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National League North: Neil Young wary as Altrincham prepare for step two return

MOST non-league observers would agree with Neil Young’s assessment when he was unveiled as the new ALTRINCHAM manager in May.

The former Chester FC boss said that the National League North will be the most competitive it’s ever been – even more than last season, when he left Stockport County after 8 months in charge at Edgeley Park.

Young led Chester out of step two in 2013 but now faces a stiffer test with FC Halifax having come down from the Vanarama National League along with Alty, while Salford City and Darlington 1883 have come up from the Evo-Stik Premier.

Many of the players Lee Sinnott led to promotion in 2014 remained so Young felt it was time for a fresh start, moving most of them on but keeping Damian Reeves, James Lawrie, Jake Moult, Shaun Densmore and Simon Richman.

Reeves struck three times in pre-season as the Robins drew five out of six friendlies before squeezing in another game on Monday night. Witton Albion played host and it proved a worthwhile exercise for Alty as they romped to a 5-0 victory, with new signings Craig Hobson and Danny Hattersley among the scorers.

Tom Hannigan has formed what looks a promising centre-half partnership with fellow new boy John Cyrus. Hannigan suffered an injury scare in last Friday’s 0-0 draw with Burnley but it proved to be only a dead leg and the former AFC Fylde defender was able to start at Witton.

Hattersley wasn’t as fortunate, though. Like Reeves, he too has scored three goals in pre-season but he hobbled off late on at Witton with a hip injury and is in a race against time to be fit for Saturday’s opener at home to Darlington.

Summer signing Andrew Dawber is also unsure whether he’ll feature after Young brought in another keeper yesterday. Callum Preston played in goal for League Two Crawley last season but the young keepers will now go head-to-head for the starting berth.

Young had an 18-man squad at the start of pre-season but, besides Preston, he also added experienced utility man Alan Goodall while youth product Harry Cain has been drafted into the senior set-up after impressing at left-back during pre-season.

Now the new Alty boss has the chance to put his Stockport spell behind him, although he isn’t making any bold predictions.

“People will look at it and say ‘he failed’, but I don’t see it as that,” said Young.  “There were mitigating circumstances and I feel I left the club  in a better place from when I took over.

“From my perspective, it’s about moving on and looking to the future, which is here with Altrincham. We’ve got to be challenging but likewise I’m not going to make silly
statements which people can throw back at me in 6 or 8 months’ time.”

Given the competition, that’s probably wise.