THACKLEY'S player-manager Pat McGuire is thrilled with his team's improvement over the last 15 months, admitting that the risk to change their identity has paid off.

The Dennyboys go into tomorrow's home clash with Penistone Church in sixth, with 16 points from their opening nine Toolstation Northern Counties East League Premier Division games.

It is a far cry from last season, which they largely spent battling relegation.

Explaining the turnaround, McGuire mused: "Last year we were brave. We tried to recreate our identity and get back to playing good football, not just bringing in one big player to solve our problems.

"We were favourites for relegation, with the lowest budget by far, but we stayed up and now we've added five or six players. They all contacted us, as they know what we're about, and it's strengthened the side."

Despite the improvements to the playing squad, McGuire has still found himself pressed into action at times this season in midfield.

He said: "I'd said I'd take a step back this year as it's difficult playing and managing substitutions and tactics.

"We won four in a row but then we lost four in a row. I thought maybe the players had got too comfortable, so I put myself in there to see if I could help out.

"We've won our last three, scored nine and conceded one. Joe (Brown, first-team coach) wants me to play again this weekend, but I've got a slight injury so we'll see."

Tomorrow's clash against Penistone will be tricky, with the Sheffield outfit, like Thackley, seeking a win that could propel them into the promotion places.

McGuire said: "They'll be right up there come the end of the season. Penistone thumped us last year but they were victims of their own success, as a lot of players went off to join clubs at a higher level.

"But some have already returned, which just shows how much they enjoy playing under (manager) Ian Richards.

"I've got no worries about the players being up for it, as it's easier to raise your game against the top sides, but we know we've got to be on it for 95 minutes to get anything at all out of this game."

Elsewhere, there is a fascinating derby clash, as Albion Sports host Liversedge. Both sit in the top half, but it is Sedge who look strongest, sitting third with 19 points from eight games.


Vanarama National League North: AFC Telford United v Guiseley, Alfreton Town v Farsley Celtic, Gloucester City v Bradford (Park Avenue).

The BetVictor Northern Premier League - North West Division: Brighouse Town v Prescot Cables.

Toolstation Northern Counties East League Premier Division: Albion Sports v Liversedge, Eccleshill United v Handsworth Parramore, Goole AFC v Silsden, Thackley v Penistone Church. Division One: Selby Town v Campion.

North West Counties League Macron Cup First Round: Pilkington v Steeton