2016-17 SEASON PREVIEW: Salford City

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SALFORD City are living one of the non-league stories from recent times – along with the meteoric rise of Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy – and they are preparing for a maiden campaign in the National League North. Jamal Niaz looks ahead to a campaign where a third successive promotion will be the objective…

Since being taken over by the infamous Manchester United Class of ’92 back in 2014, excitement has continued to grow over just how far this club could potentially grow to become.

After gaining promotion to the Evo-Stik Premier in 2014-15, Salford were dreaming of back-to-back promotions in order to accelerate through the non-league pyramid.

Having started the 2015-16 season solidly, unbeaten in the first five and winning three of those games, a few slip ups in the next few games proved a forecast of the unpredictable few months that followed.

A win away at Hyde United ended the calendar year and it looked to revitalise a Salford team currently experiencing a dip in form. This away win meant that Salford had won a stunning 19 out of 22 away games in 2015.

With three wins and two losses in both January and February showing that the team really needed to go on
a winning run to have any chance of automatic promotion, the Ammies embarked on a 10-match unbeaten run in March to reach the play-off final.

Hopes of consecutive promotions were fading with Salford 2-1 down with 12 minutes to go.

However, Salford managed to find two late goals through to send the crowd into a frenzy as they won the play off final.

Their aim is the sacrosanct Football League and they now sit just two steps away in Level six of the football pyramid…

First five games:

  1. Gloucester City (H) – Saturday August 6
  2. Staybridge Celtic (A) – Saturday August 13
  3. FC United of Manchester (H) – Tuesday August 16
  4. Nuneaton Town (H) – Saturday August 20
  5. AFC Fylde (A) – Tuesday August 23

Signings in:

Simon Grand (from Barrow AFC, free): The 32-year-old joins to bring some stability and National League experience to Salford’s defence. He captained the Bluebirds to the National League North title in 2014 and fans at Moor Lane will be hoping he can taste similar success this season. With over 300 career appearances to his name, Grand, who began with Rochdale in 2001, could prove to be a real coup this season.

Sam Walker (from FC Halifax Town, undisclosed fee): The former Curzon Ashton skipper is a creative midfielder that captained the Nash to National League North promotion in 2014-15. He then moved to FC Halifax Town and despite their relegation from the top tier of non-league, 29-year-old Walker managed five goals in 30 appearances.

Brad Barnes (from AFC Fylde, free): The tough tackling midfielder appears to be one that becomes a cult hero among fans wherever he has been. Barnes captained Fylde to their Evo-Stik Premier Division play-off win in 2014 and led the team to the National League North play-offs this season. Teams need and edge and steel to them in the centre of the park and Barnes will no doubt add an excellent option.

Mike Phenix (from Southport, free): The former Bolton Wanderers and Barnsley forward is well travelled and at 27 will be looking to kick on at a settled club. Signed for £25,000 by Barnsley in 2014-15, Phenix was eventually released by the Tykes and joined National League Southport for the 2015-16 campaign. Having had a season of top flight non-league experience, managerial duo Bernard Morley and Anthony Johnson will be hoping he can use that to aid the Ammies in the division below.

Michael Nottingham (from Solihull Moors, free): The 6ft 4′ defender can play at both centre-back and right-back thus if injuries come into play, Nottingham is a seriously valuable addition. He played an integral role in Moors’ automatic promotion to the National League in 2015-16 and he picked up both the Players’ and Supporters’ Player of the Season awards.

Craig King (from Bradford Park Avenue, free): It seems a couple of impressive performances against the Ammies in the Third Qualifying Round of the FA Cup last season have stuck in the managers’ minds. King, 25, started out at Leicester and even signed a professional contract with the Foxes at one stage. Boasting Football League experience at Northampton Town, he’s more recently been at AFC Telford United, Worksop Town, Buxton and Bradford Park Avenue.

Matty Warburton (from Curzon Ashton, free): Warburton is rated very highly at this level given his contribution of goals from midfield. The 24-year-old put in a number of consistent performances for Curzon Ashton after joining the Tameside club in 2013. Expectation for Warburton to deliver will no doubt spur him to kick on and improve.

Players out:

Gareth Seddon (Ramsbottom United, free): The crowd favourite – and part-time model – leaves the club for Ramsbottom United, after two years which saw him become a prolific scorer and popular member of the team.

Chris Lynch (Murray United, free): The club captain has opted to return to Australia and join Murray United in the Australian National Premier League’s Victoria 2 division. He was a huge fan favourite at Moor Lane and notched 54 appearances last season, scoring seven. One highlight of note was a hat-trick he scored against Workington in the two sides’ 5-3 encounter.

Gary Stopforth (Stockport County, free): After a great 3 years at Salford in which he was highly influential in the successive promotions after making 47 appearances last season, Stopforth moves to rivals Stockport.

Joe Mwasile (Marine FC, free): After failing to gain a regular place in the starting line-up, Mwasile leaves the club for Marine FC. He scored just two goals and had four assists last season.

Andy Dawson (released): Ongoing injury problems hampered Dawson’s progress but he put in notable FA Cup performances against Notts County and Hartlepool last season.

Key players:

James Poole: Boasting an incredible record of 20 goals and 13 assists in 38 games, Poole is clearly one of Salford’s most attacking threats and has the ability to change the course of a game. He was the club’s top scorer last term and it was no doubt a priority to get him signed to a new deal for the forthcoming campaign. The former Hartlepool United forward’s remarkable strike from distance against Southport put Salford into the First Round Proper of the FA Cup in what was a stand-out moment for Poole.

Simon Grand: The new signing is already proven at this level after his success at Barrow. Defenders often need to be leaders and while not one to demonstrate flair and panache, Grand is the type of player that becomes invaluable. Solid, dependable and will earn the side plenty of points for ensuring a clean sheet over the course of a season. Really makes you wonder why Barrow were so willing to see him depart…

Jordan Hulme: Scoring arguably the most important goal in the club’s history against Workington in this season’s play-off final, Hulme is of ‘legend’ status at Moor Lane. Recording 18 goals and 17 assists last season, the energetic forward will want to show he can make the step-up and continue to deliver against wiser and more experienced defenders at this level. Don’t bet on him dazzling once again…

Potential line-up:

Prediction:

Fans should certainly be excited about the forthcoming season with the solid signings made so far and the prospect of possibly one or two more to come.

While it is a step up in opposition and standard, Salford will feel they have enough momentum and attacking options to cause real problems for their opponents this season.

If everything continues in the same vein of form from the two promotion campaigns in recent years, there is nothing to suggest they won’t sneak a play-off place.

Verdict: 4th

By Jamal Niaz
@JamalNiaz

NB: *All of the information is correct as of July 30*

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