Division One Preview - Saturday 12th August 2017
Fri 11th August 2017 | Match Reviews | By Patrick Burke
It’s one of the highlights of the year for football supporters across the globe. Another nine months of thrills and spills in the north-west of England kicks-off on Saturday, and the Hallmark Security League First Division begins with a bang with a full schedule of eagerly anticipated fixtures.
We start with two of the promotion favourites going head-to-head on Merseyside, as Litherland REMYCA take on Stockport Town.
REMYCA finished 3rd on 89 points in April, but fell at the final hurdle in the play-off final. They lost boss Phil Stafford to Bootle, but it’s difficult to think of a more suitable replacement than Paul McNally: he was assistant at REMY last season, and led Cammell Laird 1907 as they stormed to promotion in 2015.
After a brilliant start in the Emirates FA Cup, beating Premier Division AFC Liverpool in front of the BBC cameras, they will be looking to carry on where they left off for the start of the league season. That said, they can expect a difficult test right from the off, with Stockport Town’s form taking a huge upturn since Dave Wild became manager in January. It was only enough for a 10th placed finish last time around, but after a strong pre-season and some quality additions to the squad, they will hope to at least match their 2015/16 campaign, when they finished in the play-offs.
Moving on to another team tipped to do well, Whitchurch Alport will look to bounce back from FA Cup disappointment at home to Holker Old Boys.
Alport finished 5th last season and are undoubtedly a club on the up; Luke Goddard is now in sole charge after joint-manager Carl Everall left on Monday to take up a coaching role with Crewe Alexandra. This may prove to be a baptism of fire for the new man in the Holker hot seat, Guy Heffernan, but his players will be eager to impress and they can beat anyone on their day, shown by their 3-0 victory over Whitchurch on this weekend last year.
Sandbach United enjoyed a superb debut in the Hallmark Security League, 6th place securing a play-off berth. They will want to challenge again, especially after some smart signings which will have further strengthened the squad.
They face a trip to Silsden, who came up short in their efforts to secure an immediate return to the Premier Division, finishing 11th. However, after a strong finish to the campaign, which saw them win at Whitchurch Alport and Litherland REMYCA, Danny Forrest’s men will be looking up. Former Barnoldswick and Colne forward Joe Gaughan is a real handful and could be a big signing for the Cobbydalers.
Alsager Town and Nelson have both recently had a taste of the Premier Division, so will no doubt be desperate to return as soon as possible.
The Bullets just missed out on a top six finish last season, but re-signing experienced goalkeeper Matt Conkie seems an astute piece of business. As for the Admirals, they were relegated in 2016/17, but Alex Norwood gave some promising young talent a chance to develop and they could well bear the fruits of that approach this time around.
The 2014 First Division champions may be ones to watch. Both these teams will be seeking to respond after being knocked out of the FA Cup on the road last weekend.
New Mills were also relegated last season, but put together an excellent run of form towards the end of it, and the fact that they only lost once at home after Calum Sykes took over in December suggests that Church Lane could be a real fortress.
Sykes knows what it takes to succeed in this division, taking Stockport Town to the play-offs in 2016. It will be home comforts for his side on the opening day, although St Helens Town are no pushovers. They will have the added incentive of making their first season at Ruskin Drive a successful one, so will seek to build on last season’s 13th placed finish.
Having scored 103 league goals last season, it’s clear where Chadderton’s strengths lie, and many fancy them to improve on a 9th placed finish after a productive summer on and off the pitch.
They start with their longest trip of the season up to Carlisle City. 14th represented a solid first season in the Hallmark Security League for James Tose’s men, and now attention turns to using that as a platform from which to build.
Prestwich Heys had an even better campaign last time around, finishing 8th after competing in the Hallmark Security League for the first time since 1986. Five defeats in their last six put paid to their play-off prospects, but an impressive-looking squad should do well again.
They start at home to Cammell Laird 1907, who finished bottom of the Premier Division last season. It was a long nine months for Lairds, but they showed signs that there was light at the end of the tunnel - a youthful side learned and developed under Mick McGraa, culminating in a good run of form towards the end of the season. The 4-1 win over a higher-ranked Maltby Main side in the FA Cup last Saturday was perfect preparation for this weekend’s test.
Another debutant in 2016/17 was FC Oswestry Town, and they begin their second season at this level with a home fixture against AFC Blackpool. These two sides go into 2017/18 with new management teams: Oswestry have appointed Richard Williams-Cooke and Ryan Butcher, who have great experience in Welsh football, whilst Blackpool have hired Dave Worthington, who was very successful at West Lancashire League neighbours Blackpool Wren Rovers. The hosts will want to progress from a 15th placed finish, whilst the visitors will seek to advance on 19th.
Atherton LR are one side who can definitely be hopeful of a better season this time. Shaun Lynch’s team finished third from bottom, but a host of new signings could make them dark horses. They welcome Cheadle Town, who are under new management after Anthony Trucca secured the top job. They ended up in mid-table last season, but reached the play-offs the season before, so that experience could spur them on under Trucca.
Two teams who struggled last time around were Bacup Borough and Eccleshall, so both will want to start on the front foot when they meet in Lancashire. Unfortunate injuries were one reason Brent Peters’ Bacup couldn’t replicate the form of the year before, when they reached the play-off final, instead having to settle for 18th spot. Eccleshall finished 21st, but were reprieved from relegation and now begin a new era under Paul Snape and Peter Griffifths’ guidance. A fruitful close season could spell better times ahead.
And finally, we go to New Sirs for an historic occasion. Daisy Hill were 16th last time around, and though they have lost the goals of top scorer Ashley Stott, they are never an easy side to face.
This game is of particular significance as visitors Abbey Hulton United compete in the Hallmark Security League for the first time. After comfortably winning the Staffordshire County Premier Division, they will take inspiration from the fact that four of the top eight in this division last year were new to the league.
A new season brings optimism for all dressing rooms and all supporters, so why not make the most of the shorts and t-shirt weather while it lasts and take in one of the eleven entertaining matches in store in the First Division?