Non-League Football: Lions look solid and braced for title push

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AS for 2014? In the words of the Frank Sinatra song, It was a very good year, certainly as far as Guiseley are concerned.

A turbo-changed run in the second half of last season took the Lions to the brink of promotion, only to be denied in heart-breaking circumstances in the dying seconds of the Conference North play-off final at Altrincham and Mark Bower’s troops are running with the baton again in 2014-15.

Guiseley, who host derby rivals Harrogate Town at Nethermoor this afternoon, are sitting pretty in third spot, four points behind leaders AFC Fylde, with their fixture which was postponed on December 28 now rescheduled for January 20.

Just two defeats, to high-flying Barrow, have arrived in 16 league matches since the end of August, with Guiseley having become the embodiment of solidity, with the wins being churned out with regularity, much to the satisfaction of Bower.

It’s fair to say Guiseley have plenty to look forward to in 2015, as Bower seeks to realise the club’s Holy Grail of Conference football in late spring.

Bower said: “We are in touch at the start of the new year and have put ourselves in a good position and we know what a big difference it can make when you get a good run in February, March and April.

“That made a massive difference to our season last season.

“It was a big disappointment to lose in the play-off final and it took a little while to get going at the start of the season to get over it. But without setting the world on fire, we are in a decent position in the league and on a run with two losses in 16 league matches and both of those were against Barrow, who were quite fortunate.

“But there is still definitely room for improvement and we have stuff to build on for the new year.

“We have been solid and our home form has been good, if not quite as good yet as last year and we have to improve that. But away from home, we have the best away form in the league at the moment.

“We have looked hard to beat, although we have been hit on the counter-attack a little bit when we have been attacking, but in the last couple of league games, we have been solid.”

With a lofty position brings expectation, which is something that sits comfortably on Bower’s shoulders and is the price of success and something he has handled adeptly during his impressive stint in charge.

His Guiseley charges have stepped up to the plate on a regular basis and plenty more high-octane games await in the new year and for Bower, it is a case of the more the merrier.

Bower added: “Pressure and expectation is part of it for us and over the past few years, people have been accustomed to us being up there challenging.

“That brings with it its own pressure and teams will play against us and sit back and soak up pressure and make it difficult at times. It does not make it easy for us to play the way we would like, but you have to deal with it and we have in some of our past few games and the Leamington game was a prime example.

“We weren’t at our best in terms of passing football, but kept the ball well and looked solid defensively and didn’t get caught and eventually took a chance to win the game.”

Shane Killock is again unavailable under the terms of his loan from Harrogate for today’s game, while Adam Boyes sits out the derby through suspension.

Town head into the game on the back of gritty draws to Barrow and Guiseley.

Elsewhere, Bradford Park Avenue kick off the new year with a home game against west-Pennine Chorley.

In the Conference Premier, FC Halifax are in the midst of a break until returning to action on January 10.

And boss Neil Aspin plans to use the time wisely.

He said: “We have to use this time to prepare for what’s going to come in the second-half of the season.

“We’ve got a lot of difficult games, a lot of big teams to come here where we’re going to be tested.”

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BILLY MILLER says that Harrogate Railway Athletic should enjoy Nathan Cartman while they can – after revealing the goal machine has been the subject of Football League interest.

The former Leeds United junior has plundered an incredible 28 goals this season for Rail, who are due to visit Farsley AFC in the Evo-Stik First Division North this afternoon (3pm) and has been instrumental, along with several others, in the club’s sizzling run to the end of the calendar year.

Interest has understandably arisen in Cartman’s services, but manager Miller is confident that the striker will not make any snap decision on his future and is happy at the club.

He said: “Carts is contracted to the club at this moment in time until the end of the season and is on a retainer for next season.

“He is attracting quite a lot of attention, not just from above us, but in the Football League as well.

“With Carts, he just enjoys what he does and is family-orientated and has got great mates and lovely family and two kids and gets married at the end of this year and it makes a big difference when they are settled.

“He is so level-headed and if he does get something out of it, we will all be over the moon. But it has to be right for Carts.

“He has turned one or two clubs down already. He has been with me for five years and was previously with me at Liversedge before coming to Railway and is doing really well and is really good friends with the assistant-manager here too.”

Rail, weather permitting, head to Farsley in a hugely-promising fifth place in the table after a fine run and supporters would be forgiven for wishing that the old calendar year could carry on for a good while yet.

Miller added: “We are sat fifth at the moment and it has obviously been a really successful second half of 2014, without a doubt.

“I do think the league is a bit disjointed as we have played a lot more games than the other teams, but we have got to enjoy it while we are there and lots of teams around us have to play each other and we have to take heart from that.

“We have won nine out of 10 matches and are unbeaten in 10, so that’s been fantastic. We have just got to keep it going and keep doing what we have been doing.

“We have got a really good group of lads in at the moment and fingers crossed, we can keep hold of them all.

“We will continue to enjoy what we are doing and because we are now safe, there’s no pressure and no-one expects us to be near the top of the table.”

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EIGHTH place may be steady if unspectacular for most football supporters, but it will do just nicely for Farsley AFC boss Neil Parsley.

Farsley, who start the new year with a home derby with Harrogate Railway in the Evo-Stik First Division North, are waiting to strike and with games in hand on their rivals, the club remains master of its own fate, something Parsley is conscious of.

Parsley, looking for his side to make amends for their Boxing Day loss at Brighouse Town after their December 28 home game with Darlington 1883 was snowed off, said: “I am quite happy with our position and with the way the side is looking.

“With two positive results, we can be right in the mix with a lot of games in hand.

“All things considered, I think things are pretty healthy.”

Stressing the importance of the game after the Brighouse disappointment, he added: “We will want to put the disappointment of the Brighouse game behind us and it’s a good game for us.

“We huffed and puffed and in the second period, we put Brighouse under pressure and if we’d got one goal, I think we would have won the game,

“But they defended resolutely and were well organised and we conceded a sloppy goal enabling them to have something to hold onto. But it was disappointing and the pitch was a big leveller and pretty awful.

“Hopefully ours will be in better nick and we can get on track by doing what we have been doing.”

Matt Dempsey is Farsley’s sole absentee.

But he is ‘not a million miles away’ according to Parsley, who reports a clean bill of health elsewhere.

Elsewhere this afternoon, weather permitting, Ossett Albion welcome New Mills and Brighouse head to Scarborough Athletic.

Ossett Town travel to Spennymoor and in the Evo-Stik Premier, Frickley start 2015 at home to Grantham.

Action in the First Division South sees Goole entertain Lincoln Moorlands.

Guiseley loan signing from Blackpool, Raul Correia.

Non-League: Blackpool striker Correia snapped up for six months by Guiseley