MARK BOWER has labelled Guiseley’s marquee Boxing Day home game today with high-flying Grimsby Town as the Lions’ stiffest test so far this season.
The Lions have made a fair fist of life in their newly found surroundings in the Vanarama National League, but face a step up against the Mariners (3pm) according to Bower, who believes that the Blundell Park outfit are the strongest side in the league in 2015-16.
After heart-breakingly losing out in the play-off finals on penalties last term, Paul Hurst’s side are setting about putting the record straight and have dusted themselves down impressively and currently sit in fourth place.
And despite Grimsby being eight points behind Christmas leaders Cheltenham Town, albeit with a game in hand, Bower believes that they are the pick of the bunch in the division.
On the Boxing Day appointment, Bower said: “It is one of the fixtures that, after being promoted for the first time to this level, everyone will have looked at.
“There’s the potential for a big crowd and they have sold a lot of tickets and we have sold a fair few as well. Hopefully, the weather can hold off and we can make a good account of ourselves against a team who, having watched a fair bit of them this season, are the best team in the league. They have been on a good recent run and pushed Shrewsbury over two games in the FA Cup and were a bit unlucky to lose late on.
“Their side is littered with former Football League players and others with real potential who can go on and play at a higher level as well.
“It is the biggest test of our season so far, especially after a disappointing defeat. But everyone is looking forward to it and these are the sort of games that we got promoted for.”
With Leeds United not in action today, Bower and club officials are hoping for a significant attendance boost, buoyed by a sizeable travelling contingent from Grimsby and he is confident that his side possesses the requisite big-game experience in their ranks to prosper.
He added: “A crowd of around 1,500 is realistic and when we have that, it is important that we put on a good performance and put in a good account of ourselves and hopefully the lads will thrive on it.
“We have lads who have played on big stages in their careers and they should be used to it and hopefully it should bring the best out of them.”
While Guiseley were written off by many as relegation fodder before a ball was kicked in August, the sight of the Nethermoor men four places and eight points above the drop zone in 17th spot is a shot across several people’s bows.
While Lions boss Bower is the first to acknowledge that Guiseley have plenty yet to do to ensure that their seasonal aims are a success, he remains content with his side’s game efforts in the round, competing against a host of bigger and more heavily resourced rivals this term – with hopefully much more to come.
Bower, whose side narrowly lost 1-0 at Aldershot last time out, said: “We are ticking over. We have not managed to put a good winning run together, but equally we have managed to get ourselves out of little ruts relatively quickly when things have been going wrong.
“The important fact is that carrying on increasing that gap between us and the bottom four. But at the moment, we are doing okay.”
Wayne Brooksby is back in the fold following his loan spell at North Ferriby United, while Oliver Norburn, who missed the Aldershot game due to personal reasons, could also be involved against the Mariners.
Bower said: “Hopefully, we will be a bit stronger than we were last week against Aldershot.
“You need your bodies over the Christmas period when the games come quickly.”
Meanwhile, boosting their striking ranks is very much Guiseley’s priority in the January transfer window – and Bower is not ruling out a renewed move for Anthony Dudley.
The young Bury forward proved a wow at Nethermoor before being recalled by the Shakers recently, with Bower keeping his fingers crossed that he will be able to return in the future.
Bower said: “We definitely need to strengthen up front. Oli Johnson is not going to be available for selection until the end of February and Dudley going back has left us a little bit short.
“With the January transfer window opening soon, Dudley is one we would like to pursue again.
“He has gone back to cover a few injuries at Bury and when those clear up, it might be that he goes out on loan again and hopefully they will consider sending him to us again because it benefited him and us at the time. I think Bury were pleased with how the arrangement worked.
“When young boys come from a Football League club to a part-time club at our level, it means they can still train with their parent club day in, day out and they aren’t being totally adrift.
“They are still keeping a good eye on them, but at the same time, they are getting first-team competitive football.
“Bury were pleased with that and it worked well for us.
“And, hopefully not just with Dudley, we can also get more players in the future as we have a good relationship.”
NEW Garforth Town assistant Rob Hunter has been afforded a sentimental first outing with the Miners, who welcome NCEL Premier leaders Tadcaster Albion in a Boxing Day encounter today.
Ex-Glasshoughton Welfare boss Hunter will serve as number two to Adie Costello with former club Taddy first up in Garforth today.
Another new face on the bench is new first-team coach Mark Ford, although his work commitments as a train driver restricts his availability.
Tadcaster are three points clear at the top, although they required a Jimmy Beadle penalty to ensure a point last time out in a 1-1 draw with Parkgate.
Garforth reside in mid-table, but their home form has certainly been solid this term, and they have lost just once in their past eight outings.
Action elsewhere sees Nostell visit Athersley Rec (12.45pm).
Derbies take centre stage in Division One, with leaders Hemsworth heading to Glasshoughton for an early kick-off (12.30pm), while Yorkshire Amateur go to Eccleshill (1pm).
Knaresborough host Selby, with AFC Emley making the trip to Penistone Church.
In the Evo-Stik Premier, Frickley Athletic are in home action against Grantham.
Several local affairs are pre-eminent in Division One, with Farsley Celtic playing host to Harrogate Railway.
Meanwhile, Celtic midfielder Kyle Hancock has joined up with North West Counties side Silsden on a month’s loan.
Boss Neil Parsley said: “He wants to get some football under his belt. He has become frustrated which we understand, and I’m sure he will come back hungry to be involved.”
Elsewhere tomorrow, Ossett Albion entertain Brighouse, likely to make a number of changes for the derby after a poor second-half performance against Witton. Injury casualties Dan Illingworth and Steven Hollingworth remain sidelined for Brighouse. Ossett Town visit New Mills, while Scarborough Athletic, host Spennymoor.
In the Vanarama National League, Jim Harvey will take permanent charge of FC Halifax for the first time at home to Lincoln City.
Harrogate Town, given a pre-festive boost by the return of Rotherham United loan striker Jerry Yates to the club, make the Vanarama North trek to Stockport County.