Abbey Hulton United manager Russell Leadbetter has been at the helm at ST2 since January and after an eighth-place finish in the standings, he was pretty pleased with how it panned out.
"I think it’s an honest reflection of where the team’s at. The wheels fell off a bit and I think that was honest of how the season should have gone. I don’t think we were ready to go up, as a team or as a club but I think overall it was a very good season. I know lots of people looking will think, “They were top; they were second all the way through the season”, but it was still a great achievement, that eighth place. "
Initially, Leadbetter took over from Dave Riley when he stepped down just before Christmas and is looking forward to an exciting season ahead, "I think it’s an honest reflection of where the team’s at. The wheels fell off a bit and I think that was honest of how the season should have gone. I don’t think we were ready to go up, as a team or as a club but I think overall it was a very good season. I know lots of people looking will think, “They were top; they were second all the way through the season”, but it was still a great achievement, that eighth place. "
"It’s massive [the FA Vase], especially from where we’ve come and how we’ve progressed. It just shows the progression the club’s making from where it was three or four years ago. It’s brilliant. If we get into the FA Cup next season that will be even better.
Leadbetter examined the end of last season, "To be honest, in the last however many games I was in charge for, I’d say I saw one game where we perhaps didn’t deserve anything out of it. The only thing that stopped us taking points in those games was us. We had the chances in every game. We had four or five good chances, for instance, Cropper would have put in the net in the first half of the season, he was missing chances and we just weren’t getting the luck with the finishing. The goals we conceded were our own mistakes. I didn’t see anybody take us apart. We were pretty much solid but it was either an individual error or a bit of sloppy defending and we just couldn’t put our chances away.
"That’s why we finished where we did: because we didn’t take the chances we actually had. I think improving on putting the chances to bed, tidying up, getting rid of the little individual errors – we’ve got a bit of naiveté throughout the squad – and I think we’ll be there or thereabouts. I think the top six is definitely achievable this time."
Monday 1st July saw the window open to sign players, "We’ve been in for a couple of weeks already. We’ve had more young players more than anything come through – 18, 19, 20 years olds that are coming through – so we’ve been trying to get players in around the older, more experienced players in the group to try and add a bit more length, a bit more flair, if you like.
"The younger lads are a lot more hungry than the older lads that have perhaps been there and done it so that’s where we’ve been looking. We’ve recruited a couple of older lads round about the same age as the squad but, around that core, we’re trying to get the younger players in that are going to take over from the older lads who have maybe only got a season or two left.
"We’ve had a couple [leave to go to Step 4 clubs]! One’s gone and the goalkeeper at the minute, Jake, has been training with an EvoStik team. With the case of others, we’ve just got to go out and get what we can for now then hope the lads we’ve got with a bigger team will pay dividends for us when they perhaps have got their eighteen-man squad. They’ll take their pick from the better sides then.
As one of the most southern sides in the NWCFL First Division South, there are some long away days for Leadbetter's men, but he is sympathetic towards the fixture secretary, "To be honest, I think every team has to go through the same sort of things. That’s part and parcel of being involved in this League. You can’t expect the League to give you fixtures in and around you. It would be nice if you got fixtures in and around your area on a weekday but you can’t expect the League planning for that. I think it is what it is. Everybody will go through the difficulty of midweek games and travelling and it’s the same as you go further up the scale. If we want to progress it’s something we can’t really do anything about.
It was the same with the league I was with, with the Reserves, and we had to play teams down in the south. At that level of football, you do complain a bit because you’ve got a half-past six kick-off and you’ve got to be there for a half-past six kick off an hour from home and people don’t finish work until five. Then you can have a bit of a whinge but a quarter-to eight kick-off, most people finish work at five.
I think maybe because I’ve come from that lower level I don’t see it as much of a problem because I’ve done the worst bit of it. Whereas now, a quarter-to eight kick-off is luxury really! When you’re playing under the lights, it’s what it’s about. The atmosphere’s better when it’s dark and the lights are on. You feel like the spotlight’s on the pitch. It’s not in open daylight; it’s dark. The only lights that are around are on the pitch and watching the players. When I used to play I used to be the same. I used to love night games because of that.
I don’t think the fixtures are anything to moan about. I just think people should take it as it comes and that’s it. Just deal with it. Everyone’s got the same thing to deal with so put up with it and get it done. Maybe a couple of seasons ago with Carlisle, fair enough. Carlisle on a Tuesday night from anywhere this way is a bit of an ask but it isn’t there anymore. I don’t think anybody’s got a massive deal of travelling past an hour and a half, from what I can think of from the top of my head, so it isn’t that bad.