Date: 2nd August 2006 at 10:29pm
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The Silkmen take on Darlington on Saturday for the opener of the League Two season for another year. So how ready are we for the coming campaign?

Looking at the squad itself it looks pretty thin, although this does seem to be the way several clubs in this division are going it has been cause for concern amongst some Macclesfield supporters.

An interview in the local press with the manager earlier in the summer suggested that injuries and suspensions would be covered by loan players as and when needed. We will have to wait and see how we deal with the common or garden unavailability of players throughout the campaign. Short term loans and full season long deals are available if the players are out there.

We can but hope that the injury crisis of last year, let alone the off field problems, does not repeat itself this time around. But what about the things we do have control over?

But has the anticipated first XI squad improved on last season?

We`ve had a complete turnover of goalkeepers with both Fettis and Deasy leaving the club to be replaced by Tommy Lee and Jonny Brain. Deasy was unfortunate in not being able to stake his claim by picking up an injury at the same time as Alan Fettis but it`s fair to say that both Brain and Lee have more experience.

In Jonny Brain and Tommy Lee the Silkmen have a promising pair of custodians with the former having two seasons of experience at Port Vale whilst Lee has impressed in his loan spell and pre-season as well as playing against Premier League opposition for United Reserves.

In defence, the Silkmen lost Paul Harsley and the much maligned Kevin Sandwith.

By the end of his stay with the club, Paul was a midfielder in name only having the best part of two years at right back. If the Chester fans are to be believed then his replacement, Carl Regan is one of the worst footballers ever to exist. This does sound like classic scapegoat syndrome as he still played 40+ games for them last season. He also has experience in the Championship as well as at this level and has shown promise pre-season.

At left-back Kevin Sandwith has been replaced by Jimmy McNulty. On paper, a young player from the Welsh Premier League seems scant replacement. He doesn`t seem as effective going forward, and Sandwith`s free-kicks were a useful outlet but McNulty`s handling of the impressive Chris Eagles in the friendly against Manchester United show that his defensive qualities may well be an improvement. He has a month to prove himself at League Two level.

The central partnership will remain the same as last season.

Ian Brightwell, Andrew Smart and Andrew Teague are the immediate defensive backup and all three are now a year older, which is obviously more of a positive for the two Andrews than for Ian Brightwell who will only be used sparingly, in emergencies, if at all.

Midfield is the position where we seem a little thin. For the starting XI, the left and right flank are sorted with Kevin McIntyre and Matty Bullock. Alan Navarro will remain the holding player to do the defensive work in the middle of the park.

It`s easy, when talking about the midfield to bemoan the loss of Paul Harsley. But whilst he was a hardworking and versatile player, as mentioned before, he had been a right back for the best part of two years, and was effectively ‘replaced` last season by Alan Navarro after he ‘replaced` Mark Bailey.

Danny Whitaker is a different matter, and one which the manager clearly sees as important. Several trialists have come and gone as he continues to look for a replacement and the press have recently mentioned a move to bring someone in on loan.

Until then, the Silkmen seem set to feature either John Miles or Jordan Hadfield in the middle of the park. With both untried at this level in that position this looks to be the biggest gamble for the manager in the opening games. The other option is for Miles to play wide right, where he looked good in the final three games of last season, scoring twice at Peterborough, which will allow Bully the more central role he reportedly desires.

Although there is always the chance that the gamble will pay off and a star will be born, the manager seems to be looking at players in this position. Izak Ried could also get his first team chance this season after good showings pre-season.

Colin Heath was touted as something of a Jack-of-all-trades as an attacker with the ability to play across the middle of the park as well as up front. He has shown good finishing ability as well as build up play in pre-season, scoring twice, albeit against Congleton Town. He is likely to start his Macclesfield career on the bench, but his versatility must make him a useful squad member.

When it comes to a comparison with last season, the strikers are probably the hardest issue to cover.

It`s fair to say that the current front line of Robinson and McNeil is not going to be as prolific as Wijnhard and Parkin (Who must surely have been the best pairing in the division last season).

But can you base a comparison on just a couple of months? The real question must be, is Robinson and McNeil an improvement on the early season pairing of Russell and Townson and, despite his goals, was the side as effective when injuries forced Bully to play up front?

It was one or other of these pairings throughout the start of last season as we dropped to 23rd position after 15 games. This was before the manager was able to bring Wijnhard to the club and JP returned and we went through the best spell. (Would we have beaten Stockport without them? Probably not 6-0 but three points would still have been ours. Neither scored against Chester, Orient or Barnet.. Would we still have had those results?)

After both of these players left, or were injured, the club struggled again until both McNeil and the unpopular, but more effective than given credit for, Richardson were at the club together.

If we’re happy that Robinson is better than Richardson, Russell or Townson, what about Matt McNeil. Is he better than, well, Matt McNeil?

It seems a strange question, but coming into a struggling side as a former part time player can`t be easy to adapt. As seen with Jon Parkin, a full pre-season can work wonders for a player. In theory, he should be sharper and fitter than last season. He`s certainly looked the part pre-season.

John Miles, Colin Heath and Marvin McDonald are the immediate cover up front, but an injury crisis similar to that last season would cause problems.

So, the direct comparison:

Opening line up 2005: Fettis, Bailey, Sandwith, Morley, Swailes, Bullock, Harsley, McIntyre, Beresford, Miles, Russell

Opening line up 2006? Lee, Regan, McNulty, Morley, Swailes, Bullock, Navarro, McIntyre, Miles, Robinson McNeil

Which would you prefer?