IAN LONG hopes Alvechurch have added their own version of France World Cup ace N’Golo Kante after snapping up former foe Aaron Birch.
The midfielder helped Hereford pip Church to the Midland Premier title in 2016 before having spells at Sutton Coldfield Town and Stourbridge.
However, after impressing in pre-season including scoring in last weekend’s 6-2 friendly win at Wolves Casuals, he has become Alvechurch’s sixth summer signing.
Long says the arrival of Birch, a former West Brom youngster alongside Tom Turton and Josh Ezewele, will crank up the battle for midfield berths ahead of their debut in the Southern Central Division.
“Aaron is someone we’ve watched for a while, since he played against us when Hereford won the title, and then went to Sutton and Stourbridge,” said Long. “He has been out for six months but he has looked very good in pre-season and will add a lot of competition in the middle of the park.
“He breaks up plays like Kante does, sitting in midfield. He reads the game well and picks up a lot of second balls and gets the team playing.”
Fellow new signings Kieron Cook and Danny O’Callaghan have also been big positives in the three friendlies so far, with both netting twice.
“Both Kieron and Danny have settled in well and scored a couple of goals which will help their confidence,” said Long.
Cook, signed from Wednesfield, and O’Callaghan, from Sutton, were both on target to help seal a 6-0 hammering of a young Kidderminster Harriers side on Tuesday to reach the final of the Worcestershire Senior Cup. The final is scheduled against Redditch United or Evesham United at Evesham’s Jubilee Stadium next Thursday.
Tom Turton led the way with a hat-trick, with Josh March also on target, but Long admitted he was disappointed Harriers could only send their academy team to Lye Meadow as they had also arranged a friendly with Burton Albion for the same night.
It has meant a rethink of the warm-up matches, with a low-key friendly arranged for last night (Thursday) against Worcester Raiders and a much tougher test scheduled for Saturday, July 28 at Hednesford Town. The planned game with Highgate United will still be played, with Long able to field two strong XIs.
Bromsgrove Sporting provide the next challenge on Tuesday at Lye Meadow although both clubs are expected to shuffle their line-ups, bearing in mind they also meet in the FA Cup at the end of August.
“I was pleased with the performance against Kidderminster, but it wasn’t quite the test we had expected because they sent their kids,” said Long.
“With the fact we also play Bromsgrove Sporting in the FA Cup, it has changed the focus for that friendly, so it’s been a little bit disruptive but playing Hednesford will be a good strong challenge.”
Cook and O’Callaghan had opened their goal accounts on Saturday in a 6-2 win at Wolves Casuals, with Callum Debar, Ryan Winwood and triallist Cody Fisher, a former Walsall trainee, also on target.
New recruit Mamoke Akauna had been the scorer in the opening friendly last Thursday as Church drew 1-1 at Malvern Town.
Alvechurch will begin the new Southern League Premier Central season at home to Royston Town on August 11.
Then follows a visit to Tamworth on August 14 before a visit to Coalville Town on August 18.
Church host local rivals Redditch United on Boxing Day and end the campaign at Needham Market on April 27.