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National League season underway…

Danny Rowe

Fylde have been installed as the favourites to win the National League this season after making an unbeaten start to the campaign. Dave Challinor’s men began their promotion bid with a gutsy 2-1 victory over Aldershot and they followed it up with a 0-0 draw against Chorley on Tuesday evening. Fylde made nine signings this summer and it is bound to take a while for all the new arrivals to gel into an effective team. However, the early signs are reasonably encouraging and the bookmakers feel they are the strongest team in the division this year.

If you take a look at a bookmaker review and find the best odds on the market, you will see that Fylde are the clear favourites to win the title, ahead of Wrexham, Notts County, Torquay and Chesterfield. None of those teams have made a better start than Challinor’s side, and they have the quality within their ranks to make a sustained title tilt this term.

They suffered the heart-break of losing to Salford City in the playoff final last year, following a fifth placed finish in the table, but they have not spent the summer wallowing in misery. They went on to win the FA Trophy by beating Leyton Orient 1-0 in the final, and then they began overhauling their squad.

Mark Yeates, Scott Duxbury, Kurt Willoughby, Matty Kosylo, Alex Whitmore, Dan Lavercombe and Kyle Jameson all moved to Lancashire to join the team as the club did a lot of business in May. Goalkeeper James Montgomery then joined from Forest Green Rovers towards the end of July, to replace the outgoing Russell Griffiths, while former Dunfermline utility player and James Craigen became their ninth signing of a busy summer.

“He’s been one on our list for three years really, but once someone moves up into the Football League, you know it will be tough to pull it off,” said Challinor of Montgomery. “Ultimately we needed to replace one very good keeper with another very good keeper, and we’ve done that.” He added that Craigen’s versatility will be a great asset for the team this season, as he can play as a holding midfielder or at full-back. Montgomery has gone straight into the team, and he kept a clean sheet against Chorley, while Craigen also started that game along with Yeates, Willoughby, Whitmore and Duxberry.

Fylde have not set the world alight in their opening two games, but they avoided a couple of potential banana skins. Chorley are a new team to the league and still something of an unknown quality, while Aldershot have a new manager and they have changed their philosophy, so it was difficult for Challinor to prepare his troops. They have emerged unscathed and now they have to get ready for another big game against Ebbsfleet.

There is a great deal of hype surrounding the team, particularly after their impressive manoeuvring in the summer transfer window, but Challinor is relishing the pressure. “We want to be up there and we want to give ourselves a chance to win the league or get promoted, which to be fair we’ve done in the past two seasons,” he told the Blackpool Gazette. “We’ve given ourselves a chance. Nothing is different this season, but it’s a really, really tough league and there’s nothing in it.

“There have been some really good teams who have made the play-offs two years on the bounce and then the following season have been relegated. That’s how quickly it can change. But we’ve strengthened well this summer and I’m really happy with where we are as a squad.”

You would expect the Coasters to improve as the season goes on, as Challinor still needs time to mould the new players into his own style of football. It would be a great story if they could pull it off, as they have risen from relative obscurity and stormed up the divisions in recent years. Breaking into the Football League would cap a remarkable journey, and they will take some stopping this year.



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