Big freeze to big squeeze

Dave Challinor
Dave Challinor

AFC Fylde are battling to squeeze over half of their league fixtures into the final 12 weeks of the season and manager Dave Challinor admits they are “on the brink” in terms of finding midweek dates to accommodate them all.

It rather makes a nonsense of plans to add four matches to the Evo-Stik Northern Premier programme next season.

But despite their hugely demanding schedule, Challinor refuses to give up hope of winning promotion from the division before that expansion kicks in.

It’s a massive ask for a side currently 11th in the table, 21 points behind leaders North Ferriby and with seven games in hand on Saturday’s derby opponents Chorley.

But Challinor knows how to plan a successful promotion campaign, having done so in the last two seasons with Colwyn Bay and Fylde, though he admits any further disruption to the league programme could prove a postponement too far.

Fylde’s last three fixtures fell victim to the weather and they have three still to rearrange, with only four available Tuesdays left.

The club’s runs in the FA Cup and FA Trophy are one reason they have played only 20 league games in five and a half months, and they still aren’t free of cup commitments.

Challinor told The Gazette: “We have a Lancashire Trophy quarter-final in a fortnight and if we stay in that competition, or if we have any more postponements, we won’t have enough Tuesdays left. We would be looking at playing on Thursdays too.

“We can’t play on the next two Tuesdays and we’ve had to rearrange games because of the policy that cup matches take precedence over league games, which is something I think needs looking at.

“We’re already looking at playing nine matches in March and nine in April. It’s a big ask and we face a lot of travelling, but you just have to get on with it. We still have aspirations to be competing at the top end of this league come the end of the season.”

As for those FA moves to expand the division, it’s hardly surprising that Challinor has reservations.

“The FA are looking to reconfigure Step Three (the third tier of non-league, directly below the two Conference levels) by adding two teams, which would mean 46 games instead of 42,” he explained.

“But there are a lot of things to consider before you make a change like that, and I’d like to think the weather we’ve just had will have a bearing on their thinking. Maybe they could drop one of the cup competitions.”

One consolation is that Fylde’s training has not been disrupted by the weather, even if their matches have.

Challinor added: “We have a partnership with the University of Central Lancashire and have been able to continue training twice a week using their facilities. And we played a match against Hyde on the 3G pitch.”