TIME is running out for Greater Manchester’s EFL and non-league clubs to be ready for the new season and these are the points that struck us as another round of friendlies passed by:
1. ROCHDALE are looking good
At one point in March, Rochdale looked in danger of getting sucked into the League One relegation battle last term, but the Dale players delivered the response manager Keith Hill had asked for. A run of six wins from eight not only sent Dale clear of the drop zone but they ultimately finished 10th, a second straight top-half finish.
With Hill making few changes to his squad this summer, Dale have picked up from where they left off. Pre-season wins over AFC Fylde, Stockport County and Curzon Ashton were followed by a 1-1 draw with Blackburn last Tuesday. Then they claimed the result of the weekend, winning 4-1 at home to last season’s League One winners Wigan. Dale hope to maintain that form as they visit Macclesfield on Tuesday before completing their pre-season programme with a trip to FC United next Saturday.
2. BURY may sell their top scorer
Bury boss David Flitcroft did admit at the end of last season that he was going to sell some of his contracted players to ‘rebalance’ his squad. Few would have expected so many to leave, though. Captain Peter Clarke’s exit for Oldham made it four, now Tom Pope has been transfer-listed and Sheffield United have made a bid for Leon Clarke.
Flitcroft said last week that Clarke laughed when he told him how low the offer was. Yet then he left his top scorer out of Saturday’s friendly at Southport as he felt Clarke ‘had his head turned’.
Bury are now said to be close to agreeing a fee with the Blades while Pope has been linked with a return to Port Vale so it now looks more a case of balancing the books than balancing the squad.
3. BOLTON rebuild well underway
Sheffield United visit Bolton on the opening day and may have been hoping to catch Wanderers cold after a summer of change at the Macron.
New manager Phil Parkinson is having to rebuild the squad while trying to introduce a new playing style and mentality, and after pre-season wins at Tranmere and York he already looks to have made significant progress. Their final two friendlies at home to Burnley (Tuesday) and Preston (Saturday) will be a more accurate barometer though.
4. BURY and OLDHAM could be under-cooked
Bury only scored their first pre-season goal on Saturday while Oldham have lost each of their pre-season games. David Flitcroft and new Oldham boss Steve Robinson have both brought in plenty of new players, and it seems they simply won’t have enough games for them to gel.
The Shakers’ first team have two behind-closed-doors games next week before their final friendly at Blackpool (Saturday), although Flitcroft has the chance to field some senior players as he takes a Bury XI to Radcliffe Borough (Wednesday) and Ramsbottom United (Friday).
Oldham, who have made 12 summer signings so far, have just two games left though as they host Wigan (Tuesday) before visiting Grimsby (Saturday).
5. The ‘worst team in England’ is ready to turn a corner
Living on the edge of Greater Manchester and Derbyshire, NEW MILLS was a convenient destination for me on Saturday as the Millers welcomed Ramsbottom. After failing to win a single game last season, New Mills were dubbed the ‘worst team in England’ and relegated from the Evo-Stik North with just three points.
But manager Garry Brown has remained in charge at Church Lane, where there is renewed hope heading into the North West Counties after a 3-0 win over Sheffield United’s Under-21s in midweek was followed up by a 0-0 draw with Rammy.