IAN LONG has urged new-look Alvechurch to ‘hit the ground running’ after describing the Midland Football League Premier Division title race as the toughest for years.
The Lye Meadow boss and his team make their competitive bow on Saturday in the season-opening home fixture against AFC Wulfrunians.
After 16 players followed Long from Evo-Stik Northern Division One South side Tividale in the summer, Church have enjoyed a successful pre-season with seven wins and one draw, including successive victories against Northern Premier opposition.
Long hopes the squad’s togetherness – to add to their proven quality – will give them an edge in a title battle with the likes of resurrected Hereford, last year’s runners-up Coleshill Town, plus Coventry Sphinx and promoted Highgate United.
Long recalled steering Tividale to 13 straight wins when they won the then Midland Alliance title two years ago and would love a repeat with Alvechurch. A positive start is essential and, after facing AFC Wulfs, Alvechurch visit Continental Star on Wednesday.
“By getting 13 wins on the bounce at the start of the 2013/14 season, we gave ourselves a foothold in the title race. We got on a roll and we need to hit the ground running this season,” said Long.
“This has got to be one of the strongest set of teams in the league for years. Everyone is talking about Hereford and they will have huge support and resources. If they get a good start, they will be hard to stop. They are the team to beat, but there’s also Highgate, Coleshill, Coventry Sphinx. So many teams could win it.
“We’re one of them. I’d like to win everything, every competition we enter, even the FA Cup. That’s the mentality you want.”
Alvechurch ended their warm-up games by defeating hosts Halesowen Town on Tuesday, to follow a home victory against Sutton Coldfield Town. Nigel Penney and Danny Priest netted the first half goals to beat the Yeltz 2-0 while Karl Edwards (penalty) and Mark Smith were on target in a 2-1 win against Sutton last Saturday.
Church used 21 different starters in the two games and Long has been delighted with the strength in depth.
The trio of Jack Cresswell, Dale Edwards and Joel Ambalu, who all played for Church last season, boosted their claims as Long integrates the new and old.
“The 2-0 win against Halesowen was as convincing as the scoreline suggests,” said Long.
“I asked the players to go out and give me some selection headaches – and they have done that. Everyone, including the supporters and committee, has been pleased with the lads’ progress. There’s stiff competition for every place.”
Luke Paskin, however, will miss the start of the season after suffering a twisted ankle. The defender – Tividale’s player of the season in the last campaign – was due to resume training this week but Long says it could be two to four weeks before he is in contention.