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Knaresborough management team on their season, player usage & rumours about next season!

Knaresborough Town’s first ever season in the NCEL top flight has been a successful one, achieving a 9th placed finish, alongside a superb run in the FA Cup, the League Cup and County Cup. (All photographs by Craig Dinsdale)

We caught up with Manager Paul Stansfield and asked him about their season. “It kind of went with where we were, to be honest. I think it’s about right. We probably overachieved at the start of the season with the momentum of winning the League and amassing the points we did last year. The feel good factor was there then we got the Cup run, which was massive for the club and it spring-boarded. Really we always knew that we probably weren’t quite ready this year to mount a serious push for it.” 

“It’s only when you compare us budget-wise to the top sides. We lost our three strikers in January: Nick Black, Rob Youhill and Josh Garbutt and we couldn’t replace them. We had lads in the squad who came in and have done really well. We couldn’t go out and sign big players like other teams could do.”

“It probably fizzled out a little bit just after Christmas. We had a couple of tough games – Bridlington and Penistone – and we lost those; came up just short after we played quite well. We drew at Staveley in the last minute as well but those results chucked us a little bit. Then we had a few players who missed a few games.”

“We played reasonably well. Certainly the last five or six games we played really well. We were unlucky not to win more but if you’d told me at the start of the season: “Would you finish in the top ten and an FA Cup run?” I’d have snapped your hand off! We’re pretty pleased really, all in all.” 

“We know where we’ve got to go next year to mount a serious challenge. It’s a proper League and there’s some really good players, good managers and good teams. We know what we need to do and we’ll have to try to address it in the summer if we can.”

Player-Coach Colin Heath was pleased with their season, “Yes, I think we are. We knew it was going to be a step up and, by Christmas, we’d probably exceeded our expectations. We’d had such a really good FA Cup run and we’d had a crowd of over 500 down – the biggest crowd we’ve ever had – so the first half of the season was so good. As you say, it petered out a little bit but it shows you’ve got to have strength of squad. I think other teams above us have bigger squads or better. We probably fell a bit short towards the end but the lads have done so well. Credit to each and every one of them. They’ve done really well for us and it’s been a very good season, albeit we’ve finished ninth.”

Because of their geographical location, Knaresborough’s catchment area is unique. “We were happy with our squad,” Stansfield added. “Our squad was very similar to where we were last year and, if lads were missing, we’ve put lads in who were part of it and they’ve done really well. It’s a bit unfortunate; we could have gained a few more points. Ultimately we’re probably not streetwise enough to win that League yet. There are more experienced teams who can edge results and I think it’s really fair to where we’ve finished. No complaints! I’m quite pleased with it, to be fair.”

Having used just 29 players throughout the season, Heath explained their philosophy, “It shows we’re using the resources we’ve got. Other teams have probably gone out and strengthened, got more players over the season and used different players. We’ve not used that many and credit to some of the lads. I think two of them have started every single League game, Gregg Anderson and Brad Walker, so we’ve done well.”

“It was a learning curve for us. We’ve studied the League now and seen the League. Hopefully next season we can kick on.”

Rumours have been rife throughout the Non-League Forums that Knaresborough will be move up the Northern League next season and we asked Stansfield about this. “I don’t know too much about it. I’ve heard rumours, like other people have heard. I’m not really interested in it at the minute because nothing’s been said. We’re planning that we’re in the Northern Counties Prem next year as that’s the League we’re in. We won the Division One and we won the right to be in it, so I’m hopeful that we’ll stay in this League and mount a serious challenge.” 

“We’re a couple of players short in the squad; a bit of experience. The top teams have all got experienced lads who have done well this year. I think we probably need a little bit of that, so we’ll look to address that in the summer.”

Heath feels they just have to wait and see. “You’ve got to deal with the situations when they arise and I’m sure we will do. It’s not easy in terms of knowing for the lads or if you’re looking for players as well or for anyone new coming in because you could be playing a different area. I think at the moment we’re just concentrating on that we’re going to be in the same League next year and, if the situation arises, we’ll have to deal with it.”

With three teams going up from Step 5 next season, we asked Heath if more money will be going into the squad to push for promotion or keeping the squad and seeing what happens. “You’ll always look to strengthen in any off-season. You’re always going to be trying to better yourselves in terms of looking around. You want that competitiveness within the squad. You want people who are wanting to play for the shirt, you know; not comfortable in the position they’ve got. I know a lot of our lads aren’t like that, to be fair. Naturally we will look to probably strengthen in certain areas.” 

“It’s been a learning curve this season. There are a few games where we should have got something from it but I suppose it’s a thing that any team can say. We’ve lost by the odd goal to quite a few of the teams above us; certainly the top teams. Worksop went on to win it. I think our home game was a last-minute equaliser to them. We’ve been in games and we’ve been in form against the better teams, but I think next season we’ve just got to show a bit more steeliness and when we get chances we’ve got to take them.”

“Next year with three going up, we can look to build on this season and when you’re in and around fifth/sixth you’ve got a chance so that’s what we’ll be trying to do.”

With a 15.57% increase in attendances, Knaresborough are one of the best supported sides in the NCEL. “I think we’re really fortunate in the way the club’s grown. We’ve got some great supporters who come down week in, week out. We’ve got quite a few who travel away with us. We’ve got a committee that support us and we’ve got a lovely feel in the club when we go into the bar afterwards.” 

“On behalf of myself, Paul and the players, we can’t thank them enough. They’re the ones who come through the turnstiles, they pay their money and we’re really grateful for that. Hopefully next season we can get a few more down if we continue to progress and look to finish higher than where we did this year.”

Heath finished by saying, “On behalf of Paul and myself I want to say thanks to the lads and the players, because they’re a great set of lads, a really good group. They all work hard, they all want to do well for each other and they’re honest. We’ve had a really turbulent season in terms of it was so good in the first half and not just the results in the second half of the season but we lost Terry, the President, who was an essential part of Knaresborough. He did a lot for the club, he was there when I first came in and we’ve had a lot to deal with. It rocked the club a little bit but we will continue. Hopefully we can recharge our batteries in the summer then go again.” 

“Thank you to you guys for what you do for us. Hopefully next year we will be speaking more!”

A huge thank you to Paul and Colin for their contributions throughout the season and for doing this interview.

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