National League North - Tough tests await Bradford PA, Guiseley and York City

Sam Collins.  Picture: Frank Reid
Sam Collins. Picture: Frank Reid
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all three Yorkshire sides face stern challenges in the National League North on Saturday, with the division’s top two clubs both travelling to the region looking to extend their early-season advantage.

Third-placed Bradford Park Avenue are involved in the stand-out fixture of the weekend, as they play host to early pace-setters Chorley, who are as yet unbeaten in the league this season.

Russ O'Neill

Russ O'Neill

PA are on a high after they put six past nine-man Nuneaton Borough last time out, though manager Mark Bower said at the time that he thought they had played better in defeat in their previous game.

Teenager Alex Hurst came off the bench to make a goalscoring start to life in Bradford following his recent transfer from Matlock FC, and he is hopeful of being involved again going forward.

“It’s a proper sound bunch of lads here,” Hurst told the club’s YouTube channel after the rout of Nuneaton.

“There are really good training sessions and it’s a really good club. I’m really enjoying it. We’re doing really well in the league so hopefully we can carry it on next week.”

We say ‘don’t be afraid to make mistakes’. If they are worried about what can go wrong, they will never have that confidence or belief to do the things they used to do as little kids in the park

York City boss, Sam Collins

They certainly have their work cut out for themselves in this game, though, with Chorley looking like candidates to get the league title wrapped up nice and early. They already hold a five-point advantage over second-placed Kidderminster Harriers, and have only conceded five goals in their 12 games to date - less than half as many as the next-best total.

If PA do upset the odds at the Horsfall Stadium, they would certainly be owed a favour by Kidderminster, who themselves are making a 150-mile journey north to face Guiseley.

With five wins, four draws, and three defeats, Guiseley’s form has been positive if inconsistent, though three wins in their last four league games have seen them climb up towards the play-off spots.

They go into Saturday’s fixture in 11th, but are hopeful of improving their fortunes in the coming weeks as a number of players make their respective returns from injury.

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Speaking after Guiseley’s recent FA Cup win over Stourbridge, joint first-team manager Russ O’Neill praised the impact of those who came back into the squad, particularly goalscoring substitutes Kaine Felix and Lewis Walters.

“We’re getting one or two of the walking wounded back. As the game has come on they have done really well,” he said.

“It’s been a long road back for Kaine Felix especially. He has looked after himself tremendously well to get himself back fit. Lewis Walters has been in and around it, ready to start, he’s been a bit frustrated but they have got their rewards today.”

Kidderminster may be flying high at the top end of the table but they suffered their second league defeat of the season last time out against FC United of Manchester, throwing away an early lead to lose 2-1 after Edward Williams had become the division’s first player to reach the ten-goal milestone this season.

In contrast to the ‘walking wounded’ of Guiseley, however, Kidderminster come into the game with no injury worries or suspensions to contend with.

York City round off what looks like being a fascinating Saturday for the Yorkshire sides, as they travel to play-off rivals AFC Telford United.

One point separates seventh-placed Telford from York in ninth, but York manager Sam Collins is looking to take advantage of his side’s game in hand ahead of a week in which they face three of the top seven with fixtures against Spennymoor and Bradford PA to come.

“It’s a really important week with Telford, Spennymoor, and Bradford and we are looking forward to it,” he said.

“We have worked really hard over the last 10 weeks to get to the point where we are now. If we can get through this week and have two or three really strong results, it puts us in a really good position.”

The Minstermen go into the game with an almost totally clean bill of health, winger Wes York the only doubt due to an insect bite on his leg.

And while Telford started the season in fine form they have struggled in recent weeks, alternating defeats and losses for their last five games, and Collins is confident that his side should go into their week of crunch fixtures looking to play without fear.

“We say ‘don’t be afraid to make mistakes’. If they are worried about what can go wrong, they will never have that confidence or belief to do the things they used to do as little kids in the park,” said Collins.

“The confidence is probably completely different. That’s a little bit down to what we have been doing with them to take that fear factor away and give them opportunities to express themselves.

“There will be times when we lose or make mistakes but I am not going to kill them for that.”

Though other fixtures would have to fall kindly for Guiseley, Saturday evening could see all three Yorkshire clubs finish the weekend in the top seven of the National League North.

All of the weekend’s fixtures kick off at 3pm on Saturday, with a full set of midweek fixtures to follow on Tuesday evening.