WITH the start of the 2015-16 National League Premier season fast approaching, Ollie Mackenzie takes a look at Altrincham’s chances ahead of the new campaign.
Last year brought a season of consolidation to The Robins after reaching the National League Premier for the first time since 2011. The long serving core of the side helped guide Alty to a respectable 17th place.
However, with a midfield bolstered by the signings of Josh O’Keefe and Anthony Griffith, plus star striker Damian Reeves staying on for another season Altrincham will be hoping to push on towards mid-table this season.
Anthony Griffith (Midfielder from Carlisle United): The 28-year old defensive midfielder joined on a free transfer. Griffith comes with a wealth of football league experience and four caps for Montserrat; manager Lee Sinnott has worked with the Huddersfield born player before at Port Vale where he won club player of the year in 2010
Josh O’Keefe (Midfielder from Kidderminster Harriers): A former academy player at Blackburn Rovers, the 26-year old has been a nomadic player in the National League in recent years; having played for Kidderminster Harriers, Chester and Telford. Manager Lee Sinnott has described the midfielder as a player who “fits the bill in many ways, when you consider the players who left the club”.
Michael Rankin (Striker from Gateshead): Snapped up as a replacement for Kyle Perry; the 30 year old has experience up and down the football pyramid with Barrow, Rushden and Diamonds and Bournemouth. The former Alty trialist stated that he was excited to join such “a family-orientated club, with the right outlook”, and is looking to form a clinical strike partnership with fellow Doncaster born Player Damian Reeves.
Jordan Sinnott (Midfielder from Huddersfield): Sinnott finished last season at Alty, after his release by Huddersfield, and after appearing on trial over the summer he’s signed on non-contract terms.
George Bowerman (Striker from Accrington Stanley): The former Walsall striker has spent the summer on trial at Moss Lane and has impressed manager Sinnott enough to earn a contract.
Kyle Perry (to Hednesford Town, free): After scoring just seven goals in 43 games, manager Lee Sinnot has decided not to retain the 29-year old who has taken the step down to National League North.
Greg Wilkinson (released): The 25-year-old spent the last few months of his time at The Robins on loan at Stockport County. Although has hasn’t signed a contract with a club yet he is currently on trial at FC United.
Peter Cavanagh (retirement): The experienced midfielder was one of the more surprising players not to be retained by Alty this summer. The 33-year-old had initially signed for Southport as a player coach, however has recently changed his mind and hung up the boots to join Roberto Martinez’s backroom staff at Everton.
Dave Parton (to Hednesford Town, free): Parton joins Perry at the National League North outfit. The goalkeeper initially joined with equal status to Stuart Coburn, however with Coburn taking the majority of games Patton has left for pastures new.
Sean Williams (to Hinckley AFC, free): The 23-year-old midfielder has left The Robins to take the step down to regional football playing for recently founded Hinckley AFC.
Damian Reeves: Once again Altrincham will be relying on the free scoring centre forward to keep The Robins out of danger. The 29-year-old is playing the football of his career at Altrincham and managed to bag 18 goals in his first season in the National League. Reeves is central to any hopes of Alty keeping well clear of the relegation zone and pointing towards mid table. However with the cloud of second season syndrome hanging over him the Doncaster born striker may find reaching that tally again easier said than done.
Shaun Densmore: Densmore remains the Rock of Gibraltar in The Robins defence. His ability to play across the defense proved vital last season. With Cavanagh departed and Jake Moult not a natural full back; Densmore putting in good performances for Altrincham will be vital to them staying comfortably above the drop. The former Everton academy player could also do with some help from his teammates with discipline. Too often Altrincham went a man down at crucial points last season; leaving Densmore with too much work to do.
Stuart Coburn: One of the big debates that surrounds The Robins this summer is whether Coburn still has the physicality and mental sharpness to compete at National League level. The departure of Parton makes a real statement of support for the 39-year-old keeper. However, the lack of backup as things stand is a real concern, especially considering that Coburn spent a portion of the season out with injury. Goalkeepers tend to have longer sell by dates than other players, but a top draw backup is still needed in order to tailor Coburns’ games.
I caught up with a sports rehabilitator over pre-season and he gave his opinion on some of the key things affecting Alty.
On Stuart Coburn’s future:
“Stuart’s experience gets him through a game; his reaction time is still fantastic. We had Dave Parton last year who just couldn’t get in because of Stuart, and he’s (Coburn) at the age where we’re thinking is this his last year.
“With Stuart his speed has slowed down, but he reads the game that well and get into positions were that doesn’t affect him.”
On keeping the core of the squad:
“We went up the year Telford went up and Telford really struggled last season and I think the changeover of players has a lot to do with that. The gaffer believes in his players, he knows what their abilities are and he gets them in with the view of keeping them long term.”
On the new signings:
“We’ve just signed Michael Rankine, before he signed for us he came in and just had a wander round to get a feel of the place. He had a chat with various other people who have been associated with the club, and what came over to him was that this place is a nice family club.
“Same goes for Josh O’Keefe, when he signed his father came down with him for two to three hours. They said it was a nice place and took that away with them, and both signed after receiving offers from you would imagine better clubs.”
Despite the ambitions of some fans of reaching mid table and challenging arch rivals Macclesfield Town; Altrincham realistically don’t have the talent or squad depth to put up that sort of fight. Beneath the free scoring Damian Reeves and new signings is a core that is playing at its peak and doesn’t have the potential to make much progress from last season’s 17th place. Having said that, Altrincham’s signings so far certainly mean that the club isn’t going backwards and providing Reeves can bang the goals in again and Coburn stays fit The Robins should stay well clear of the drop. Yet, whether fans will accept another season of consolidation remains to be seen.
By Ollie Mackenzie
* All signings and players out correct as of August 7 *