2016-17: Guiseley boss Mark Bower targets progress above anything else

Oli Johnson holds off Tommi Diagouraga in the pre-season friendly against Leeds at Nethermoor.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Oli Johnson holds off Tommi Diagouraga in the pre-season friendly against Leeds at Nethermoor. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
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MARK BOWER is hoping for a relaxing end to the coming season – in stark contrast to his first three years as a manager.

Last May, Bower’s Guiseley stayed up in nail-biting fashion by beating Torquay United by the odd goal in seven on the final day.

HOPEFUL: Guiseley boss, Mark Bower.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson

HOPEFUL: Guiseley boss, Mark Bower. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Thanks to FC Halifax Town being held to a draw at home to Macclesfield Town, the Lions’ triumph was enough to leapfrog their West Yorkshire neighbours to safety.

Guiseley’s narrow escape came 12 months on from the club clinching promotion to the top division of non-League football in equally dramatic fashion, trailing by two goals at half-time in the play-off final they hit back to beat Chorley 3-2.

A year earlier, Bower’s side had lost the Conference North play-off final to Altrincham. No wonder, therefore, he is looking for a less nervy finale in 2016-17.

“It would be nice to have a more relaxing end this time around,” said the 36-year-old.

“We have certainly tested people’s nerves over the last three seasons, by losing a play-off final, winning a play-off final and then staying up on the final day last season.

“Obviously, it was a great feeling to stay up like that and it was nice to put a smile on a few worried faces.

“But, ideally, I want us to be reflecting on what a big improvement we have made by the time we get to the final day.”

Guiseley, in only their second season at this level, will be up against it again.

Half the 24 teams competing in the fifth tier this term are either former Football League clubs or direct descendents.

Among them will be Tranmere Rovers and Wrexham – whose average attendances last term were 5,084 and 4,616 respectively – while ambitious clubs such as Forest Green Rovers have once again invested heavily.

For Bower, the challenge is to improve on what was effectively a season of two halves at Nethermoor in 2015-16. In their first 20 games as a National League club, Guiseley lost just half a dozen times and were sitting 14th in the table.

Then, though, life became noticeably harder and on the penultimate weekend the Lions slipped into the relegation zone for the first time.

“The fixtures probably helped a bit last season,” admitted the former Bradford City and York City defender Bower.

“In the opening week, we played three teams who went on to be relegated. And, by the end of January, we had played Halifax, Kidderminster, Altrincham and Welling twice.

“That meant the tougher games came late on. We went quite a while without a win and gradually slid down the table.

“But it could have been different. I thought we played well in a lot of games, notably Grimsby, Forest Green Rovers and Tranmere at home.

“They are all good teams and if we had played in the same manner against the lower teams then we would have been comfortably safe because the results would have come.

“Our problem was we drew too many games. If we had gone down, we would have lost the fewest number of games by a relegated team in the last 10 or so years.

“Macclesfield and Gateshead lost a very similar number to us but finished in the top 10. That showed the fine margins. If we can turn three or four of those draws into wins then it will be a big help.

“There is no limit to what can be achieved at this level, even by teams who are not full-time. Dover and Braintree proved that last season (by reaching the play-offs).”

Following York City’s relegation, Guiseley will once again be one of three Yorkshire clubs competing in the top division of non-League football

Bower spent two years at Bootham Crescent early in his career so was sad to see the Minstermen come down.

However, the Lions chief also admits that the two clashes with York – on October 4 at Nethermoor with the return scheduled for November 29 – will bring added spice to the season.

“York are a big club,” added Bower. “I played there for a spell so it was a shame to see them come down. It is a good club.

“The fixtures will be big ones for us, even if on a Tuesday night. To get the long trips on a weekend, a few local fixtures have to take place and this is one of them. Despite that, I still expect the atmosphere at both games to be cracking and good occasions for everyone. And, hopefully, unlike last year, our good performances will result in points.”