Runcorn Town Manager Chris Herbert has really grabbed the Premier Division with both hands in his first season in charge and is relishing the strong run in. However he is quick to acknowledge the hard work by his new look squad and coaching staff.
Whilst many have raised an eyebrow at Runcorn Town’s table topping position - they currently sit five points clear of second placed Bootle with 51 points on the board - and the Manager is happy to be at the top, Chris has spoken about the club's upwardly mobile position, the challenge ahead and how he has adapted to managerial life in the Hallmark Security League.
“I wouldn’t say we have done better than expected because every manager and his team sets out at the start of the season to aim for the top of the table or to be at least challenging at the top. I would say though that we have done better than expected given the fact we are running with a new squad, and where we are is a reflection on how we have played up to now.
“With regards to our early arrival at the summit, I’m maybe a little surprised to be at the top so early but the lads have been very professional about the way we have set out to play and they have gone about their business on the park, and done what they have needed to do.
"Yes, we have taken a couple of defeats along the way, and what myself and Mark McGregor have done is look more into the defeats than some of the victories, as when you win you are largely doing things right. However in defeat you want to know what hasn’t gone our way, why and what we can do to learn from that to avoid it happening in the next game.
“What we know is that if we can repeat what we have done so far in the first half of the season we will win the league and go up, but as things stand with the squad so far, we won’t win it if we keep everything the same.
“We want competition for all positions, for example we have only played one keeper all season and we will want him at some point to have a rest, but in order to do that we need another keeper to challenge him for the shirt. In effect we need the same across the squad, we need options to freshen up and strengthen. All clubs will get stronger for the second half of the season and we cannot sit back and see what they do, we need to return the pressure they will put on us.
“The question of it being a five horse race is a tough one, but you have to say now that the league winners are going to come from one of the clubs pushing at the top as the seven-point gap between 1874 in fifth and Hanley in sixth at this stage of the game is going to be too much to catch up. These teams will all play each other and take points away in the process, but the winner will be one of those in that top bracket.
“When you look at the pace and style of Atherton Colls, they will be challenging right up until the end, Linnets can never be ruled out either, their resurgence after a not so steady start maybe surprised no-one as they’re a decent side. 1874 were one of the best teams we have played against this season and Bootle look solid, we are all there on merit which makes it a great battle to watch.
“The clubs up there are all the ones we expected to be up there, perhaps less AFC Liverpool. I mentioned in an interview at the start of the season the six clubs I expected to challenge and they are all there, with the exception of AFC who despite not being there are not too far off, and have played some great flowing football.”
Chris is optimistic about his club's chances in the run in but is quick to praise the nucleus of his regular starting side
“I have five or six players that have really stood out up to now, that takes nothing away from any of the squad but players like Joe Holt, Craig Cairns, Carl Rodgers, Simon Thelwell and Joe Heath have been part of our backbone this season.
“At the outset we were faced with the question of do we bring in young players and develop a squad to challenge in a couple of seasons or go with an experienced side and challenge from the word go? We went with the latter and I’m so glad we did. Young players you can spend a lot of time on developing but as soon as they start to show real promise, you can end up losing them to bigger clubs, whereas our experience with some youthful touches has really shone.
“A lot of attention has been on Craig Cairns and he has rightfully received it with a number of suitors on his tail but Craig is a very level headed lad and is enjoying playing in a team with friends who know his game strengths. He will be the first to tell you that he wouldn’t be scoring as many without the lads behind them creating the chances for him.”
And finally, Chris how have you found the Hallmark Security League in comparison to your early season expectations?
“For me this has been largely what I expected standards wise. You look at the results week in, week out there are high scoring games but you look across the clubs and see both managers and players that have done it at a higher level.
"The quality is there across the table and all clubs are working hard to improve. It is OK having a strong player pool but you have to work hard on the coaching front and when you look at the likes of Cleggy and co, the stronger clubs have that combination of strong players coached by strong coaching staff.
"It will be a strong second half of the season. For us as a club we will be looking to strengthen, improve, and to learn as we go but so will other clubs.
"We face 1874 this weekend, and they’re a club who were outstanding earlier in the season and really did a job on us. That’s an example of the strong fixtures all of the clubs wanting to go up will face in the coming months.”