods unbeaten in the group stage despite being paired with teams from higher divisions. CSKA would face Northfield Sundays (Prem), FC Cherry Tree (Div1) and Black Dog Oadby (Div2).
With Jon Brice now retired, Chris McCafferty took over the reigns as first team manager for the opening Arthur Moore Cup clash against Premier League side and last season’s Covid Cup runners-up, Northfields Sundays. Northfields would also go on to win the Billy Walton Cup this season.
McCafferty called up Manni Rai and Tom Field into the back line, and a early injury to Gaz Walker meant a first team debut for Josh Lee. Micky Garcia was deployed as the Water Carrier as McCafferty used the match to test out a number of formations and systems. CSKA started the stronger and only strong reflexed of the opposing goalkeeper and the crossbar prevented The Mods from taking a shock lead. However the game eventually got away from CSKA and with multiple systems tests, the defence became exposed and despite a top performance from the back line and MotM Dan Danes in the middle, CSKA went on to suffer an 0-8 defeat.
On paper, the easiest match of the group stage was the next on away at Black Dog Oadby, a side CSKA had success against twice this season. With a couple of training sessions under his belt now, McCafferty lined his side up in a 3-6-1 formation with a view of midfield runners supporting the lone striker. Manish Verma was called up following impressing form for the reserves, whilst Tej Shah made his first competitive appearance for the first team. CSKA came agonisingly close to taking the lead no less than four times in the opening ten minutes, but it was the home side who snatched the lead after a mix up in the CSKA defence. But a resilient CSKA kept creating chances and were eventually rewarded as Dan Danes got on the end of a corner to register his first goal for the first team. Brad Parker then gave CSKA the lead, but Black Dog found a way past Shah to square it up at 2-2. And just as it looked like both sides would come away with a result neither wanted, Manish Verma’s bullet header in the dying minutes gave CSKA their first win of 2022.
The win at Black Dog Oadby meant Quarter Finals would be guaranteed with victory over FC Cherry Tree. The opponents finished their campaign in 3rd place in Division 1 and were heading to the Billy Walton Cup Final having recently despatched NEBA by 4-0. Despite a tough game predicted, CSKA lined up with the same 3-6-1 formation. The attacking mentality was rewarded and CSKA set a marker down right from the start, racing into a 5-0 lead inside the opening 25 minutes thanks to a McCafferty penalty and FOUR from marksman Brad Parker, who in doing so overtook McCafferty in the race for the Golden Boot. Further goals from Hiran Mistry, and a first from youngster Connor Wills ended the game in a 7-3 victory and gave CSKA a 2nd place finish, and a now more respectable goal difference to boot.
The Quarter Final draw paired CSKA with NEBA to be played at Judgemeadow (protests at Davenport Road). NEBA of course with a 16-3 aggregate win over CSKA in the league campaign. Injury to Dan Danes playing for the reserves in midweek ruled him out of contention, but Tom Field was back after his recent injury, so CSKA had a bit more defensive shape about them in a 4-3-2-1 system. The game seemed much more balanced compared to previous encounters, The Mods defended strongly and looked threatening on the counter-attack, with Dave Payne and Hiran Mistry causing endless problems. The defence was unlocked only twice in the first half and unfortunately NEBA were clinical on the day, meaning half-time saw The Mods 0-2 down. A penalty in the second half took it to 0-3, but CSKA weren’t dead and buried yet, and some good fight saw Manni Rai slot home from a corner, and Chris McCafferty pounce from close range to make it 2-3 in injury time. NEBA held out until the final whistle putting an end to CSKA’s 2021-22 campaign as they progressed to the Semi-Finals, and eventually to the Final where they would lose 4-1 to Spencers FC.
2021/22 would prove to be CSKA’s more turbulent season in some time. A host of injury pressures, positive covid tests and poor form would culminate in a very disappointing season all round.
But league position and cup runs aside, 2021/22 gave us a glimpse of what the CSKA could look like for years to come. Retirees Brice (38), Gent (37), Brown (40), Tate (37), Augustus (33) all stepping down and with breakthrough prospects like Williams (20), Danes (20), Ward (20), Wills (19) as well as Mistry (23), Parker (26) and Field (27) all taking the average age of the squad down significantly and showing remarkable maturity at a young age, it feels like it’s an exciting time to be at CSKA going into the 2022/23 campaign.
For the third season in a row, Nathan Tate was voted Player of the Season by his peers, and also bagged Jon Brice’s Manager’s Player of the Season. Player of the Season votes were extremely close with Tate, Williams, Walker, Mistry and Parker all within 3% of each other.
Connor Williams walked away with the Newcomer of the Season award, Chris McCafferty’s free-kick against CFA was voted goal of the season, and Brad Parker’s total of 11 goals earned him the Golden Boot.