8th March 2020 - Strawford taking nothing for granted
MIKE Strawford says he will take absolutely nothing for granted when his Marcliff Gloucestershire County League XI enter the representative arena once more for an intriguing match with their Gloucestershire Northern Senior League counterparts.
The fixture takes place this Wednesday night, March 11, at Slimbridge’s Wisloe Road ground (7.30pm). Entry cost with a programme is £2.
This will be the third time Strawford, the Wick manager currently caught up in attempting to steer his high-flying team to a first-ever County League title with a Les James League Cup semi-final at home to Gala Wilton also a mouthwatering prospect on April 4 (3pm), has taken charge of rep teams.
Last season Strawford oversaw a first victory in five attempts against Gwent League at Tytherington before taking up the rep reins once more in May for a match, which they lost 4-1, with a Toolstation Western League XI at Stonehouse staged as part of the County League’s 50th anniversary celebrations.
Strawford has been busy finalising his squad while confirming four players from his own Wick team - Alfie Clarke, Joe Thomas, Mike Hardiman and Dan Stephens – will be involved in a 16-man squad.
"It was nice to be asked again to manage the County League side," Strawford enthused. "It’s one of those honours you don’t always get in football and I jumped at the chance.
"It will be my third as manager: we beat Gwent 1-0 for a first-ever win over them (in February 2019) and we gave a good account of ourselves against the Toolstation League despite having a few lads unavailable due to the Bank Holiday weekend then. The 4-1 result didn’t reflect our performance.
"We’ll be playing lower-level opposition this time but we’ll certainly not take them for granted. I’m more or less there with the squad but I’ll still be putting in a few calls after our own game on Saturday to check availability as there are injuries around.
"Some clubs are reluctant to release their players if they have important issues at stake involving their league situations as they don’t want them getting crocked. I understand that so we’ll be careful and respectful to them."
Strawford continued: "I’ve asked clubs for any recommendations if there are lads they feel deserve a call-up. Most clubs will be providing players or have at least been approached.
"For the two previous games I picked players from nine clubs, even those struggling in the league. This time we’re looking at about six clubs involved and all competing at the higher end of the table.
"We can take five substitutes so I’ll have 16 players on the night all of whom will get a run-out.
"I’m expecting a good, competitive game. The Northern Senior League operates a level beneath us but teams fresh from that league, namely Sharpness and Quedgeley Wanderers who joined the County League this year, have been very competitive.
"We’ll have enough centre-forwards in our line-up and a lot of ball-playing types so the emphasis will be on attack which is how I like to play football; quick and dynamic.
"We’ll enjoy the moment and hopefully get a win."
In the meantime it’s business as usual for Strawford’s in-form fourth-placed outfit as they target the win at Henbury that could tighten the current six-point gap between them and Frampton United leaders who have played two more games.
Wick have also been bolstered by the arrival of experienced former Longwell Green Sports and Roman Glass St George centre-forward Paul Coles, while fellow frontman Warren Forrest, once of Welton Rovers also in the Western League, has been snapped up from Bristol Premier Combination club DRG SV Frenchay.
Another former Welton performer, winger/defender Ben Alexander, is also aboard although Strawford expressed "disappointment" that talented young central midfielder Ben Payne has opted to join Mangotsfield United’s Southern League mission.
"It’s a shame given we’re in contention for a league and cup double but we wish him well," the Wick chief said.