After three seasons of near misses, Colne boss Steve Cunningham is eager to win the NPL North West Division outright to avoid the stress of the play-offs.
Cunningham’s side reached the play-offs in 2017 and last season, having missed out on goal difference last year.
He jokes that the anxiety has seen him lose his hair, as he hones in on winning the league outright.
The Reds have lost Alex Curran, young player of the year two years running at this level, and Brad Lynch, to Stockport County and Curzon Ashton respectively.
But Cunningham feels his side are stronger overall, after his transfer dealings over the summer.
He has brought in former Chorley and Stockport striker Sefton Gonzales, Max Hazeldine, who shone with Clitheroe last season, winger Aidan Chippendale and former Doncaster Rovers midfielder Tony Donaldson, while imposing centre back Andy Hollins is back after two loan spells last season.
Cunningham said: “I hope it doesn’t come across as arrogant, because it’s not that, it’s just self belief.
“We’ve been so close for three years running, we’re the most consistent team at this level now, in terms of challenging, and it’s cost me my hair!
“I just want to win it this time, it will be tough – it could be the toughest this league has been many a year, so if we can do it, it would be the biggest achievement of my football career.
“But I believe we can win it, it’s just about finding that consistency again, and hopefully we’ll have that bit of Lady Luck on our side as well.
“Ultimately, we want to be in the top four challenging all season, in the mix for promotion, but the title is our main objective.”
Cunningham expects the likes of Mossley, Trafford, Runcorn Linnets, Ramsbottom, Marine, Workington, Dunston, Brighouse, Ossett United and Pontefract Collieries to fancy their chances as well, but he is leaving no stone unturned in his bid for the holy grail: “We’re up against some big clubs, and people put us in that bracket as well, but we’ve earned that.
“In terms of our resources, we’ve gone big with two or three players, but I also have a lot of young players, that’s the model.
“In pre-season, we had seven under 21.
“So there’s no pressure, only the pressure we put on ourselves.
“We’re doing everything we can every week in terms of our preparation, we’re taking it game by game, three points by three points.
“I want the boys to enjoy the pressure, they should feel like they are at a big club in this league, and people talk about us as one of the favourites, but we want to be the ones to beat.”
Colne open up tomorrow at Droylsden, before Marine visit the Sovereign Play Stadium on Tuesday night, and Cunningham said: “We won’t look beyond Droylsden, the focus is on three points, and we’ll chase those every game.
“We started off with five wins last season, and if we could do that again, it would be a great statement, but it’s all about Droylsden first.”
Gonzales, back at Colne after a previous spell, returns to the club where he finished as second top-scorer at this level with 22 goals.
And with Hazeldine, who hit 16 for Clitheroe, Cunningham said: “I’d like to think we’ve replaced the goals of Alex and Brad, with two very good strikers.
“Sefton is a man mountain, a lovely lad, he’s scored six goals in pre-season and he’s flying.
“And Max, once we get him fit, will be a big asset as well.”