Colne boss Steve Cunningham has targeted a similar demographic in the transfer market as he looks to build a competitive squad ahead of another season in the Evo-Stik League.
The 38-year-old was forced to replenish his numbers midway through the 2017/18 campaign, with unforeseen disruptions causing disarray, but the head honcho at Holt House managed to turn that negative in to a positive.
The former Padiham FC assistant, who worked under now Northwich Victoria boss Steve Wilkes, identified a new breed of individual to resuscitate his troops, one with hunger and vitality.
That bracket, with players aged between 18 and 23, proved to be a revelation as they revitalised the Reds’ season, pushing to within touching distance of the play-offs.
“I’m excited for it after a good pre-season,” he said. “It’s been a busy summer having brought in lots of new faces.
“We’ve stuck to the same profile with our transfer policy. We’ve not gone for big names, we’ve gone for young players, between 18 and 23.
“That was the demographic at the back end of last season and it worked for us. You’ve sometimes got to take a gamble and take on players that you can try and improve.”
Cunningham has maintained the core of last season’s group while adding teenage midfielder Alex Hope, centre forward Kyle Sambor, who scored 23 times for Mansfield Town’s youth team, Blackburn Rovers pair Matty Makinson and Brad Lynch as well as 20-year-old full back Luke Higham, who arrives on a short term contract after agreeing professional terms in Australia.
Striker Joe Gaughan and Joe Garvin have returned to the club though Gaz Stopforth moved on to Chester, Matty Morgan joined Bamber Bridge, Ollie Crankshaw was signed by Curzon Ashton and Harry Pratt was released by the club.
“We’ve maintained the core of last year’s group and added to that,” said Cunningham. “Hakan Burton has extended his contract as has Lee Pugh and Waqas Azam. The likes of Alex Curran, Brad Knox, Simon Nangle and Chris Lynch are also still committed.
“Our model enabled Ollie to score as many goals as he did last season and he put himself in the shop window.
“He didn’t get a look in at Ramsbottom United and Clitheroe but he boosted his profile here with his form. He’s now been able to move on to a higher level.”
Work has also been done to address matters off the pitch. Cunningham was a lone soldier for much of his tenure last term, dedicating a generous dose of his own time to the club, but now he’s got a team on board that can back him.
UEFA B qualified coaches Kyle Hall and Richard Geoghan will be his right hand men, Aaron Hirst has taken on the role of vice-chairman, working in conjunction with chairman Ryan Haigh at the Sovereign Plate Stadium, Steve Petty has returned as goalkeeping coach and Matt Booth has been employed as the club’s physio.
“I’ve got a new management team in place that has all the qualities I’ve been looking for as well,” Cunningham said.
“They both know each other’s style and bounce off each other. I’ve got a really strong team and everyone of them will have an input.
“I don’t have to do it all on my own anymore. It was a long season last time out and it was really hard at times.
“Now I’ve got people around me who I can trust and they’ll bring plenty to the table. We can take this club forward as a group.”
The Reds travel to the Lyme Valley Stadium to take on Newcastle Town tomorrow as the new season gets underway. They’ll then host Ramsbottom United on Tuesday with kick-off at 7-45 p.m.
l Colne finished their programme of pre-season friendlies with a useful workout against newly-formed Ossett United.
The Yorkshire outfit is an amalgamation of Ossett Town and Ossett Albion and now play at Ingfield, the former club’s ground in the town centre.
Cunningham used the game to give all his players a run out and wouldn’t have been too concerned with the 2-0 defeat.
Lynch had a goal ruled out for offside when converting trialist Danny Pilkington’s delivery while Sambor missed the target with a header from close range.
United took the lead in the 36th minute when Aidan Chippendale fired home a loose ball once Alex Coleman had turned Nicky Boshell’s attempt off the line.
The hosts went on to double their lead before the interval, countering from a Colne corner, and it was Chippendale who arrowed a shot in to the top corner.
Gaughan went close for the visitors when his effort flashed past the upright and George Grayson hit the woodwork at the other end as Town pressed for a third goal in the closing stages.