The contrast in Barnoldswick Town’s form is nothing short of remarkable.
Having survived relegation by the skin of their teeth last season, Stewart Airdrie’s side are now third in the North West Counties Premier Division after 12 games.
And, perhaps even more impressively, Town are already just five points short of equalling their tally from last term.
Airdrie, who has pinpointed the squad’s strength in depth as the catalyst to their change in fortune, said: “It’s certainly been a contrast to last season. If anybody would’ve said that we’d be third after 12 games I would’ve snapped their hand off.
“We’ve brought a few players in which has been massive for us because we’re finally getting a squad together.
“We were a bit thin on the ground last year and we lost some key players early in the season. Unfortunately we were unable to replace them. We’re able to field a strong 16 now with plenty of options.
“The competition for places pushes everybody to go that extra mile and it makes a big difference. There’s more incentive for players to perform well for the club now.
“Players need to be on their toes because we’ve got the options to make changes and we’re not afraid to use them.”
In their latest outing, Mark Threlfall’s brace and a Joseph Gaughan strike had seen Town race in to a 3-0 lead against Maine Road at the Silentnight Stadium.
But two goals in as many minutes for the visitors - including a Calum Broady spot kick and a Jamie Roe strike - set up a nervy finale.
The three points were sealed with 10 minutes remaining, however, as John Beckwith netted to make it 4-2.
“Realistically we want a top 10 finish because we’ve got a decent side together,” said Airdrie. “Players are still bedding in but we’ve had a great start.
“Personally I think Colne might go on to win it. They’ll take some stopping. It’s a very tough league, especially when only one side can get promoted.
“We’ll push on though and we’ll aim high. We are in a much better position than what we were last season and we’ve got to be grateful.
“We’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum but we’re enjoying where we are at the moment.
“Belief is creeping in to the players now; the negativity from last term has gone. Our local rivals are up there and that gives us an added incentive.
“It gives us something to aspire to. We want to put pressure on them. It’s great for local football.”
Town travel to Newton Aycliffe tomorrow in the second qualifying round of the FA Carlsberg Vase.
“It will be a tough test for us,” Airdrie said. “We’ve seen them play so we know what we’re up against.
“They’re a big, physical side that play in a very competitive league. They’re a well organised unit too.
“It will be interesting to see how we deal with that type of opposition and it may show how far we’ve come.”