Whitchurch Alport manager Luke Goddard admits he has adjusted his original targets for the season, with his team continuing to set the pace at the top of Division One.
When Luke and his fellow managerial partner Carl Everall joined Alport from Crewe FC in the summer, they initially aimed at a mid-table position, but with his side at the top of the table Luke now believes that promotion is a realistic prospect.
“We probably didn’t expect to do as well as we have so early on”, said Luke. “We were confident that we could come in and improve things, and certainly felt we would bring in a competitive team which could finish mid-table, and that was the target at the start of the season.
“But now, we need to try and finish in the play offs at least. Competing in the play offs is a minimum for us now and then we’ll see where we go from there”.
There’s no doubting that that the club has moved on significantly since Luke and Carl arrived, given that they finished bottom of the league last season, but Luke says they were both excited by the challenge when the chance to move to Yockings Park came up.
“It was a good opportunity for us to come into a Step 6 League, get our teeth into it and try and improve the club”, he said.
“The club had just finished rock bottom of the league, two wins all season, and it was a challenge, but a challenge we wanted to get stuck into. Not just on the field, but also improve things off the field and get a good vibe.
“We were aware of the club, and knew it had huge potential, and although they had moved up into a Step 6 league in 2015 it had been a struggle. But we knew there was something to build on.
“We brought in players largely that had played for myself and Carl before, or just contacts we had. We also managed to get some players we knew who we couldn’t attract to play at Step 7, but were happy to come and play for us here.
“We also brought in some young lads who had never played open age football before, who long term we knew would be good enough to play at the very least at this level, and have proven they can play here and hopefully a few leagues higher as well”.
While management and players alike have adjusted to life in Division One, Luke admits that the quality of the league is better than he had expected.
“I played in the Premier Division in the past for Winsford United and Alsager Town, and hadn’t had much involvement in Division One, apart from watching a couple of games, but I think the standard has definitely improved”, he said.
“I know people have been saying that is partly down to the new clubs coming in, and we knew the new sides coming in such as Charnock Richard had been strong in their Step 7 leagues, and had been winning their leagues. But it is a very strong and competitive league.
“Maybe a couple of years ago when there were only 18 teams, it was easier for a decent side to get out of the league. Now, even with three promotion places it could take you a few years to get out of it, even if you are a good side, because there are so many good sides in the division now.
“It’s been a good challenge for us to step up and I like the higher standards off the field too, because it makes you aware everything is more professional than in a Step 7 league.
“The fact that clubs get fined for having more than two standing in the dugout or substitutes not wearing bibs, means you have to focus on being disciplined, and it just makes us realise we are operating at a higher level than before”.
As far as the rest of the season is concerned, Luke is now focussed on making sure his squad keep up the momentum at the top of the table, and continue the progress they have made since the summer.
“I kept saying to the committee at the start of the season, judge us after six months, then after twelve months, because I expected to see progression as a group”, he said.
“If you look at our record in August we had four wins and three defeats, but since then we have lost two in 20, and eight clean sheets in 13 games.
“So we have had that progression, and as much as it is nice to win games and be at the top of the table, as a group we just want to improve as individuals and as a team, week by week.
“I’m not looking to bring in other players at this stage. I would rather develop and work with the players we’ve got now. I want to look at how we improve the current squad, and that is how the club want to go about it too.
“We have a very small budget, we have to get lads bought into coming to the club, not coming to play for money, and the lads we have here have done that.
“We would obviously like to go up a league at the end of the season, but we said originally that if it takes us three or four years, then that is what it takes.
“If it happens in the first year then fantastic, but it’s not the be all and end all. There has been a lot of good work done so far, but there’s lots still to do.
“If we fall short, don’t get promoted or don’t make the play offs, it certainly won’t stop our progression and our aim, which is to keep improving Whitchurch Alport”.