AFTER surpassing expectations in his first year in charge of Guiseley, Mark Bower is conscious he must now live up to them – second time around.
A year today, the ex-Bradford City defender was appointed as Lions boss on a permanent basis and the 34-year-old is not interested in celebrating his milestone with a cake and candles, but three points in tomorrow’s Vanarama North home clash with third-placed Oxford City.
Guiseley have certainly travelled a considerable distance in his year at the helm, with the Lions, after an abject start to his tenure, hitting their straps majestically to finish in the play-offs for another season.
Unfortunately, for the Nethermoor outfit and Bower, the play-off curse struck again, with their cruellest exit yet, in a shattering final loss at Altrincham, ensuring that the club’s desire for Conference Premier football is yet to be sated.
But for Bower, he can look back on an enriching past year, yet he is by no means satisfied.
He said: “Overall, we have been pleased with the progress we have made.
“I took over and had an awful start, with five defeats in the first five games.
“But we knew some things needed sorting out and we inherited some players who we felt were not up for the job and worked on sorting that out.
“I think the players who have come in have more than replaced those people and complemented the good players who were already here.
“We feel we are in a better position to have a good season this year than this time last year.
“The brief when I got the job was to try and get a mid-table finish and obviously we exceeded expectations and had a decent run in the FA trophy as well.
“But then that raised the bar for this year and we have got to live up to those expectations and be challenging right at the top end of the league.”
He added: “We have had a decent start this season, but we can do better in certain areas. But I don’t think anyone is firing on all cylinders yet.
“But if we can keep this squad together and fit, we have every chance of being there or thereabouts.”
Bower admits the absence of a midweek game this week has been welcome, enabling the likes of Ryan Toulson, Danny Lowe and Josh Wilson to work on their fitness.
That said, he acknowledges Guiseley – just outside of the play-offs in sixth – will face a side flying on the road in City, who have scored an incredible 12 goals on their last two road trips, beating Boston United 7-2 and Bradford Park Avenue 5-0 in staggering triumphs which have made the division sit up and take notice.
Bower, without long-term casualties Alex Johnson and Danny Hall tomorrow, added: “They are going to be a difficult team to play against and high in confidence after Monday night after travelling such a long way and getting such a result in the week. That takes some doing.
“I am sure they will look to hit us on the counter attack and they like to play good football too.
“For us, having no midweek game has been good. We have not got the biggest squad in the world and when you have players coming back who are lacking match fitness, it has probably come at the right time for us.
“Although we will only be able to tell that on Saturday.”
Elsewhere, Harrogate Town – beaten 4-0 last weekend – visit Leamington and Bradford Park Avenue host Brackley.
In the Vanarama Conference, FC Halifax, now in fourth spot, welcome rock-bottom Telford.
THACKLEY have named former Bradford City midfielder Lee Duxbury as their new head coach – with the club moving super-fast once they heard of his availability.
Duxbury, 44, who has coached at Oldham Athletic and also managed Eccleshill, will take charge for the first time in tomorrow’s NCEL Premier Division clash at Athersley Rec.
Carl Priestley, who took charge of Thackley’s midweek win over Nostell, will stay on as Duxbury’s assistant.
On the appointment, Thackley chairman Phil Woollias said: “He (Duxbury) has an outstanding CV and I was not really expecting him to apply at this level and when I saw it, I thought: ‘We need to act very quickly and that is what we have done.’
Duxbury’s head coach role is part of a modern footballing structure which sees Mark Senior work as the club’s general manager responsible for footballing matters, with Woollias hoping the formula is a successful one at all levels.
He added: “I only took over a the end of July and brought in Mark as a general football manager.
“If we were a posh and a professional club, I suppose we would call him a director of football. But at our level, that’s a bit prententious!
“He oversees the under-18s, under-19s and the reserves and how they link into the first team and all (general) football-related matters will go to Mark. He has worked extensively in the past with professional teams and he managed a business which has worked with professional clubs.
“He’s been here before and the contacting and networking has really helped us.”
Elsewhere in the top-flight tomorrow, a battle of the bottom two sees Nostell MW call in at basement boys Armthorpe Welfare, while Liversedge, rejuvenated after back-to-back away wins at Armthorpe and Barton Town, will be seeking their third successive triumph at home to third-placed Shaw Lane Aquaforce at Clayborn.
Fifth-placed Tadcaster host Maltby, in seventh, while Garforth entertain struggling Glasshoughton Welfare.
Pontefract Colls and Hemsworth, in third and second place respectively in Division One, welcome Dronfield and Clipstone.
Leaders AFC Emley go to fourth-placed AFC Mansfield and Yorkshire Amateur visit Penistone Church.
Selby visit Winterton and Knaresborough host Bottesford. Eccleshill welcome Hallam.
FRICKLEY ATHLETIC manager Karl Rose has called on his side to avoid the perils of an “After the Lord Mayor’s Show” display at Workington tomorrow.
The buoyant Blues head into the game lifted massively by Tuesday’s stunning 4-1 home success over FC United of Manchester, as they inflicted a first defeat of the season upon the Rebels in some style, inspired by a Gavin Allott treble.
Rose rated the stellar showing as the best performance of his tenure, but is anxious that it does not prove a one-off as he bids to haul the Blues into the mid-table after a tough start to the campaign.
He said: “For me, it was the best performance we have had for ninety minutes under me.
“I said to the lads to keep believing. stay confident and stick to the game plan and they did.
“We now have to build on the win and prove it is not a flash in the pan.
“We have had a difficult run of fixtures and it had been all doom and gloom. But now we have got towards the pack and if we get some momentum and carry on that belief, we can turn things into a good season.”
On his side’s fine win, Rose said: “Tuesday was a great night for the football club; it was an emphatic victory and one we really deserved.
“It wasn’t a case of it being lucky and we could have had a few more and had a couple cleared off the line.
“We actually went 1-0 down and it just showed what character these boys are made of. A lot of teams would have folded and collapsed, given what we have had this season.
“We got the equaliser and kicked on and to be fair, it was a fair scoreline.
“When teams come to Frickley, people might expect us to bully and kick teams. But Tuesday was none of that, we outplayed them and got on the ball.
“I was brave in the team selection and dropped some big players and wanted some players who could get on the ball and it worked. It was pleased for the fans, who were absolutely fantastic.
“The win was for the fans, because we have had a difficult start to the season and they have been there through thick and thin and supported me.”
Elsewhere in the Evo-Stik Premier, Whitby welcome Marine and in Division One, Farsley and Brighouse entertain Mossley and Droylsden respectively.
Ossett Albion host Clitheroe and Scarborough are at home against Burscough. Ossett Town and Harrogate Railway visit Northwich and Prescot Cables.
Goole host Gresley in the First Division South.