Bradford Park Avenue manager Mark Bower believes his side have improved since gaining their first win of the season in late October, but admitted that they still have plenty of work to do to stay in the Vanarama National League North.
Goals from Ben McKenna, Emile Sinclair and Nicky Wroe gave Bower his first win as Avenue boss and gave the club their first win of the season.
Since then achieving “firsts” has become a bit of a habit.
Their 1-0 win against Alfreton Town was the club’s first home win of the season and their first clean sheet too.
And that win, coupled with a 3-2 win at FC United of Manchester, gave them their first back-to-back wins of the campaign.
Their improvement continued last weekend as a stoppage time winner from James Knowles sealed an impressive away win at Stockport County.
The improvement in performance and confidence from Bower’s side is clear to see, but now the former Bradford City and Darlington defender wants his side to carry on their upturn in form over the coming months.
Reflecting on a successful few weeks Bower said “I think we have ticked off a few firsts in the past few weeks. We had our first win of the season at Altrincham, then our first home win against Alfreton, which was the first clean sheet as well.
“It was our first and only home win of the season and it took a while to come.
“After the Alfreton game we won at FC United, which was the first back-to-back wins of the season.
“It was important to do those, we need to do them is we are going to have a chance and we look a totally different team now. We are confident and we look like a side that can pick up results.
“Once we got that first win we gained confidence, we started picking up more points and got ourselves back in touch with the clubs that are looking up towards mid-table.
“We have given ourselves a chance, but that’s all it is, we have to carry it on and that is the challenge ahead for everyone at the club”
Despite the improvement in results Avenue still sit in the National League North’s relegation zone, albeit within touching distance of the sides above them.
Part of the reason, a big part of the reason for their struggles this campaign has been their home form.
In their ten games at the Horsfall Stadium, Avenue have picked up just six points, with ten of their sixteen points won in their ten away games.
Bower admitted that the Horsfall Stadium is a “unique place to play football” and one that he hopes his side can take advantage of in the weeks and months ahead.
“We have to improve the home form, we won’t stay up if we can’t”
“You can’t have ten home games and win only one. We can’t go through the final eleven home games with that sort of form because if we do we will be in big, big trouble.
“It is a very unique place to play football and it throws up a few different challenges for ourselves and opposing teams. Hopefully we can become more used to it than the opposition and adapt quicker.
“We hope we can catch teams out but we just have to win games, recently we have done that, we have shown we are capable and we have to maintain that form”
When Bower replaced Alex Meechan at the Avenue helm, he inherited an experienced squad and one with a number of familiar faces.
The likes of Liam Dickinson, Nicky Boshell and Emile Sinclair all worked under Bower during his time with Guiseley.
Football League experience is provided by players like Nicky Wroe and Matt Hill (pictured below left), meaning Bower possesses a squad capable of moving away from the drop zone.
That will require plenty of character, something the thirty six year old believes his side have already shown as they bounced back from a disappointing home defeat against Stalybridge Celtic to claim a priceless win at FC United of Manchester, something he descibed as their “biggest test”.
“I think the biggest test was the way we bounced back from the defeat against Stalybridge Celtic” admitted Bower.
“That came after a good win at Altrincham and it felt like it was back to square one”
“Our heads didn’t drop and we went to FC United and put in a really good performance after that defeat. That was a big test, the lads overcame it and showed the character we have.
“To be fair we have experience, lads with Football League experience. We certainly aren’t the youngest side in the league, we have that experience to fall back on.
“To play at big stadiums, in front of big crowds like at Stockport and FC United, shows what we have in the dressing room.
“We have opportunities in the next few weeks to build on that”
Although high on experience, the Avenue squad is short on quality according to the man charged with keeping them in the National League North.
Improving that is a priority, albeit one that is made difficult with the new transfer deadline regulations preventing Football League clubs from loaning players out between September and December.
For now Bower has to focus on the players he has, but hopes their improvement in league form can attract the neccassary players to improve on the quality and strength-in-depth of his squad.
“We need more changes. We don’t have the quality in-depth in the squad that we would like.
“Throughout the winter you start to pick up suspensions and injuries and we know we need a stronger squad. It’s tricky because the transfer window in the Football League is making it harder for clubs at our level.
“Football League clubs aren’t allowing players to move on loan because they can’t replace them, that filters down the league and it’s just not happening.
“Hopefully come January we will be in a better position in the league because we need to make ourselves a more attractive proposition for potential new signings.
“We were nine points adrift at the bottom of the league at one point, it would be difficult to bring players in on the back of that.
“Now we are improving hopefully we can bring some in. When that window opens we have a chance and it’s one that we have to take to make this squad stronger for the second half of the season”
Interview: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)
Images: Bradford Park Avenue FC / www.actionimages.com