As the season nears its climax, Irlam manager Steve Nixon is satisfied with the direction the club is going in their first season in the Hallmark Security League Premier Division.
Promoted as runners-up to Hanley Town last season, Irlam made a solid start to the season and since then have never been below mid-table, although their form has dipped a little lately.
Nixon has been reflecting on the season, and outlining his expectations in the remaining games: “We’re just over two thirds in to the campaign and I have mixed feelings going in to the last 12 fixtures.
“We started the campaign with moderate expectations, and I recall speaking to League official Ian Williams at one of our pre-season friendlies and he asked if I would I be pleased with finishing 19th in the division.
“I said we were hoping for a mid-table place at the end of the 42 games but ultimately finishing anything above the bottom three, I would take it.
“However, after completing the first 10 games we had only lost one and lay around sixth in the table. Maybe we got a bit carried away and our expectations suddenly were raised to think we had a chance of finishing much, much higher than nineteenth!!
“The players have shown they can compete with the best sides in the division. The four games against Atherton Colls and Bootle are a case in point.
“The four fixtures have given us eight points, with two wins and two draws. The side performed extremely well, although I did fear for us having our first ever game in the division away to Bootle as they were one of the hot favourites for promotion. But the lads dug in when needed and grabbed a 2-1 win on the Wednesday night.
“We have had a couple of good beatings to be honest, West Didsbury & Chorlton were flying at the time and they thumped us 6-0 at home, and Runcorn Linnets gave us a bit of a footballing lesson home and away.
“We have certainly noticed a difference from last season in the First Division. The intensity is there in every game and if you don’t focus for 90 minutes, every side in the Prem have strikers who will punish you. The sides are faster, stronger and more tactically aware.
“Our first fourteen games gave us 21 points, losing just three games. The next fourteen gave us 15 points, and we lost seven. The strange thing was we only conceded one more goal but lost four more games.
“That’s how tight it can be. I have set the players a target of 20 points from the last fourteen games, we have three points from our away win to Maine Road a couple of weeks ago and still have a dozen games left.
“That would give us 59 points, and we would then probably finish the season around mid-table with that points tally. Would I be satisfied? Yes, but still think we can do better.
“We have a strong squad at the club, and our Development side at under-21s and the under-18s are sides who are both doing very well in their respective leagues. Both can win the league and the 21s have two semi-finals, so they are hoping for a league and cup double.
The “pressure” on the first team squad is always there. The senior squad is pretty much the same as last season. The lads who got us promoted deserve a chance to compete in the Prem and they haven’t let themselves down at this stage.
“We did lose Jacques Kpohomouh who was our player of the year last year but other than him we kept the same lads together and have added one or two to the squad.
“The future for Irlam FC looks bright, I honestly think we can become a Northern Premier League side in the next three seasons. The club are investing in the infrastructure with pitch and ground improvements planned for the summer, and the clubhouse is already at NPL level.
“No doubt about it, we would need to add to the squad and invest and that takes additional funding which is always difficult, but the club can achieve it. We certainly want to end the season on a high, and we won’t be finishing with a whimper!”