Crunch Time Already

Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.

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The Conference seems a tricky division to anticipate. I suppose it’s because teams change so swiftly, either cracking under the financial pressure or finding the rarity of long term contracts at this level means star players are cherry-picked ruthlessly by sides higher up the food chain.

But if the other sides perform as we’d think they would on paper, then we’ve got to grasp the opportunity that the next three weeks offer us. In theory we’ve been handed an attractive opening to the season – it’s certainly the sort of line-up an ambitious side would need to capitalise upon.

We’ve already got what’s theoretically the nastiest-looking game of August out of the way by facing a dangerous Gateshead side in our first match of the campaign at The Racecourse. What now follows is four games which an ambitious side must look to take advantage of.

That’s not to suggest any disrespect of the opponents we come up against in the remainder of the month. Indeed, I don’t anticipate any of them being dragged into the relegation zone. But they represent a benchmark for a club with promotion ambitions; they’re the sort of sound sides we struggled to overcome last season, and this is a chance to show we’ve kicked on. We simply must attack these matches looking for a large haul of points. If we don’t, we’ll have handicapped our promotion push from the outset.

Three of the four games are at home: Nuneaton performed so well they lost their manager and two key players to us, and they certainly dissolved in the second half of last season. Wilkin’s most emphatic Wrexham win so far came against them at the end of the campaign, and we must look to replicate the ease with which we beat them both times they’ve visited The Racecourse.

Macclesfield follow them to North Wales, and are on a fine run of results against us, but they’ve had problems behind the scenes and we must look to be ruthless, as we should when Woking visit five days later.

Our one away match is a tricky one, as we go to Alfreton Town. They’re a side who punched above their weight last season, and represent perhaps the most telling task in our immediate sights.

Last season we went there, dominated but looked blunt and fell 1-0. Our one away game so far has shown that we look like we’ve got goals in us, and although we might not dominate possession as we have in recent years, we look more likely to create and take chances than we did last season. If we can show that’s the case at Alfreton and turn last season’s outcome on its head, we’ll be on the way to proving we’re a different proposition this year.

We actually took nine points from twelve in these fixtures last year. If we can improve on that this time we will have sent a clear message of our potential to the rest of the league.

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