AFTER a two-year stay in the top tier of non-league football, Altrincham – and former boss Lee Sinnott (above) – bowed out. The Vanarama National League North awaits in 2016/17 as our reporter Marc Luther Thomas assesses the club’s credentials ahead of the new campaign this weekend…
A resounding 3-0 defeat at Braintree Town sealed Alty’s fate at the end of a miserable season which saw them record only 10 victories in 46 games.
Finishing five points adrift of safety in 22nd, they failed to build on a solid 17th placed finish the previous year.
The Moss Lane side began the 2015-16 campaign with three straight defeats and were never able to get themselves comfortably clear of danger.
They go into the new season with a new manager in Neil Young, who took over from caretaker manager Neil Tolson at the end of the season.
Tolson had been assistant to previous manager Lee Sinnott, who departed the club in March following a five-year tenure.
First five games:
1. Darlington 1883 (H) – Saturday August 6
2. FC Halifax Town (A) – Tuesday August 9
3. Harrogate Town (A) – Saturday August 13
4. AFC Fylde (H) – Tuesday August 16
5. Gainsborough Trinity (A) – Saturday August 20
Danny Hattersley (from FC Halifax Town, free): A young player who already possesses a great deal of experience, 6’3″ striker Hattersley arrives with a good reputation. Despite struggling in his 18-month spell at FC Halifax Town, he has previously attracted interest from a handful of Football League clubs. When he signed for Southport, then-manager Alan Wright called him a ‘real talent’ believing he had the potential to be a force further up the football pyramid.
Callum Charlton (from Huddersfield Town, free): Teenage prospect Charlton arrives at the J.Davidson Stadium after the expiry of his one-year contract at Huddersfield. Primarily a left-back, the 19-year-old brings plenty of pace to his new side. He can also play as a winger, with Town’s development coach saying after Chorlton’s trial that he possesses ‘great pace, trickery, and a decent delivery’.
Sam Patterson (from Bradford Park Avenue, free): Patterson, a young and versatile midfielder, leaves Bradford after only six months, having spent the first half of the season at Shrewsbury Town, where his first team opportunities were limited just to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. The 22-year-old, who is also comfortable at right-back, left in January to embark on his second spell at Bradford.
Craig Hobson (from Chester, free): The 28-year-old joins Altrincham after a season of finding league starts hard to come by, with 18 of his 28 appearances coming from the bench. Manager Neil Young has been an admirer of the striker, trying but failing to sign him on loan during his tenure as Stockport County boss. Hobson only managed a single league goal last campaign however, with Chester narrowly avoiding relegation.
John Cyrus (from Frickley Athletic, free): A commanding centre-back, Cyrus was seen as one of the top defenders in the Evo-Stik league. The tough tackling defender also won the club’s 2014-15 Supporters’ Player of the Year award. During his time at Frickley, Cyrus turned down offers from a number of bigger clubs, but has now decided to ply his trade at a higher level. Robins manager Neil Young said: “He is still young, in his early 20s, and am confident he can fulfil his potential as an Alty player.”
Sean Miller (from Connah’s Quay Nomads, free): A rapid winger, Miller was given his senior breakthrough at Chester by none other than Neil Young. He moved on to the Nomads in the summer of 2014 and, in his first season, netted 11 goals in 35 games. He scooped three awards from his club at the end of the season – top scorer, players’ player and Supporters’ Player of the Year. He also earned the Welsh Premier League Young Player of the Year award. At just 21, the wide man looks to have a promising future.
Callum Preston (from Crawley Town, free): The 20-year-old goalkeeper joins following the expiry of his contract at Crawley where he made 10 appearances last season. He has come through the youth system at Liverpool and Welsh side TNS, before joining Birmingham City. The young stopper has also represented Wales at Under-19 level.
Andrew Dawber (from Fulham, free): Another young goalkeeper to join up with Young’s squad, Dawber came through the ranks at Accrington Stanley. During this time, he attracted interest from the likes of Manchester United, with whom he trained at their Carrington training base. He went on to make his senior Accrington debut in the Football League trophy and was named man of the match. He signed for Fulham on a one-year-deal last year, where he played for the Under-21s.
