Trafford FC remained unbeaten in preseason, but manager Danny Caldecott is taking nothing for granted ahead of their season opener against Colne on Saturday.
The 39-year-old’s side open their Northern Premier League Division 1 West campaign at home on the back of some impressive results, including victories over higher-ranked opposition in Chester and Ashton United.
Team spirit is understandably high at Shawe View, with the boss having retained the bulk of last season’s squad and describing his players as ‘incredibly close.’
However, the manager has experienced a similar preseason in his assistant manager days – and saw the side go without a win in the first ten games under former boss Tom Baker.
Injuries are also mounting up at Shawe View and the club currently only have 13 outfield players ready to play on Saturday.
“Results have been positive, and that breeds confidence in the team. More than anything, as a manager I’ve been impressed with the application and desire of the group. The young group in the squad have matured over a short time, took responsibility and come to the forefront to test themselves. We’re not getting carried away, our feet are firmly on the ground.
“We’re massively depleted for Saturday, we’ve got quite a few injuries, a suspension and a player on holiday. I’m trying to do a bit of manoeuvring between now and Saturday, but it’s not ideal. That’s why we try to have as big a squad as possible to cope with moments like this. We still have a strong core, and the injuries are not long term. We’re hoping some of the players with little niggles will be back within the week.“I can’t praise the lads we retained for their attitude and how they conduct themselves around the club. They’ve been really welcoming to the new players, allowing them to relax and get used to the camaraderie in the group.”
Attacking options Max Hazeldine and new signing Alfie Belcher will definitely miss out, along with Jack Dorney and there are doubts over goalkeeper Matt Cooper who is recovering from Covid-19.
One man who will not be lining up for Trafford this season is former captain Oli Roberts, who moved to Colne over the summer. The irony of the fixture list sees him make a quicker return to M14 than he probably thought.
Roberts’ departure saw the armband become vacant, but Caldecott had little doubt about his decision to ask Keil O’Brien to step up.
“It was a no brainer. As soon as we knew Oli had made his mind up, he was the first person I turned to. He’s been at the club for a number of years, and I personally believe he’s grown a lot in the last 18 months having welcomed his young son Freddie in that time. I think that’s been a big factor. He’s got all the characteristics you want in someone to lead the group. All the boys love him, he’s very much the class clown in the dressing room. He’s very gifted as a player, and had a good career . The lads can see his quality and he leads by example.. He’s brilliant with the younger lads, I don’t have to say anything to him.He knows what it’s like to be young, nervous and not knowing anybody. Don’t get me wrong, he’s straight on them once they are comfortable!,” Caldecott said.
The opening game sees Trafford take on a side well-fancied at this level, who were top of the table when last season was abandoned in February.
Manager Nathan Rooney has a growing reputation in the game, with 14 years coaching experience despite being only 31. He is head of coaching at League Two Port Vale and also has spells at Carlisle United, Crawley Town and Blackburn Rovers in various roles.
“We watched them at the weekend, and they were pretty much what we expected – a very good side with a young manager with a lot of experience and pedigree. They have some really good attacking players, and obviously we know Oli is a terrific player. Colne will fancy themselves this year, the manager has assembled a quality squad,” Caldecott said.
Caldecott believes the quality of this year’s D1 West to be the highest it’s been in recent years, and his summer recruitment has been aimed at improving the side’s options going forward.
Trafford only won one league game in the last short season, and struggled to convert draws into three points.
Wingers Darius Palma and Belcher have been brought in, with Palma returning to Shawe View for a second spell. Both make the step up from playing in the North West Counties league last season. Connor Hughes also comes in with a wealth of non-league experience.
“It’s going to be super-competitive and a tough league to compete in – the toughest we’ve had in a long time. That’s good because it brings out the best in everybody. I’d say Workington Town are front runners, but it’s difficult to say. Warrington Rylands had a superb season and will want to build on it. Marine had their FA Cup run last year and their manager Neil Young has been there and done it all before.
“We needed attacking impetus, Alfie’s had a terrific preseason. He’s someone I’ve had my eye on for quite a few years. He knows how highly I rate him and that I’ve wanted to work with him. His game’s all about getting goals and assists. He’s a very intelligent footballer who plays beyond his years, that’s a credit to him. If he stays grounded,performs consistently and there’s no reason why he can’t move further up the ladder again in the future,” he said.
Trafford host Colne on Saturday at 3pm. Tickets are available on the Shocal app.