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Big kick-off: BetVictor Northern Premier N/West preview

By James Gordon

It’s all change in the BetVictor Northern Premier N/West division, with no fewer than 10 clubs that weren’t in the division last year.

As a result of the tweak in the boundaries, a number of clubs that plied their trade in the East division last term have switched over, together with the relegated and promoted clubs that have joined the party.

East Division play-off winners Brighouse Town are one of those clubs that have moved laterally, having missed out on promotion on points per game. Although it’s not quite the new league they hoped to be in, it will present a challenge for them after an impressive campaign last term.

They open up with a trip to Clitheroe, who start a new era at Shawe View after chairman Anne Barker stepped down at the end of last season.

Clitheroe do already have a competitive game under their belt, going down 2-1 at home to 1874 Northwich in the FA Cup last Saturday.

The side Brighouse beat in the East Division play-off final, Pontefract Collieries, have also moved over to the N/West Division, and they start with a trip to Runcorn Linnets, who agonisingly missed out on the play-offs in their first season in the NPL, having been in the top five from the August Bank Holiday all the way through to Easter.

It’s only the second time Linnets have played Pontefract, the hosts getting the better of them in an FA Cup clash back in 2015.

Runcorn have had to cope with some player departures over the summer, most notably Freddie Potter, who was released last month.

Newly-promoted Dunston, last year’s Northern League champions, have a tough baptism of fire in the NPL as they travel to Marine, relegated for the first time in their 125-year history at the end of last season.

Dunston have two matches in the tank already, having required a replay to overcome north east rivals Consett in the FA Cup, winning 5-2 on Tuesday night courtesy of a Mark Fitzpatrick hat-trick.

City of Liverpool are a new club to the NPL, and they start with the long trip to Marske United.

Craig Robinson’s side won in the FA Cup last week, and their ambitions are heightened by the carrot of taking Marine’s self-proclaimed title as “Liverpool’s premier non-league club”.

Another new club at this step, but coming from the other direction, is Workington, who will be looking to shrug off uncertainty over their new stadium development by making an immediate return to the Premier Division.

Under new manager Danny Grainger, the Reds host Pickering Town on the opening day. Pickering had a difficult campaign in the East Division, and will be looking to make a new start against new opposition from day one.

If Ramsbottom United manager Chris Willcock can repeat the form they showed after he took over last October, then they won’t be far away from promotion.

He took over from Mark Fell, and led Rammy on a famous FA Trophy run and also a fine unbeaten run in the league that ultimately propelled them up in to the play-offs.

Their opening day sees the visit of Widnes, who have focused on building an identity in pre-season to kick on from establishing themselves as a mid-table club in their first year in the NPL.

Integro NPL Cup winners Trafford start off with a trip to Curtis Woodhouse’s Tadcaster Albion, another side to make the switch from East to N/West.

Both sides threatened to reach the play-offs in their respective divisions before missing out in the final stretch of the season, and no doubt they will have eyes on going one better this year.

New Brewers boss Woodhouse said if his team was a racehorse, it would now be ready to run following this recent friendly win over Tadcaster Magnets.

Colne lost the league’s two-time young player of the year in Alex Curran to Stockport, while Brad Lynch also departed to join Atherton, as they look to build upon last season’s fourth placed finish.

Their opening game sees a trip to Droylsden, who had a campaign to forget and will be approaching the new season with renewed optimism despite a quiet one on the transfer front.

Rounding off the opening day’s fixtures are Kendal Town, reprieved from relegation owing to the withdrawal of Colwyn Bay, who host Prescot Cables.

The Mintcakes won just five games in the whole of last season, and will be keen to beat that record as early as possible.

Cables’ away form was all that stopped them from reaching the play-offs last season, though they have lost boss Brian Richardson, who has in turn taken a few players with him to FC United.

BetVictor Northern Premier N/West fixtures, Saturday August 17:

Clitheroe v Brighouse Town
Droylsden v Colne
Kendal Town v Prescot Cables
Marine v Dunston
Marske United v City of Liverpool
Ossett United v Mossley
Ramsbottom United v Widnes
Runcorn Linnets v Pontefract Collieries
Tadcaster Albion v Trafford
Workington v Pickering Town

Where next?

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