Tom Hannigan (from AFC Fylde, free): An experienced central defender, Hannigan joins having been captain at his previous club, Fylde. He spent two years at the Coasters, winning the Manager’s Player of the Season award in his first year at the club. The 28-year-old began his career at Tranmere Rovers but was released aged 16. He went on to study A-Levels before graduating at Sheffield Hallam University!
Alan Goodall (from Morecambe, free): The signing of 34-year-old Goodall adds a wealth of Football League experience to Young’s squad. He made his first Alty appearance in a pre-season friendly against Chester, in which he was named captain. He began his career as a right-back at Bangor City before later converting to a holding midfielder. He left Bangor for Rochdale where he became a regular starter in League Two. Goodall has also had spells at the likes of Luton Town, Chesterfield and Grimsby.
Billy Hasler-Cregg (from Rochdale, free): Having progressed through Rochdale’s academy, the wide man signed his first professional deal at the club last year and was given a first team squad number. He did not get much in the way of game time, although he impressed in a seven-game loan spell at Droylsden, scoring three times and laying on five assists. The 19-year-old can operate on either flank, and is known for his quality from set pieces.
Charlie Joyce (from Southport, free): 22-year-old Joyce became Neil Young’s first acquisition as Alty boss when the signing was announced in early May. The midfielder has spent the last four years at Southport, in which time he also enjoyed a loan spell at Staybridge Celtic. Young said of his new man: “He’s an energetic, hard-working midfield player with over 60 games under his belt in the Conference at only 22 years of age.”
David Lynch (from Clitheroe, free): The left-sided central midfielder joins from Clitheroe, where he played under current Robins coach Simon Garner. He played there for two years, where he went on to become captain. The former Workington and Burscough man was also at Burnley as a youth player, where he won their Young Player of the Year award in the 2010-11 season.
Jamie Menagh (from Stockport County, free): The young winger links up with Neil Young for the third time, having played under him at Chester and Stockport. The 22-year-old can play on both wings, or through the middle, and can provide quality from dead balls. Menagh, formerly of Blackpool, had been on the verge of joining Stoke City, though the deal collapsed when manager Tony Pulis was sacked by the Potters.
George Bowerman (released): The 24-year-old was one of the obvious players to be released having been applying his trade at AFC Telford United for the second half of last season. He made 14 appearances and scored five goals before being farmed out for Telford in January.
Nicky Clee (to Guiseley AFC, free): Having joined Altrincham in 2009, Clee has been a mainstay at the club for the past seven years. But, as anticipated with Young, a shake-up was bound to incur and Clee will find pastures new at National League Guiseley. Ironically, Clee played an integral role in Altrincham’s 2014 promotion to the top tier where they beat none other than Guiseley in the play-off final.
Stuart Coburn (retired): They say good things come to an end eventually and for 40-year-old Stuart Coburn that time is now. A club record breaker having made over 250 appearances for Alty, Coburn has been an excellent servant for the club in recent years. Among many fans he is seen as one of the club’s all-time greats.
Ryan Crowther (to Ashton United, free): Two years at Altrincham saw Crowther notch just 15 appearances and three goals – which suggests why he has left for pastures new. Dropping another division down to join Tameside outfit Ashton United, his National League appearance could be pivotal to Ashton.
Tim Deasy (released): The 30-year-old goalkeeper was getting regular minutes last term and notched 41 appearances in all competitions for the club. However, Neil Young wants to blend his own charges and following the signings of Callum Preston and Andrew Dawber, Deasy has been shown the door to accommodate the younger arrivals.
Adam Griffin (released): Defender Griffin joined the club in 2013 and went on to make 71 appearances for the Moss Lane outfit. A solid, reliable member of a backline that enjoyed so much success since he joined, Griffin would be a surprise transfer omission should he not get picked up by a fellow National League North club.
