CARL Garner’s preparations for the new season’s promotion charge have started in frustrating fashion.
The Blues boss was dealt a huge headache after key players dropped out of his pre-season plans through injury, holidays and personal circumstances.
As a result, Clitheroe have lost two of their three warm-up matches, Garner’s first taste of defeat since replacing Pete Smith in the hotseat.
The Blues fell to a 3-1 loss in their opening friendly against Charnock Richard, before enduring a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Northwich Victoria at Shawbridge.
However, the Ribble Valley outfit bounced back with a 6-1 win over Shelley FC.
Garner said: “It’s a bit hit and miss at the moment with the football – it’s been really frustrating.
“On the whole it’s been disappointing up to now.
“I’ve been struggling to get people available so far and I’ve been unable to get the lads together that I want.
“On the plus side, it’s given me the opportunity to play a lot of young trialists.
“But I’m having to deal with injuries, holidays and players missing for personal reasons.
“In fact, I’ve only got two recognised defenders available for the friendly against Kendal at the weekend.
“But I’m sure by the start of August, I’ll have the group together that I want.
“I think the squad by early August will be ready, and I’ll be more than happy with it.
“I’m working with about 25 players at the moment, but I’ve only been able to get 15 together at once.
“Three of my five contracted players are out through injury.”
Garner, April’s manager of the month last season, is comforted by the fact he has kept the bulk of his squad which finished last season so strongly.
“It’s true, having players unavailable for pre-season makes things difficult.
“We can’t work on shape or pattern of play, and I haven’t been able to install that same philosophy, mentality or intensity.
“But I know there’s a team there that can do the business.
“I’ve already signed 20 people on, and there may be one or two new faces to come.
“There are a couple of wingers with us at the moment who are doing really well.
“My hope for the new season is to make the play-offs.
“I’m definitely looking at the top six, so we’ll be wanting a good start.
“And if we’ve got somebody putting the ball in the back of the net consistently, then we should be fine.”
That search for a prolific striker could be over after a familiar face committed his future to the club.
Nathan Taylor, who left for Halifax Town, has returned and articulated a desire to fire Clitheroe into the Evo-Stik Premier Division.
In his first game back he bagged a hat-trick in the 6-1 win over Shelley.
Garner said: “I didn’t think I was going to be able to bring Nathan here because of the finances, but he’s come in and scored a hat-trick on Sunday.
“He can do a job and score goals in this league.
“He left us for Halifax and it hasn’t quite worked out for him since.
“He’s been around the Premier Division, but never settled anywhere.
“It’s clear he wants to play for us again, and it’s under my terms and within our financial limitations.”
Since gaining promotion to the Evo-Stik First Division North six years ago, the Blues have successfully improved on their league position season-on-season.
The last campaign saw them finish one place shy of the play-off spots with 70 points, marking their best finish in non-league football, and Garner is confident his squad of players can continue that progression.
He said: “The lads have already proved they are capable getting results anywhere in this division, but they have to reach those standards again.
“Last year was our best finish even though we were in 12th position and sinking when I took over.
“My ambition has always been to get this club in to the Evo-Stik Premier Division.
“We are determined to make that next step.
“There’s a very level playing field this year.
“There’s no Chester or Halifax, but that doesn’t make much of a difference.
“We’ve got to be up for the challenge because clubs are working with a lot more money than us.
“I think Skelmersdale could proved the best this season, but only time will tell.”
The Blues will start the season at home to Wakefield, whom they lost twice to last year, on Saturday, August 13th, which will be followed by a midweek trip to Bamber Bridge.
They face Lancaster City away on Boxing Day, Harrogate Railway Athletic at Shawbridge in the first clash of 2012 and the Blues will end their season at AFC Fylde.
Meanwhile, they have been given a home draw against Skelmersdale in the FA Cup Preliminary Round on Saturday, September 3rd, and they will play Salford City away in the FA Trophy Preliminary Round on Saturday, October 8th.
Before then, the Blues entertain Kendal Town at Shawbridge on Saturday for another pre-season friendly, with kick-off at 3 p.m.
Silsden will be the visitors to the Ribble Valley next Saturday (also 3 p.m.).