FOLLOWING on from our look at Stockport County 2016-17 season preview yesterday, Zarah Connolly dissects whether Tamesiders Curzon Ashton have enough to go one better than last season’s top-half finish…
With 14 victories and 15 draws, Curzon Ashton surprisingly finished the 2015-16 season brilliantly, ending their campaign 11th in the table with 57 points.
There was a worry at the start of the season as to whether the team would ‘survive the drop’ when the Nash gained just one win in 11 games.
However, they turned their season around and proved that they could make the step up and handle the tougher teams in the National League North.
Manager John Flanagan broke yet another record by guiding the team to their highest ever finish in the club’s entire history.
Since Flanagan was appointed in 2011 he has certainly been trying to push Curzon to loftier heights and with the National League North to be the highest division they have ever been in – he’s unlikely to stop there.
Curzon are climbing up the non-league pyramid rapidly and hope to keep rising in the 2016-17 season.
This hard-working team should never be underestimated after their transformation from the lowest-ranked team in Tameside to the highest.
However, this summer’s transfers won’t look promising to the fans, especially with their highest goal-scorer leaving the club.
First five games:
1. Kidderminster Harriers (H) – Saturday August 6
2. Bradford Park Avenue (A) – Wednesday August 10
3. Alfreton Town (A) – Saturday August 13
4. Darlington 1883 (H) – Monday August 15
5. AFC Telford Utd (H) – Saturday August 20
Michael Potts (From Shaw Lane A.F.C, free transfer): The central midfielder was the first signing of the summer for the Nash. The 24-year-old is known to have a keen eye for goal and is experienced at National League North level boasting Guiseley, AFC Fylde and Bradford on his CV. He’s also a versatile player as in his youth he attended the Manchester United Academy and played as a striker. He impressed and moved onto Blackburn Rovers where he reverted to a central midfield role.
Paul ‘Charlie’ Ennis (From Hednesford Town, free transfer): The 26-year-old is predominantly a forward yet is also versatile enough to play in-behind a striker to the delight of Flanagan. His experience has spread across many clubs but he made his mark at Stalybridge Celtic receiving the Player of the Season award in 2013-14 and then being their top-goalscorer in 2014-15. Charlie has a close relationship with Curzon’s new coach Chris Millington who has also come from Hednesford Town.
Danny Hall (From Guiseley, free transfer): The veteran centre-back has had plenty of experience including clubs such as local rivals Hyde United and teams in the Football League such as Chesterfield and Shrewsbury. He has even had some time in Scotland playing for Gretna. Hopefully, Hall can bring his experience to help the Nash in the 2016-17 season.
Jonny Higham (From Crewe Alexandra, free transfer): The young striker has already made his mark at the Crewe Alexandra academy by scoring goals throughout his six years there. The 18-year-old has been described as a “very quick centre forward” by his academy boss. Although inexperienced, the fans will be happy to hear that he is described as having a “super attitude and personality” which will suit the style of this hardworking club.
Ryan Hall (From Brighouse Town, free transfer): The speedy midfielder was announced as the Players’ Player of the Season 2015-16. The 22-year-old is known massively for his pace and in 175 appearances he scored 65 goals for Brighouse Town. The attack-minded right winger will certainly be one to excite the Curzon fans.
Iain Howard (From Northwich Victoria, free transfer): Howard is another versatile midfielder who is comfortable on the left-side but can also revert to a centre-midfield. The experienced 28-year-old has played for the likes of Chester, finishing with 35 goals in 111 appearances and with Stockport County he noticed 10 goals in 39 appearances.
Alex Brown (retiring): The club captain announced earlier this month that he would be retiring to enable himself to spend more time with his family and his business. He has lead the club through one of its most successful campaigns in history. Manager John Flanagan spoke on behalf of the club describing him as “a great leader” and a “Rolls Royce of a footballer”. The fans have definitely appreciated his loyal dedication to the club over the past two years. Now the captaincy will be awarded to vice-captain and goalkeeper Hakan Burton.
Matty Warburton (To Salford City, free transfer): The fans will certainly miss ‘Warby’ with his unbelievable contribution to the club’s success in recent seasons. Last season’s top goal scorer will be heading to rivals Salford in what is their maiden campaign at this level. Warburton played a pivotal role in three different levels for the Nash scoring 14 times in 41 appearances. At the end of his time with the Tameside club, he leaves with a record of 54 goals in 118 appearances.
Niall Cummins: The 2016-17 season will be his third with the club and Cummins has proved to be a vital player – last season he scored 14 league goals in 37 appearances. The all-round striker has helped Curzon massively progress by playing a part in their promotion and especially last season in their extraordinary mid-table finish when they were expected to be fighting relegation. Flanagan will definitely see Cummins as a key component if his side are to enjoy success this season.
Jonathan Hunt: Hunt is a household name to the Nash fans now with him preparing to start his fifth season with the club. The reliable and consistent defender has played a critical role throughout his Ashton career. The defender is very rarely subbed off due to his reliability and consistency at the back. Having made over 100 appearances for the club, it’s no surprise that he has previously won the Players’ Player of the Year award and also the Fans’ Player of the Year award.
Joseph Guest: The midfielder made 40 appearances last season and even managed to squeeze in two goals against Tamworth and Hednesford Town. Since Guest joined mid-way through the 2014-15 season, he certainly made an impact at the Tameside Stadium. His undoubted versatility allows him to play for Curzon at left-midfield or left-back. He has certainly shown his strengths with his quick, powerful play and is certain to shine this coming season.
Potential line up:
Curzon Ashton will be looking to break more records in the 2016-17 season and manager John Flanagan will want to build on last season’s impressive league finish.
However, with two key players leaving the club, can the Nash carry on with their rising ways? Or will their luck run out?
Curzon Ashton didn’t let the National League North scare them in their debut attempt and they shouldn’t be in fear of it now either. Next season is looking to be a tough one but with a manager like Flanagan constantly improving players, there’s sure to be some success around the corner for the Nash.
The only thing that could stop Curzon in their tracks is the lack of chemistry among the new signings.
In recent pre-season friendlies such as against Droylsden the team was described as “lacking pace in forward areas” and this was against a side two divisions below them.
Admittedly, pre-season games are sometimes not a fair reflection of the upcoming season and Nash fans will be hoping for better things when they get the campaign under way at home to Kidderminster Harriers.
If the team can create the level of chemistry they have in previous seasons then there’s a real chance Curzon can continue to defy expectations.
Flanagan will need to gel this team together quickly, though, with the lack of forwards among his current signings.
By Zarah Connolly
NB: *All of the information above is correct as of July 28*