STOCKPORT COUNTY manager Jim Gannon believes the Hatters are set to face a test of their promotion credentials in the National League North.
County are ending 2016 in style, winning 3-0 at home to local rivals ALTRINCHAM on Saturday to claim their fourth straight victory.
Since suffering an unfortunate late defeat at home to runaway leaders AFC Fylde at the end of September, the Hatters have lost just two of their nine league games, reached the FA Cup first round and the second round of the FA Trophy, where they host league rivals Brackley on January 14. Gannon (above) has also been handed a contract extension to 2019.
His side are now joint-seventh in the table with Salford City, three points off the play-off places, and Gannon feels their festive double-header against Harrogate Town, who are 10th, will kick off a crucial period for County.
He said: “There’s a good balance to the squad and it’s exciting to think where we’re positioned, with the results going for us on Saturday. Over the next few games we can really close that gap and put ourselves in a good position.
“January’s a massive month in terms of playing Brackley, Halifax, Darlington – all the teams that are there or thereabouts. Then we’ll see the real measure of this team.
“We’ve had three clean sheets (in the last four games) and I’ve asked the lads to be more ruthless,” added the County boss. “Statistically, we had a really good second seven (league games) and picked up points. After a bit of a poor run around the Woking game (FA Cup defeat), only getting five points from five games, it was really important that the lads got back-to-back wins to make it 11 points from those seven games.
“We’ve got 35 points now (from 21 games) and were aiming for at least 72 this season. We’re halfway through the season and if we do the same again we’ll be in touching distance, like we are at the moment. It’s important now to turn that odd defeat into a win over the course of the second half of the season.
“With a couple of teams faltering and the way the fixtures are over this Christmas period – with the likes of Halifax playing Darlington, and Chorley playing Fylde – we could put ourselves in a position where we’re right in the mix. That’d be a great credit to the players.
“When we started with this squad we did have things to iron out, it was a work in progress. It’s still a work in progress but now we’re hopefully fine-tuning aspects of our game that will really make us competitive against the top six.”
Altrincham have slipped to the bottom of the table and County made no mistake on Saturday to do the double over the struggling Robins. Danny Lloyd opened the scoring on 25 minutes with his 14th goal of the season before Jimmy Ball scored a 77th-minute header. Right-back Sam Minihan then fired home at the death to make it County’s biggest win of the season.
Asked what pleased him most, Gannon said: “The defensive display. I know it’s strange (to say that), but the platform was an immense mentality to make sure we were competitive throughout.
“The only thing I had to talk about at half-time was the way we were defending and how important Lewis (Montrose) was to that structure. I’m delighted for him that he got Man of the Match. It’s strange in a game where you win 3-0 that your holding midfield player gets it, but it was a Football League performance from him.”
County now travel to Harrogate on Boxing Day before welcoming Town to Edgeley Park on New Year’s Day (3pm kIck-off).