With pre-season preparations polished off, Clitheroe get in to the nitty-gritty of competitive action on Saturday in the Emirates FA Cup.
The Blues have lost just once in six friendlies as new boss Phil Brown got his tenure underway, but their efforts will only start counting for something from here on in.
After beating Nelson, Charnock Richard and AFC Blackpool, finishing all square against Barnoldswick Town and Bamber Bridge and giving a good account of themselves against Blackburn Rovers Under 23s, Brown’s side will now welcome 1874 Northwich to Shawbridge in the extra preliminary round of one of the game’s most treasured competitions.
And the new man at the helm, who once guided Lancaster City to the Lancashire FA Challenge Trophy final, is determined to get off to a winning start.
“Playing a cup game first is new to me, but we’ve prepped for August 10th,” he said. “We’ll give it a good go against difficult opposition, who will already have played two competitive games before our tie.
“We will be ready. They are a decent side and we won’t be taking them lightly. We’re desperate to get through this round.
“We’re at home as well so we want to give the fans something to enjoy. The FA Cup is a really vital competition at all levels of the game, it’s massive in terms of revenue and building momentum.
“It’s an important game for us and one that we want to win. Our season starts on Saturday and we’ll be giving it our best shot to make sure that we’re in the hat for the next round.”
The challenge now is to see whether Clitheroe can rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Having been competitive at this level during the reigns of Paul Moore, Simon Garner and Simon Haworth, the club survived by the skin of its teeth last term under Lee Ashforth.
Brown, who has had to build from the bottom upwards since being handed the role in May, compiling a completely new squad and backroom team, is looking to bring the good days back to the Ribble Valley.
He said: “We want to start well. The ambition is to be competitive and to do as well as we possibly can. We want to be far more competitive than what we were last season.
“We need a bit of time to grow because it’s a fresh start and we’ve got a brand new group. I didn’t inherit a core so I’ve had to bring 15/16 players in. There’s still work to do.
“I’m not setting any positional targets, but we want to be at the right end of the table. I don’t see any reason why we can’t be competitive and give a good account of ourselves.”
That assessment comes off the back of a pleasing pre-season for the Blues. Despite his players having limited time to gel ahead of the BetVictor North West Division campaign, they’ve been showing some good signs.
“We’d planned pre-season quite meticulously and I’ve liked what I’ve seen,” said Brown. “We gradually got fitter, sharper and we’ve come together as a group. We’ve continued to get better.
“The Bamber Bridge game was our third in seven days with the same lads involved because we’re only carrying a small squad.
“We put in a decent performance against higher league opposition. There weren’t any points at stake, but it was a good contest and both sides gave their all to a certain extent.
“I’ve been impressed with the commitment of the players. We’ve had it from the start, which makes it easier because we don’t have players who need to catch up.
“Everybody has been available and they’ve been working hard. The group isn’t a million miles away from each other in terms of fitness and their mentality.
“I like the way they’ve formed those football relationships. The players are understanding their strengths and weaknesses and they’re adapting their game to create more cohesion. That’s been pleasing.”