Whitchurch Alport face two huge challenges over the course of the next 48 hours and beyond.

First up for Luke Goddard's men is a Huddersfield Cup semi final tie against AFC Telford United tomorrow night (Thursday 7:45pm) before the long-awaited clash against title favourites City of Liverpool on Saturday.

Club officials are hopeful of two big crowds at Yockings Park to boost their coffers after a period of inactivity. Alport have had two blank Saturdays in a row and moved quickly to arrange a friendly against Greenalls a week ago which resulted in a very comfortable 4–0 win.

One of the highlights of the evening was a really impressive performance from youngster, Josh Dunne, who helped himself to a hat-trick. The other goalscorer was Challis Johnson and by the time the full-time whistle was blown, Whitchurch had eight teenagers on the pitch in what was an experimental line-up for the Reds.

Assistant manager Steve May expects Alport to take the game to Telford tomorrow and thinks the National North club will play a mixture of youth and those on the peripheries of the first-team.

He said: "We don't know what sort of side they'll bring here but they'll be technically-gifted players and when there's a cup final place up for grabs there should be no quarter asked or given.

I hope we get a big crowd on as our fans can be 12th man in the night and having won the Ethelston Cup recently, we'd like to add the Huddersfield Cup to our list of honours."

May added that the club are forging partnerships with local non-league sides, hoping that tomorrow night's game represents an opportunity to add Telford to a list that already includes Nantwich Town and Chester FC. Continued on page 39

He added: "It's vitally important for a club like ours to build relationships with others who know that you will treat their players properly if they are happy to loan them out to us.

" I will hope to get to speak with Telford's management after the game and hope we've been able to demonstrate to them that we are a club very much on the up.

"There is a certain brand that we want to introduce at Whitchurch and we are not afraid to invest in youth.

"There are players that we have identified who will fit into our plans to keep improving and already those plans are fixed on a testing pre-season programme as well as preparing for our second season in the Premier division."

May makes no secret of the fact that it's been a steep learning curve for himself and manager Goddard, with it feeling like a seven days a week job.

"I can't deny that I've had a few sleepless nights over the course of the season," he said. "There were a few murmurs around the club when it looked like we might be in for a relegation battle but the truth is that we've been spoiled over the past seasons with records being broken all the time and winning plenty of games.

"We believe that we are much closer to the teams around the top of the table than the bottom even though the league table would suggest otherwise. But we are losing games by the odd goal whereas teams like Litherland who came up with us last season have just lost back-to-back games 4–0 5–0. Our problem this season has been an inability to close out games when we've been in winning positions and that has cost us dearly."

There have been a number of changes to the squad over the past few months and May explained why the management team have had to evolve the team over the course of the club's debut season in the top-flight.

He added: "In our first season at Whitchurch we played some tremendous football and had a 62 goal return from Simon (Everall) and Mike Blundell.

"Last season, Mike couldn't shake off an injury and we lost him, then Simon picked up a stomach injury that meant we had to push on without him for a while.

"So all the time you're being tested and there are always things internally which can knock you off track when you least expect it. We deal with things like that internally and never go public which is the right way to go about your business.

"The turnover of players is a very necessary part of the process if you're a club that doesn't want to simply stand still. Right from the outset in this league we knew that the step up following promotion was a huge climb. People might not agree with us but we felt that last seasons side would have really struggled in the Premier Division.

"But how many of our supporters would have thought for instance that we would have been able to find someone as good as Danny Read when he announced his retirement? Dan was brilliant for us and yet in Dave Parton we've found a goalkeeper who is one of the best around.

"At centre back we've gone most of the season with Camps (Darren Campion) and Leon (Ashman) but have able deputies with the likes of Joe Minshull and Callum O'Connor who have gained invaluable experience playing alongside one or the other.

"At left back we lost Elliott Ledwards and Louis James but covered off both positions with Ricky Bridge and Ben Chilcott who are both excellent left backs and can get you high up the pitch.

"I've lost count of the number of midfielders and strikers that have come and gone over the past 18 months at Yockings – we must have tried seven or eight strikers this season alone! In Alex Hughes, we have someone who could become a Whitchurch Alport legend and I've told him that. It's all about application and attitude with him and that's something only he can effect."

The affable May emphasised that big characters are needed to push the club on as they lay plans for the future: "Integral to those plans will be a hunger and desire amongst our players.

"They must want to be better and not think they have made it just because they've found themselves at a progressive non-league club. We'll focus on making them fitter with better diets and all the science that's involved in football these days – like I said, you can't afford to stand still. Ability will always get you to the dressing room door but it's not enough on its own to get you in there.

"We've had to move players on who didn't demonstrate to us that they wanted it enough; ones that were happy if that's the right word to sit at the back of the dugouts shivering while thinking we'd made wrong decisions in terms of team selection. So many players have left Whitchurch to join a club in the league we fought so hard to get out of and as harsh as it sounds, whose fault is that?

"Not fighting tooth and nail to prove us wrong and jumping ship at the first signs of disagreement emphasises what I said about attitudes. There have been examples where players have demonstrated a first-class approach to sitting out games and they've had their reward for that."

n Alport will be honouring the 96 fans killed in the Hillsborough disaster – the 30 year anniversary is on Monday – with a commemorative page in the TimeKeeper match programme as well as presenting a flag to their City of Liverpool opponents before the game which is sponsored by Tilstock Motors.