By Matt Badcock,
MICHAEL CLEGG has no fears Atherton Collieries will suffer a case of the yips as they aim to keep up their Evo-Stik West title tilt.
Boss Clegg is relaxed about Colls’ run-in with last weekend’s 2-0 win at Mossley putting them six points clear with 13 games remaining.
If they can reach Step 3 it would be a third promotion in a remarkable five years for the Greater Manchester club.
Clegg estimates he’s working with a bottom eight budget, but says being able to create the right spirit among the players – who he labels “unbelievable” is taking them a long way.
“We don’t have the most money in the league but our environment is unique, I believe,” Clegg told The NLP. “It’s so good. You’re in an environment where you’re not scared to make mistakes, the coaching is bang on, you get analysis, feedback – it’s a very open dressing room to the fact of, ‘how can we achieve rather than this is how we will’.
“We’ve got really good characters. We always say, ‘All good players will get in our changing room. But the type of person you are will depend on how long you stay in it’. It’s all clichés and all boring, but if you don’t buy in, you get left behind at our place.
“We’ve kind of progressed every year. Our budget has got a bit better every year, our staff have got a bit better, our playing staff, our crowds – everything has grown.
“It’s been an incredible journey. I was optimistic we could get out of the North West Counties and the rest I just hoped. Each year it has become more of a reality.
“It’s all about hard work at our place. We won’t be bottling it. If we win it, we win it. If we don’t, we don’t.
“We definitely won’t be worrying going into games and changing what we do – it’s just not in our make-up.”
Last season – their first at Step 4 – finished with just two defeats in 28 games and they’ve continued in that vein scoring 64 goals in 28 games to underline their reputation as a good footballing side.
Crowds continue to rise and Clegg says they took a lot of lessons from the 2017-18 campaign.
“I was quite open to it,” he said. “I’d not paid any attention to the Evo-Stik because I dedicated two years of my life to getting us out of the North West Counties.
“So it was speaking to people, taking things on board. Some said, ‘Oh, it’s really physical, you need to fight your way out of it’.
“But as games went by I thought, ‘Do you know what? All the teams that play football are near the top.’
“So we started videoing games, doing more analysis and setting the lads individual targets to hit in games. We’ve kind of just upped that.
“I honestly do believe we are the best football team in the league and that’s why we are where we are.”
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