AVENUE boss John Deacey has thanked the club's board for giving him an even hand this season.

Deacey got the Bradford club into the Conference North on a shoestring budget with a threadbare squad playing football on a 'cabbage patch'.

Now in their third season in the sixth tier of English football, the Horsfall manager feels the club are capable of competing.

Ahead of today's short trip to take on Stockport County at Edgeley Park, Deacey said: "I've got four players out for this game but once I've got them back I will have a strong squad.

"I'm not saying these current players are better than any that have been here before but in terms of strength in numbers, this is the best squad I've had in my time here.

"It has some depth about it and we wouldn't have been unbeaten in our first three games with four players missing this time last year."

With close-season signing Bradley Barraclough yet to make his league debut and Alex Davidson, Adam Clayton and Nathan Turner – another summer recruit – all out injured, Avenue have won two and drawn one of their first three games.

Deacey has been able to field good starting line-ups and have a strong bench, despite the injuries.

He will not be welcoming two of those players back any time soon but believes they will play their part at some stage of the campaign.

Deacey said: "The squad is so strong that I could put Joe Colbeck on the bench for the derby against Harrogate Town. That would have been unthinkable before.

"Joe showed a terrific attitude and all of his professionalism because he was mature about it and came back in against Leamington last Saturday and answered all the questions. He had a fantastic game.

"It's unfortunate for Nathan because he has to have a cartilage operation and he had looked really good in pre-season. Adam is still waiting for his hernia operation, so we don't want to risk further damage.

"Nathan should be back in three to four weeks because cartilage ops are nothing these days – a bit of keyhole surgery and no after-effects.

"He should be back sooner rather than later – and we will need these players back because it is going to be a very tough league this year.

"Another thing that has improved is the pitch and that's something else we have to thank the board for because they have put a lot of time, money and effort into improving the playing surface at Horsfall.

"A full squad and a decent pitch and that's all I can ask for as we look to improve on our tenth-place finish least year."