Record Last Season + Quick Summary:
National League (champions) 1st; W 27 / D 11 / L 8 / F 67 / A 46 / Pts 92
John Askey’s charges would’ve been hoping for a tilt at the National League play-offs at the start of the campaign, but never in their wildest dreams would they have envisaged becoming champions by a 10-point margin. A thoroughly mixed bag in August didn’t give the ardent supporters at the Moss Rose any particular cause for optimism, but the narrow win over Dover Athletic on the 25th of that month was to be the start of a bountiful sequence, gaining maximum points in eight of the subsequent 10 games. Another slightly sticky patch followed, but their score draw against favourites Tranmere Rovers was an indication of their quality. More victories were followed, and even a 6-0 shellacking against moneyed Fylde didn’t slow their momentum for long.
A 4-1 thrashing away to the Birkenhead outfit in the February return fixture was another yardstick with which to measure their excellent progress. A miserly total of two losses in 2018 saw the Silkmen lift the title at a canter in early April, but Askey decided not to stick around for their first campaign back in the EFL for six years, making the short journey south to third tier Shrewsbury Town on the 1st of June. The board took a few weeks to appoint a replacement, opting for Mark Yates, whose exploits at Solihull Moors in saving them from almost certain relegation, might be called upon once more.
Top Goalscorer: Scott Wilson (14 goals in 23 starts/2,082 minutes)
Manager/Head Coach: Mark Yates; as a player, the Birmingham native mostly stuck to the Midlands, signing pro terms with this boyhood club in 1988 and remaining there for a further three years. A move up north to Burnley didn’t work out as planned, and he found himself at Doncaster Rovers for a season, before a transfer to Conference side Kidderminster Harriers, who were riding high during the mid-90s in an era of one-up, one-down. Coincidentally, he was part of the Kiddy side who blew a massive lead in 1997, eventually losing out to the side he now manages. He got the success he craved at local rivals Cheltenham Town, securing two promotions with The Robins during his time there.
He returned to Worcestershire in 2004, helping to save Harriers from the drop back into non-league. That feat achieved, he hung up his boots, becoming a first team coach under Steve Cotterill back at Turf Moor. He struck out on his own with the two sides he spent the longest spells with as a player. He came very close twice with Cheltenham to getting them up to League One, losing out in the play-offs in successive seasons. He was sacked in 2014, with the Robins in a poor position in late November. His tenure at Crawley Town lasted less than a year, and he had to wait quite a while for another chance at management, which came at Solihull Moors. With just 11 points from 19 games upon his arrival, he somehow managed to steer them to safety, winning almost half their remaining matches. His efforts were rewarded by the Silkmen, and he’ll have another campaign in the EFL to look forward to.
Ins: Michael Rose (Morecambe), Harry Smith (Millwall), Rhys Taylor (Fylde), Miles Welch-Hayes (Bath City), Ben Stephens (Stratford Town), Callum Evans (Forest Green Rovers), Jamie Grimes (Cheltenham Town), Nathan Blissett (Plymouth Argyle), James Pearson (Kidderminster Harriers), Fiacre Kelleher (Oxford United on loan) & Callum Maycock (Coventry City on loan).
Outs: Diego De Girolamo (free agent), Mitch Hancox (Milton Keynes Dons), Courtney Richards (free agent), Noe Baba (Waterford), Sam Ramsbottom (free agent), Danny Whitehead (Salford City), Shwan Jalal (Chesterfield), Kieran Kennedy (Shrewsbury Town), Josh Thompson (free agent) & George Pilkington (retired).
Predicted First XI & Shape:
Tactics: Elliott Durrell’s groin operation could mean that unless some eleventh hour signings are made, the midfield area desperately lacks width, and Yates might be forced to deploy someone out of their favoured position to compensate, or risk playing narrow. The late signing of Rhys Taylor is the reason this preview didn’t come out much sooner; currently, he’s the only senior goalkeeper in the squad. Playing second fiddle at Fylde is not the ringing endorsement fans require, and he’s probably going to do the same for the Silkmen, once another custodian is secured. In the meantime, his indecisiveness when faced with crosses into the area will be a cause for concern.
Ahead of him, loanee Fiacre Kelleher is an archetypal centre back, who will be tasked with winning headers and clearing his lines before any other considerations are entertained. Jamie Grimes is his more experienced partner, whose long balls from defence are reasonably accurate, and he can cover ground more quickly. On the flanks, David Fitzpatrick could get the nod, and his preferred role as a winger might perversely help Macc out of congested areas and relieve pressure, with plenty of bodies in deep areas if possession is lost. Captain Jared Hodgkiss will do much the same on the right, supplying early crosses to the strikers.
Callum Maycock will buzz about between the lines, offering high energy and protection to the backline, as well as the pivot of choice to recycle the ball to more advanced teammates. Michael Rose is a dead-ball specialist, and marries that with accurate long-range shots from open play. Danny Whitaker might be 38 in the coming season, but he can still perform admirably. Another who likes having a pop from distance, he’s also good at spraying passes to the strikers and bringing others into play. Koby Arthur is a dynamic option behind the forwards, preferring to press high up the pitch and is best when the ball is moved at a quick tempo.
Nathan Blissett moves well for a target man, and is far from a stationary figure for his compatriots to pick out. Scott Wilson should join him, using his pace and dribbling to unsettle defences and win any knockdowns from Blissett. There is plenty of faces vying for these spots, and it would be remiss not to mention Harry Smith, a tall, rangy player, who recently took some time away from the game to deal with some mental health and addiction issues, but has since returned, and he will be hoping to hit the ground running in a new environment.
Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Circling the relegation drain; the Silkmen are still a few players short of a full deck, most notably on the flanks, between the sticks and a bona fide playmaker. Losing Askey to Shrewsbury, Danny Whitehead back down a division to the behemoths at Salford City, and Elliott Durrell to injury are all grievous blows in their own right. Mark Yates has plenty of experience of managing in the EFL, but he’ll have his work cut out from the outset to avoid a slow start. There’s still a little bit of time remaining in the window to augment his roster, and goals shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Preventing them might be much trickier, however, and it’s difficult to foresee anything but a pitched battle not to return from whence they came.