WHEN outsiders were invited to enter the Manchester Premier Cup in the 1990s, Stalybridge Celtic declined to copy fellow Cheshire FA affiliates Hyde United in accepting.
Maybe Celtic considered the competition unimportant. Whatever the reasons were for staying out, they no longer apply. It’s 13 years since there was a piece of silverware in the Bower Fold trophy cabinet — the NPL President’s Cup — and manager Liam Watson wants complete his first full season at Bower Fold by ending that drought.
He certainly has the pedigree. He has won cups at Burscough and Runcorn, and while at Telford United picked up the Shropshire Senior Cup.
Add in that Watson has a full squad to pick from, his club plays two divisions higher than final opponents Mossley, and is unbeaten in its last four matches — including wins over North Ferriby and FC United — and the Bridge have to be hot favourites.
Watson doesn’t dispute that, but he is careful to point out Mossley will be treated with total respect. He explained: “They gave us a tough, tough game pre-season and they’ve got a very good record in the competition.
“We’ll give them respect, and we’ll prepare more than for any other game because we entered the competition to win it. It’s a cup final and anything can happen but we’re going to go for victory. It’s important we lift the trophy because it was 2003 when Stalybridge Celtic last won something.
“In my time as a manager I’ve been known for comebacks. I’ve led clubs to four league titles and every one of them was won on the last day. After being up and down in the league we’re making a comeback now.
“If we do win the cup the players will deserve the credit because they’ll have met the targets I set them.
“Getting to the first round of the FA Cup was important for financial reasons and they did that. We’ve finally had a good run in the league and made it into midtable where we’re among clubs people tell me have had fantastic seasons.
“I’ve assembled a great squad and we had a great trip home from Corby on Saturday. I’m happy with the season too. What we need to do now is mount another comeback and win the Manchester Premier Cup.”
Mossley co-manager Peter Band acknowledges Celtic’s “nice little run” but he is confident his team can bridge the two-division gap and retain the trophy they won last year when they beat Curzon Ashton who were in the process of clinching promotion to National League North.
Band and partner Lloyd Morrison have watched Stalybridge and believe they can neutralise their threat.
“They don’t play much football. They just try to get the ball up field as fast as they can. We’ll be working on a few things in training. This is the fourth time I’ll have been to a Manchester Premier Cup final and I’ve done all right so far despite our budget. Every year we’ve gone into it we’ve been the underdogs, said Band.
“It’s a one-off and we’ve got to sort things out so that we don’t make mistakes. If we achieve that, we’re in with a chance. If Lloyd Morrison and I can put out the side we want, and play to our potential, we’ll give them a game.
“Liam Watson’s done very well. He knows his stuff at this level. We’ve just got to concentrate on our own game and match them in every department. I know I can rely on the lads to give Lloyd and me 110 per cent. They never give up.”
Caldon Henson and Callum Warburton, both of whom have knee injuries, are likely to remain sidelined. However, Tom Pratt and Kyle McGonigle return having completed suspensions. Tom Dean can also play, despite being sent off at Brighouse on Saturday.
The final takes place at Hyde United’s Ewen Fields ground tomorrow (Wednesday, April 27). Kick-off 7.45pm. The cup will be presented by the Civic Mayor of Tameside, Cllr Vincent Ricci.