(Picture: The National League)
By Sajid Sadiq
Despite Tuesday’s disappointing 6-0 defeat at Stockport County, Southport have surprised many people by starting the National League North campaign in impressive fashion, currently sitting fourth in the division after nine games.
We caught up with Sandgrounders boss Alan Lewer to discuss his team’s bright start, what life is like in such a competitive league and Southport’s hopes for the ongoing season…
Q. What’s your assessment of Southport’s season so far?
Alan Lewer: “Well, when you put a new team together you never know how it’s going to go, but there is a great team spirit in this squad as we saw against Darlington recently, where we ground the result out even though we had quite a few injuries. In that game we also had some injured players such as Steve Jennings and Gary Roberts on the pitch and we were also hit by suspensions that day.”
Q. Having now played some of the fancied teams, what’s your assessment of the standard of the Vanarama National League North this season?
Alan Lewer: “It’s a very tough league. I was speaking with the Darlington manager Martin Gray and we were both saying you have Salford, Harrogate, York, Stockport and Kidderminster and also I think you have a few other teams like Darlington who are all strong teams. This year people are having a real go to get out of this division and we have to be delighted with our start, that’s for sure.”
Q. Any of the teams you have played so far stand out in your opinion?
Alan Lewer: “So far of the leading teams we have played Salford, York and Darlington and they are all good sides. We got beat at Salford and deservedly so, as on the day as we ran out of legs a bit. They’re full-time and we are not and that makes some difference. But then ahead of the Darlington game we had a bit of a rest and we looked stronger and came back well against them.”
Q. There also seems to be a bit more money available to teams this season in the Vanarama National League North?
Alan Lewer: “Yes, we have found that out when we have tried to sign people. We have recently missed out on a couple of players, but we will keep battling away. We’ve managed to get a couple of players through the door and we are looking to get a couple more new players signed in the coming days because we need to bolster the squad as we are running on empty at the moment.”
Q. Are you looking at permanent deals or some loan signings to bolster the squad?
Alan Lewer: “Mark Wright and I have had meetings recently with the Chairman and we’ve been given the go ahead to try and bring two players in on permanent deals. If we have to take one more on a loan deal, then so be it, but I am definitely going to try and sign two players on permanent deals if we can in the coming days.”
Q. By bringing in a couple of new faces, do you think you will then have a squad good enough for promotion?
Alan Lewer: “Even with the new players coming in, if we get into the play-offs this season we would be absolutely delighted. We are going to really push to make sure we cement our place in at least the play-offs if we can.”
Q. How does the standard in the current division you are in compare to the Vanarama National League?
Alan Lewer: “I think week in, week out there is a difference that’s for sure. But the top sides in this league would probably give the Conference teams a good game on their day and that’s not being disrespectful to anyone. There is no doubt that this is a tough league this season.”
Q. The teams that are full-time surely have a big advantage over the part-time teams. How can that gap be bridged by the likes of Southport?
Alan Lewer: “It’s a massive advantage for the full-time teams as you can work on things every day of the week instead of some of the days like we have to cope with. Our boys have to get time off work and injuries are more of an issue for the part-time teams. It’s a big thing for us but the boys are adapting well and we are pulling together, and hopefully we can string a few results together. We have a great team spirit here and that is one of the things we rely on.”
Q. What’s the realistic target for Southport this season, is automatic promotion achievable?
Alan Lewer: “If someone had said that to me at the start of the season I would have laughed. I believe that if we make the play-offs it will be a fantastic season for us.”
Q. You’ve mentioned that you have got a great team spirit at Southport, that must make your job a lot easier?
Alan Lewer: “It’s a massive boost. I’ve got players who have played in the Football League and they lead by example and they lead in that changing room. Our changing room is a rock, nobody comes into our changing room and messes around and the boys look after themselves which is very good.”
Q. Your crowd really back you and your players and there appears to be very little negativity. That must really help the players and their confidence?
Alan Lewer: “They came and supported us at Salford, we must have had about 300 there which was fantastic. Week in, week out the fans applaud the team off the pitch and you cannot ask for much more than that from them.”