WITH last season's champions, Chesham, still present to defend their title, the Diadora Premier Division promises to be the most competitive of the three GM Vauxhall Conference feeder leagues. The front- runners are the ambitious Hertfordshire club, Stevenage Borough, while last term's top three - Chesham, St Albans and Enfield - are off the pace in the middle of the table.
Stevenage, who are still unbeaten, have a three-point advantage over the second-placed club, Sutton United, who have played three games more than the leaders.
On Monday Stevenage overcame Grays 1-0 at home, Martin Gittings heading the winner in the first half. The following evening Sutton strolled to a 3-0 success at Dulwich Hamlet, with two goals from Dave Jones and one from Olisah Morah, a former Tottenham player. Sutton have also signed two players from Slough Town: the central defender, Darren Anderson, and the striker Paul McKinnon, back at the club whose goalscoring record he holds.
Stevenage's strong points are their defence and their strike force. The combative Gittings scored 20 league goals last season and has hit six so far this campaign, two fewer than his partner, Dave Venables, a summer arrival from Wealdstone.
At the back, Rudi Hedman was bought from Dulwich to play alongside two more new signings, Richard Nugent and Tony Joyce, both from Woking. All three have Football League experience: Hedman with Colchester and Crystal Palace, Nugent with Barnet and Joyce with Aldershot.
The manager at Stevenage is Paul Fairclough, a schoolteacher, who arrived from Hertford Town four years ago and has taken the club from the lowest level of the Diadora League to top place. 'He succeeds in bringing out qualities in players that other managers fail to find,' Ken Vale, Borough's chairman, said.
Stevenage need to do more than build a winning team to secure promotion to the Conference. Although their council-owned stadium is in good repair, improvements are necessary. 'We are talking with the local authority about financing a new clubhouse plus a 1,000-seat stand,' he said.
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