CAN it be third time lucky for Ashton United? After two seasons in which his side missed out on a place in Vanarama North because of penalty shoot-outs, co-boss Paul Phillips believes it can.
But if the Evo-stik NPL title is to become a reality, the Robins can’t afford the luxury of a leisurely start. They have to start winning from day one and keep on throughout the season.
Phillips said: “I think last season showed how important it is to get off on the right foot. With a good start your confidence quickly builds.”
The Robins lost two key players over the summer – Jack Higgins and Ash Young. It was a major blow but Phillips and his partner Steve Halford have reacted by bringing in new talent. They believe the fresh faces can lead to a fresh outlook. The enforced shake-up can work to their advantage.
“We were sad to lose Jack but we couldn’t knock him for going to play for Stalybridge at a higher level. It was a little bit different with Ash joining Bangor but we wish him all the best. And of course Greg Pearson has gone too.
“They were lads we didn’t want to lose but it’s all served to refresh things. We’ve got new faces in and instead of Steve and me doing the same drills and the same things with the same faces, we’ve got a new set-up and a new challenge.”
Phillips believes his new signings will prove highly effective. He describes Southport central midfielder Joe Connor – a former professional – a great acquisition.
Winger Joel Melia, who has been placed on a contract, reminds Phillips of a young Martin Pilkington. Although he’s raw at the moment, Phillips expects him to go a long way.
Chris Sutherland, a winger who made ten first-team appearances for Oldham Athletic, has been signed from Birmingham City. Although he missed several months through injury, Phillips sees him as returning to his best form.
Billy Priestley, on loan from Bradford Park Avenue, will fill the gap in central defence left by Higgins.
Phillips said: “A lot of people have been writing us off this pre-season but our last two results have shown what we can do. We beat New Mills 5-0 and then beat Northwich Victoria 2-0. The victory over Vics was a great one. It was a real physical battle.
“But I can only say again that we need to get off to a good start. I don’t want a hangover from the last two years where we get beaten in the play-offs and are left feeling sorry for ourselves.”
He added: “We’re certainly good enough to get promoted. We just have to make sure we avoid penalty shoot-outs.”