FORMER Claret Andy Payton is eagerly anticipating the start of the North West Counties campaign.
Payton will be stood alongside Colne boss Nigel Coates on the sidelines at the XLCR Stadium as the Reds kick off their season against last term’s strugglers St Helens Town.
The one-time Turf Moor striker has been impressed by his side’s unbeaten pre-season, but he’s fully aware that the hard work begins at 3 p.m. tomorrow.
“We’ve been doing very well but ultimately it all starts tomorrow,” he said. “The lads have worked incredibly hard and we are definitely ready. It’s great that we’ve been winning in pre-season because it helps build confidence but it’s the real thing against St Helens.
“We want to get off to the best possible start, with three points, but the lads will have to stay grounded. This season we want to make the XLCR Stadium a fortress and that starts tomorrow.”
Last season saw Colne register more victories on the road than at Holt House with a ratio of 11 to eight. Had that form been improved on home soil then an eighth place finish could have been bettered. And Payton is confident of achieving that feat this time round, even without the likes of Billy Priestley and Mark Threlfall who parted the club for pastures new.
“We are looking to challenge at the top end of the table,” declared Payton. “We realise that we still need more competition, especially in defence, but we’re confident. Quite a few players left in the summer so right down the spine of the squad needs strengthening.
It’s sometimes tough to replace players but we’re happy with the squad we’ve put together. We’ve got a good mixture, a good combination, which is hungry for success. The first target is to beat last season’s 8th place finish.”
Payton added: “Training has gone very well and I’ve had a great response. The first team squad will consist of about 18 players and they are all good, young talents. I’ve really put them through it but they reacted well and they look much fitter for it. That’s important at this level.”
As far as his own evolution is concerned, Payton admits he’s learned a lot and gained a lot of experience already even at this premature stage of his tenure as assistant manager.
“I’ve been there five weeks and I’ve already picked things up,” he said. “Nigel Coates has a wealth of experience and he’s passing that on. He’s a good manager so now I want to do my bit and familiarise myself more with the North West Counties. It’s a big season for me and a big season for the team. I’m glad I got the opportunity to get involved with it.”
After tomorrow’s opener Colne go on to face Ashton Athletic away on Tuesday.
• AFTER two wins and one draw, Colne’s promising pre-season continued when they faced tough opposition from Evo-Stick League One side Radcliffe Boro.
Colne made a disastrous start when they went a goal down after just two minutes when Tom Brooks latched on to a through ball and calmly slotted home into the far corner.
Kicking up the slope against a strong wind Colne managed to contain the big strong and fast Radcliffe side for the next 20 minutes and gradually began to form a shape to their side.
After being on their heels the Reds began to create some chances and get back into the game. On 25 minutes Mark Coyne played a great ball through to Paul Fildes whose first time shot flew just wide of the far corner.
Ten minutes later Colne deservedly drew level when Jason Hart latched onto a loose ball and drove into the area but his shot struck the near post and rebounded to Daz Simpson who drilled the ball back across into the far corner.
After a succession of corners in the second half, Colne were awarded a free kick on the edge of the area and Kieran Demaine bent the ball around the wall into the bottom corner to put the Reds in the lead.
In the final stages of the match Ed O’Neill twice came close to adding a third goal only to be denied by good saves by ex-Manchester United keeper Nick Culkin.
Colne completed their unbeaten run of friendlies with a 3-2 win at Chadderton on Tuesday night and their travelling supporters were treated to three top class goals from their new strikers.
The Reds had to come from behind twice but displayed tenacity and resilience to get the right result.
Colne almost took the lead after only eight minutes when Dominic Craig’s free kick reached Steve Pickup at the far post but his downward header was kept out by the keeper’s feet.
Chadderton competed strongly in the first half and created chances of their own with their industrious midfield quick to supply their lively attackers. However the opening goal after 26 minutes was down to a mix-up by the Reds as they tried to pass the ball back towards their own goal from out on the right wing and ultimately presented an unmissable chance to Niall Sultan who slotted the ball past Bobby Harris to give Chadderton the lead.
But Colne were behind for less than a minute as Jason Hart picked up the ball 30 yards from goal and detonated an unstoppable pile driver into the net past the helpless home keeper for the equaliser.
Both sides looked for a second goal but Colne’s shooting was too often off target and they were made to pay on the stroke of half time when Sultan broke away on the right wing and his low cross was hammered home at the far post by John Munson to give Chadderton a 2-1 lead.
As the second half began, Colne pushed forward looking for an equaliser but both Mark Coyne and Tom Fowler saw their headers flash wide of the goal.
The breakthrough came after 57 minutes when Ashley Carter’s cross found Hart at the far post who volleyed home from close range to level the scores at 2-2.
Ed O’Neill worked tirelessly on the right both in defence and attack and provided an endless supply of balls for the forwards with Daz Simpson and Micky Saunders having joined the game from the subs bench.
After 75 minutes, pressure on the home goal produced a corner which was half cleared and Paul Coote let fly from 25 yards with a shot that went like a rocket into the top corner of the net for the winning goal.