This can be the year of the Lion – Bower confident of making it fourth time lucky in Conference North play-offs (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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This can be the year of the Lion – Bower confident of making it fourth time lucky and exorcising ghosts of Guiseley’s previous play-off failures
Former Guiseley striker James Walshaw, right, hit a hat-trick for Altrincham on the Lions’ last visit
Mark Bower believes Guiseley are in the best possible shape to win promotion tomorrow and put three years of play-off torment behind them.
The Lions travel to Altrincham in the Skrill North final hoping to finally make that elusive step to the top tier of the non-league game.
They have fallen agonisingly short in the past three seasons, losing to Telford in the 2011 final and then FC Halifax and Nuneaton in the semis.
But boss Bower, who has led an amazing transformation to get this far, insists they head for Moss Lane better equipped than before.
He said: “I’ve been here for the last two years when we went into the play-offs after finishing second. It was almost as if we were disappointed to be there.
“We were playing dead rubbers for a couple of weeks and it did slow the momentum down.
“This year we’ve had to continuously win and we went into the last game still needing a result to get in. We took that good feeling into the play-offs.
“That momentum and confidence is completely different to what it’s been like last couple of years.”
Guiseley will have to beat Lee Sinnott’s Altrincham without ever-present winger Wayne Brooksby, who scored the clinching goal at North Ferriby last week despite playing with a broken jaw.
And player-coach Danny Boshell also misses out under the terms of his return from the Cheshire club earlier in the season.
Bower added: “We knew when we took him that he wouldn’t be allowed to play against them. We were hoping a Conference North final came under a different bracket to a regular league game but that’s the agreement.
“Altrincham don’t want him to affect the game on the pitch but we’ve been working on things this week in training so he can have an influence off it.
“I’m really disappointed for Wayne because he’s been terrific for us. There have been a lot of clubs sniffing around and his performances have been excellent.
“He played through injury a couple of weeks ago when we were a bit stuck. Then he played an hour with a jaw broken in two places and put in the performance he did while still being kicked, elbowed and hacked.”
Goalkeeper Steve Drench is back in training after his recent virus and likely to replace 41-year-old Steve Dickinson, who shut out Ferriby over both legs.
With only one loss in the last 20 games, Altrincham can expect a very different Guiseley team from the one that collapsed 4-1 on their last visit seven months ago.
To rub salt in the wounds, former Lions hitman James Walshaw scored a hat-trick on his way to a 32-goal tally for the season.
It was Bower’s fifth defeat on the trot as Steve Kittrick’s replacement – and the second half his lowest point as a manager. But he learned a lot from that painful lesson.
“I remember being stood on the touchline watching that unfold and feeling totally powerless. A couple of individual mistakes were made, we fell behind and then just capitulated.
“Looking back now, it might have been the best thing that could have happened to me. You realised what needed to be done.
“If I’d come in and we’d won four or five games on the spin, I might have thought the job would be easy.
“It was a real testing time but we had a two-week break afterwards and were able to make a few changes that have certainly helped us since.
“But there are still a fair few players who were involved that weekend and will want to put it right.”
As for Walshaw, a veteran of those three play-off near-misses, Guiseley will be equally well prepared.
“He’s a prolific scorer at this level and won’t give you a second’s rest,” said Bower. “He certainly gets under your skin.
“But we know a few of his tricks and what to do against him. The big thing is to stop the supply and then you can isolate him.”
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