Premier Division Preview - 11th August 2017
Fri 11th August 2017 | Match Reviews | By Gary Langley
It’s that time of year again, the start of the few weeks where fans of every club in every division either have high hopes or maybe just some hope of winning the league, taking a cup and achieving world domination. Ok maybe not the latter - but for all the joy that trips to foreign climates (normally Wales) give in pre-season and the different entity that is the FA Cup, nothing beats the start of the league campaign.
This season for more than many in a generation there is a lot of interest throughout the Division. With talk of an express promotion spot, Goals per game ratios, inter-league play-offs, lateral moves, varying relegations and so-on, none of which are necessarily conformed as yet it is very much all to play for and perhaps reflected in the strengthening of teams across the board.
There is a strong line up in the Premier Division so every week is going to throw up tough looking fixtures and week one will be no exception. So let's have a look at this weekend's games.
Abbey Hey welcome Runcorn Linnets to the Abbey Stadium for their opener with Hey traditionally good starters. Hey have been largely quiet over the summer with not too much in the public domain about any squad changes. The started off well last weekend with a 2-1 win over Irlam in the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round.
Linnets for many are the favorites this season and with the much mooted potential second escape route possibly happening then this surely has to be their best opportunity for some time. They progressed in the Cup last week with a 2-0 win over Hemsworth Miners Welfare and have had a good summer with friendly wins over the likes of Skelmersdale, Witton Albion, Eagle Sports and Middlewich, knocking in 17 goals in the last two games alone.
Ashton Athletic host last seasons Runners up, Bootle. Both sides have potential to challenge this season, however the early indicator of the cup games suggest that Athletic had hit the ground running with an impressive 0-4 away win at Squires Gate. Bootle exited on the vast pitch at Hallam with a 0-3 reverse at the Sheffield Club. Bucks Boss, Joe Doran has strengthened on and off the pitch with former Litherland REMYCA manager and Bootle Captain, Phil Stafford joining the coaching staff. On the field Jordan Gidley and Jonathan Swatton have signed up for the Sefton Club as they look to go again and continue to challenge.
Barnton host Charnock Richard this weekend with the home side having put in a lot of work at Townfield, the club really looking the part off the field and Steve Lloyd having strengthened the side to look the part again on it. For Charnock Richard this is a historic occasion as it’s their first game ever at Step 5, only just a year since their first one at Step 6, a mark of the progress that they have made since joining the Hallmark Security League. They suffered a small set-back last week as they went out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle as Penistone Church came from behind to despatch them by the odd goal in a seven goal thriller.
A name that is familiar to many around the North West Counties League is Burscough, they return to the league after a long absence, largely due to much success. Recent times have seen them slip down the pyramid but they are a name that many will have looked out for when the fixtures came out the other week. They host 1874 Northwich in what is a tough looking encounter at Victoria Park and will likely be a good gauge for both clubs.
Burscough have had a large number of squad changes over the summer but that hasn’t prevented them from having a good pre-season, winning five of their six warm-up games. For 1874 this is a key season and with Paul Bowyer and Wayne Goodison at the helm they will be looking to build and try and push for the finish line having gone close in recent seasons. They have lost players such as Tom Bailey and Matty Russell but have recruited well locally and the fans seem confident of a good season ahead.
After a first season which generated unprecedented success, City of Liverpool start their first season at Step 5 with a tough looking game at home to Irlam at the TDP Solicitors Stadium. City of Liverpool have strengthened and have added 1874 defender Ryan Mitchell to the purple ranks. Also joining him are Craig Robinson, a defender from Warrington Town and experienced player – Karl Noon ex-of Burscough, Southport and Witton. This ties in with a number of squad changes as ‘The Purps’ adapt to the higher step.
For Irlam many eyes have been off the field as Steve Nixon has taken the helm in the boardroom. Manager Michael Dodd has appointed Matty Kay as Assistant Manager whilst James Holt and Wayne Burgess join the coaching staff.
Congleton host AFC Darwen with both clubs looking to improve on last season. The home side progressed in the FA Cup last weekend and made a good start defeating Division One New Mills 4-2 with two goals from Declan Fletcher and a goal on his competitive debut for former AFC Liverpool player Emini Adegbenro. By all accounts AFC Darwen looked useful in their cup defeat at Runcorn Town on Saturday, so with a decent side and a lot of work having been done on the Anchor Ground Pitch over the summer, there is much cause for optimism.
Hanley Town welcome Squires Gate to the Potteries Stadium with the home side not letting too much slip publicly about their side over the break, however they adapted well to Step five last season and recorded some splendid results over the 2016-17 campaign and many have them down as dark horses to challenge this year. A decent 4-1 home win over Atherstone Town in the Emirates FA Cup last weekend suggests that this is certainly the case.
Squires Gate have had a few changes on and off the park and they will be looking for things to settle quickly as the fixture list has certainly given them a tough start.
Padiham welcome Northwich Victoria to the YESSS Electrical Arena for what looks like it will be a tough game for both sides. Padiham went out of the Cup to City of Liverpool on Saturday, however I’m told they played well and will likely push all of the top sides again this season.
Northwich Victoria’s return to the League has been well documented and debated, however they will be glad to get down to business by playing football and are looking strong, having had a good summer of preparation. Paul Moore has kept the nucleus of his squad from last season and will be looking to make their tenancy at Barnton’s Townfield Ground a strong one as they are traditionally a side that does well in home games.
Runcorn Town welcome Maine Road to Pavilions for their first league game of the season and both of these clubs start having had mutual 3-2 wins in the cup. Maine Road saw off Winsford whilst Town left it to the 90th minute and a Craig Cairns penalty to seal their place at the next stage. Town have added a number of new faces this season with the addition of striker- Rob Doran, Matty German and Seb Julien have been added to the midfield with Keeper’ Andy Metcalf also joining up. Defender Chris Rimmer is the most recent signing and he is in line to make his debut in this game.
West Didsbury and Chorlton vs Widnes go head to head with both of these clubs likely to have their eye on the top six. First Division Champions Widnes take their bow at this level and go into the game having strengthened with the likes of Colin Quirk coming in from Remyca. For West’ their biggest step this summer was securing the services of last season squad which Steve Settle did early on so the continuity of the momentum from last season will be looked for. West also netted the services of former 1874 forward Tom Bailey over the summer, for many observers that's a massive signing and should give them a stronger attacking edge, this was shown last weekend as he netted twice in their 5-0 cup win over Athersley Recreation.
Winsford United and Barnoldswick Town go head to head at the Barton Stadium for their respective openers with both clubs traditionally viewed as capable challengers but having fell short in recent seasons. In the cup lasts week, Winsford were beaten at the first time of asking in a close game at Maine Road, however, Barlick secured arguably the most notable victory of the weekend by beating Northern League Jarrow Roofing 3-1.
Winsford look like they mean business this season though and have made several additions to their squad. Former Sandbach player Liam Collins has been added whilst Jordan Johnson ex of 1874 Northwich and Barnton has signed forms too. Adam Clayton who is very experienced at this level having played previous for Barnton, Sandbach and Eccleshall is a strong addition as is ex-Radcliffe Boro forward Danny Hudson. With Keeper’ Mike Langley also having returned to the club it looks like Winsford have done some major strengthening.
So the clubs are ready, the leagues ready and as you read this, supporters, loyal, partisan, casual and neutral alike are all planning for what is likely to be a great opening weekend of the league season.