BLOG: Worksop, Tadcaster and Handsworth shaping up as contenders, with Clipstone the early surprise package

MIDLANDS Regional Alliance round-up.
MIDLANDS Regional Alliance round-up.

The top end of the NCEL Premier table has a familiar look to it already, with the expected title contenders getting off to a good start.

Worksop Town are in first place, at least until tonight when second placed Tadcaster could leapfrog them by beating Pontefract Collieries - albeit having played a game more than Tigers.

Handsworth Parramore are sixth, eight points behind fellow Sandy Lane outfit Worksop with three games in hand, one of which is tonight’s clash with eighth-placed Rainworth.

Without disrespecting anyone else in the division, you’d expect Tigers, Taddy and the Ambers to be up there for the duration of the campaign, so their current positions are no surprise.

There is, however, a joker in the pack in the form of newly promoted Clipstone.

James Colliver and Ryan France can’t call on the same resources as the aforementioned trio, but Clippo have punched above their weight thus far in 2015/16.

In fact if they win their two games in hand they’ll be level on points with Worksop , who they beat 3-2 in a thrilling second game of the season.

Finishing in and around the top four would be a tremendous achievement for Colliver and co.

But you have to believe that none of Worksop, Tadcaster or Handsworth would settle for anything less than top spot this season.

Tigers came closest last season, finishing second to promoted Shaw Lane, with Tadcaster third and Parramore seventh.

For Tadcaster, it was a summer of change and while many of the starring cast remain the same, a new regime is in place.

Worksop merely added a little strength in depth to their squad, while Handsworth also have a measure of continuity having changed manager during last season.

Although big players like Jon Stewart and Tom Burgin have moved on to play at a higher level, and there have been dramatic departures of two others – Jono Wafula and Shaq McKenzie - Worksop Town still look like they have more options in most positions this season.

The Tigers bench on Saturday, when they beat Brigg in their third consecutive 4-0 win, contained experienced players like Phil Roe, Jamie Hadfield and Conor Sellars, while Adam Ward and Sam Liversidge missed out through injury and James Cottingham was on holiday.

That seems to be the major difference between the squad that finished second last season, and the one that Mark Shaw hopes will go one better this time round – he can look to his bench and see a number of players who could easily have started the game, and then look to the stands where another couple of solid performers sit out.

It remains to be seen whether or not that luxury, or the amount that the young Tigers have grown since the start of last season, will be enough to help them finish ahead of a Handsworth side who have conceded just twice in six games, or Tadcaster, Clipstone, Bridlington or any of the other sides who fancy a run at the title.

What is clear, already, is that no one can afford to drop off the pace.

It’s tight at the top, and will more than likely stay that way.

Shaw Lane lost just four times last season and you’d think it’s going to take a record like that in 2015/16 to follow them into the Evo-Stik.

The visit to Worksop of Tadcaster on 7th October, Handsworth’s home game against Tad on 7th November and the Sandy Lane derby on 28th November already look like hugely important fixtures that could have a real impact on the title race even before the season reaches the midway point.

Another NCEL Premier season, another tense title race.