After stepping up to the Premier Division for the first time after promotion last season, Irlam manager Steve Nixon is happy with the start his side have made to their league campaign.
Prior to Saturday’s first league defeat of the season at Runcorn Linnets, Irlam had gone five league games unbeaten – a decent start for anyone, especially a newly promoted team, and Steve is now looking for his side to build on their good start.
“If you had said to us that we’d go our first five games unbeaten, we’d have said ‘wow’, but we know any game can turn so quickly and that is what we are seeing”, he said.
“We have to be sure we defend very well, and get a good base to get the points, but it’s onwards and upwards from here”.
Steve admits that the team exceeded expectations last season, but has resisted temptation to bolster the squad with new recruits, and has largely kept the same squad together for this new campaign.
“I think promotion probably caught us by surprise a little bit. We were hoping for the play offs, that was our target, and we were 7th with about two months left. But we had games in hand and if you win and get a run going you can move right up, and we got in at the end.
“In the summer, we were always going to look to sign one or two, but we know we have a tight knit squad, and teams have proved from professional level down that if you have a good tight knit squad you can probably outperform what you expect.
“So we have really only signed one senior player who has come in, and we also have one or two others who were with us but have got new jobs and are now available. There’s also a couple of others who were injured and are now fit, so that has been a real bonus for us”.
With many of the current squad having been at the club for several years, and Steve believes that policy of building from within is now starting to bear fruit.
“The good thing with our young lads is that they are maybe 19-20 now, where two or three seasons ago they were only 16-17 and getting beaten regularly.
“Two seasons ago we regularly played with an under 20s outfield, they were all teenagers and we were getting beaten more often that we were winning.
“But now I look around the team and we have an average age of about 20 -21 and that is where I want to be.
“The other midweek against AFC Liverpool we drew 3-3 but a couple of seasons ago we’d have lost that by about four goals.
“Against the old Formby team, we regularly lost by three or four goals because we were so young and naive, but we managed to come back from behind twice in that game and get a 3-3 draw.
“So the lads are getting a bit more confidence, and we know we can compete.
“A lot of them have played in a lot of North West Counties games now, they are used to the physical side and that will stand us in good stead, as we know what to expect. We’ve just got to be sure we compete in every game”.
As far as the rest of the season is concerned, Steve believes his squad has the ability in their armoury to establish themselves as a Premier Division club.
“We discussed it before the season started, when we had a squad meeting pre-season, and we talked about where we could finish.
“If we can keep going and finish in the top half for our first season in the Premier Division, then we have done well, and we will be happy.
“We’ve got that target and the lads know where we need to be, but as long as everything improves over the season, I’ll take that”.