THERE’S an old expression about bad luck coming in threes – and AFC Fylde hope the same applies to good fortune as far as manager Dave Challinor is concerned.
The former Tranmere and Bury full-back has won promotion in both his seasons as a manager, first with Colwyn Bay and then with Fylde, the club Challinor leads into its first Evo-Stik premier division campaign at Derbyshire club Ilkeston on Saturday.
“Pre-season has gone well,” the 36-year-old told The Gazette. “We’ve got a couple of niggles but the aim is to start the season on same note as we finished the last one.”
That’s quite an ask – the Coasters ended 2011/12 with 10 successive wins.
The run saw the Warton-based club surge to the Evo-Stik first division north title, having been 16 points off the pace around the time Challinor was tempted from North Wales to replace Kelham O’Hanlon at Kellamergh Park last November.
Having masterminded Fylde’s escape from non-league’s fourth tier, Challinor’s challenge now is to try to win a coveted place in the Football Conference.
It’s a task he says gets tougher by the season.
Challinor explained: “We’ll definitely see a big difference in quality in this division, and the higher divisions in non-league seem to get stronger every year.
“There’s a massive desire among players to be full-time footballers but the clubs just don’t have the budgets to accommodate everyone who could be a pro.
“So we are seeing players who could be at a higher level filtering down into the part-time leagues like ours and making them stronger.
“My experience in this division two seasons ago with Colwyn Bay was that 10 or 12 clubs were competing for promotion, with only around half a dozen points separating them. I can see it being as tight again.
“There is a want for success at this club and the important thing is to keep moving forward on and off the pitch.
“My target for the season is to be consistent enough to compete at the top end of the league.
“I’m hopeful we can, though like everyone else we’ll need a bit of luck with injuries and suspensions.
“We got the squad together quicker than I imagined. We’ve played a lot of friendlies and it has been good. Now we are just looking forward to Saturday.”
Highlights among Fylde’s 10 warm-up games were wins over teams from Wigan Athletic and Accrington Stanley, the latter hammered 6-0.
The busy programme enabled Fylde’s half-dozen new recruits to settle in. They include attackers James Dean and Andy Farrell, former Northwich Victoria keeper Ben Hinchliffe, ex-Chorley midfielder Jack Dorney and the versatile duo of Adam Carden and Matt Hughes, the latter previously with Fleetwood Town and Celtic.
The new arrivals have impressed a manager pleased he was not forced into wholesale summer changes.
He explained: “We’ve lost Jimmy Heywood to work commitments but most of last season’s squad are still with us.
“We are hoping for another successful season, and it is important to keep players who have served the club well and who all know each other.
“There are some massive clubs in the Conference North and I’m sure we’ll see a lot of clubs in our league having a real good go at promotion.
“Some will invest heavily for the start of the season, then see how they go and maybe re-evaluate around Christmas, so it should make for an exciting start.”
And Saturday’s opener at Ilkeston, promoted from the southern half of the Evo-Stik’s lower tier last term, will be a valuable benchmark.
Challinor added: “Like ourselves, they have come up (via the play-offs) and I imagine they will be up there this season.
“It should be a good football game and a really tough one, but we’re looking forward to it.”