GARSTANG are likely to give starts to a trio of new signings as they cross their fingers that they can finally get a game this weekend.
Stuart Darley’s side have only played 90 minutes of competitive football since November 20, as a combination of the festive freeze and recent downpours have seen eight of their last nine scheduled games postponed.
But the lay-off has allowed Darley to strengthen his squad with three new faces coming in - the experienced Andy Naylor and Shaun Couch and exciting young prospect John Ross.
Naylor’s capture is a major coup for Garstang, the 28-year-old striker having just left Bamber Bridge after two spells at Lancaster City and time at Clitheroe, all sides in the Northern Premier League.
The Preston-based player is a product of the Preston College football academy and started his playing career at Kirkham and Wesham.
Shaun Couch is a powerful central defender, who is also a qualified coach and will be helping out the management team at the Riverside, while Ross is described as an ‘outstanding young player’ by Darley, who has recruited the 21-year-old full-back from his old side, Longridge Town.
For Darley the recent weather interruptions have been a mixed blessing. On the one hand the postponements came just as Garstang were running into some form, being unbeaten in their previous four league games, including a superb 3-2 victory over runaway league leaders Blackpool Wren Rovers, they have climbed to 12th place in the league - a huge turnaround in fortunes after winning only once in their previous 12 league fixtures. But the break has also allowed Darley to continue working with the players on conditioning and fitness and preparing the squad for the remainder of the season, which looks likely to be extended by up to two weeks due to the number of cancelled fixtures.
“We have been training very hard and that has been good, but what we really need now are games’’ Darley said this week. “When I first came to the club it was clear that many of the players were unfit so we have worked hard on fitness levels, but there’s only so far you can go with that. This break has helped us to a degree but we need to be putting the training ground sessions into practice now.
“The three players we have brought in are all excellent and will all strengthen the team - I am delighted to have got them here. If we play on Saturday they will all feature and may well start.’’
Darley says he believes that recent results have proved Garstang have ‘turned the corner’ after their terrible start to the campaign. Darley says that when he took over from former boss Barrie Stimpson in those early weeks of the season it was clear to him that the squad lacked fitness and also needed beefing up with new players.
Now he’s got the team leaner, meaner and with new signings adding greater quality, he says they are finally heading in the right direction - but he warns there is still a long way to go.
“We are nowhere near where we want to be, but we are on our way. We are unbeaten in the last four games and I’m happy with the work everyone is putting in, it has been a great effort but we are not out of the woods yet’’ he added.
Weather permitting, Saturday’s game at the Riverside against Thornton Cleveleys - who sit eighth, four places above Garstang - will be followed on February 19 by the return game at Wren Rovers, who are currently a massive 17 points clear at the top of the table, albeit having played five games more than second placed Charnock Richard.
Before that Garstang are hoping to play a friendly away from home against Squires Gate tonight, Wednesday, for some much needed match practice.