Gianluca Havern (released): The 27-year-old has been a mainstay at the club since signing in the summer of 2012 going on to make over 130 appearances. A fresh start may be the best thing for Havern after not tasting relegation with Alty since joining the club.
Scott Leather (released): At just 23-year-old, Leather has amassed over 100 appearances for Alty since becoming a permanent fixture in 2012. Lauded among the club’s supporters, Leather still has plenty to offer at National League level – albeit not at Moss Lane.
Tom Marshall (released): It was an incredibly tough start to the season for Marshall who suffered a serious injury almost as soon as the season got underway. The Alty centre-half was treated for nearly 10 minutes on the pitch against Grimsby before being taken by ambulance to Wythenshawe Hospital. An injury such as breaking the fibula (calf bone) ensures a players season is never the same again.
Josh O’Keefe (to Chorley FC, free): The combative midfielder is the definition of a journeyman, almost guaranteed to join a new team in each and every summer transfer window. He joined Alty last summer and went on to make 25 appearances, scoring once against Bromley in a 3-1 away win in November.
James Phillips (loan ended): The midfielder have brief loan spells with Macclesfield Town and then Altrincham after finding life difficult at parent club Gateshead. Having just been released he had not done enough to earn a permanent contract under Young.
Michael Rankine (to Guiseley AFC, free): The 6ft 1″ centre-forward came to Moss Lane in the summer of 2015 in a bid to earn himself starts rather than substitute appearances – largely the reason he was forced to leave Gateshead. In what was a disappointing campaign for the club, Rankine finished 2015–16 with 15 goals from 45 appearances. His goals ensured he did not have to leave non-league’s top tier like Alty.
Shaun Densmore: The former Everton academy Player of the Year has been one of the first names on the team sheet since signing for the Robins in 2008. The 27-year-old is reliable, versatile and an exceptional free-kick taker. Usually found at right-back, but equally impressive in midfield, Densmore has been captain of the club since 2011. He was, however, sidelined for much of the last campaign due to injury, which has also forced him to miss the start of the new season. Altrincham fans will hope the eventual return of their tenacious captain will steer them to promotion.
Damien Reeves: The goals which Reeves provides will be crucial to Alty if they are to achieve promotion back to the National League. The upcoming season will be the 30-year-old’s seventh at the club, and he has scored goals consistently throughout his time at Moss Lane. He has been the club’s top scorer in five of his previous six seasons. Having scored fewer than usual last season with nine goals, he will hope to recapture the form he showed the last time the club were in National League North – scoring 41 times!
Alan Goodall: One of manager Neil Young’s array of new signings, Alan Goodall brings a wealth of Football League experience to the squad. Given his age of 34, it is likely he will feature as more of a bit-part player this season. However, his impact on the squad cannot be underestimated. Young was delighted to secure the former Rochdale man’s services, believing he can have a significant effect on the younger players. Young may seek to utilise the quality and experience of Goodall, who can play in defence or midfield, in the bigger matches that Altrincham may face this season.
It is very much a new beginning for Altrincham, with the summer seeing new management brought in along with a massive squad overhaul. Having allowed 12 players to leave and making 14 additions, it most certainly cannot be said that manager Neil Young has not made the squad his own.
Young appears to have struck a solid balance between youth and experience among his new signings, and he is familiar with a number of them from previous managerial roles. As a result, they may be able to settle in much quicker.
Young’s appointment has been greeted with enthusiasm at Moss Lane. Having achieved promotion during his time at Colwyn Bay, as well as taking Chester to the Conference after three promotions with them, many fans may expect an instant return to the National League.
However, with the massive revamp of the squad that has taken place, and may yet continue, it remains to be seen how soon this new-look Robins side will be able to gel.
While no significant conclusions can really be drawn from pre-season, Alty have not set the world alight in their friendlies so far, with their only win coming against Witton Albion in their first game, romping to a 5-0 victory.
In what promises to be an intriguing and unpredictable season of football in the Vanarama National League North, it may be slightly too soon for the Robins to bounce straight back.
By Marc Luther Thomas