IF ASHTON UNITED are to win promotion from the Evo-Stik Premier then surely this has to be the year.
The Robins have been banging on the door, reaching the play-offs in each of the last three seasons, but they have been frustrated by the likes of Chorley, AFC Fylde, FC United, Darlington and Salford City.
Now they have all been promoted, the path is clear for Ashton to follow them into the National League North and this summer they have given themselves the best opportunity.
Although they have lost top scorer Martin Pilkington to a betting ban, the Robins have strengthened across the park, with Grant Shenton, Rich Smith, Tunji Moses, Ryan Crowther, Adam Morning, Jody Banim, Shelton Payne and Lee Gaskell just some of the players who’ve been added to what was already a competitive squad.
The bookies make Blyth Spartans favourites for the title, with Ashton fourth down the list at 9/1, and it seems the time is right for the Robins to finally swoop into step two. They start the season at Frickley Athletic on Saturday.
HYDE UNITED have kept their manager on despite being unable to save them from relegation but hope to bounce straight back up after some positive signings. Sound familiar?
The Tigers were in the same situation last summer and they did, indeed, get out of the Evo-Stik Premier. Trouble was they went the wrong way, with Darren Kelly failing to stop them being relegated for the third year running.
Scott Spencer has since returned to Stockport County but Ayrton Bevins has returned while Kelly has also brought in the likes of Chris Amadi, Phil Dean, David McGurk and Dylan Forth. Hyde aren’t just expected to stop the rot, they’re expected to challenge for promotion, and that mission begins at home to Tadcaster Albion.
RAMSBOTTOM UNITED also came down to the Evo-Stik North and new joint-managers Paul Fildes and Mark Fell have recruited well. Non-league veteran Gareth Seddon has arrived from Salford and is set to lead the line at home to Goole AFC.
TRAFFORD finished eighth in the Evo-Stik North last term and look to have improved again. Tom Baker’s men start at home to Burscough. MOSSLEY were level pegging with Trafford for most of the campaign before drifting to a 13th-placed finish. Joint-managers Peter Band and Lloyd Morrison remain in charge and the Lilywhites open at home to Kendal Town.
After finishing fourth-bottom, DROYLSDEN are keen to start heading in the right direction again and they start their campaign at Lancaster City. RADCLIFFE BOROUGH have languished in the bottom half for the last six years but with a new chairman and new manager helping them build a new-look squad, they hope their trip to Brighouse Town will be the start of a promotion challenge.