TOM McStravick made his name as a pioneering youth coach in Northern Ireland, before working his academy magic at Leeds United and Bradford (Park Avenue).

He is currently academy technical director at the latter, but this week, he has also been entrusted with taking interim charge of Avenue's first team, as their search for a new head coach goes on.

And McStravick faces a huge game to kick off his temporary reign, with Avenue hosting rock-bottom Atherton Collieries in the Northern Premier League Premier Division today, knowing a win could take them out of the relegation zone.

The Northern Irishman is not fazed by it all, and thanked Avenue's players, including hard-working former Bantams midfielder Connor Shanks, for making this transition so easy for him.

He told the T&A: "It's been absolutely okay to make that move up and I've enjoyed working with the first-team lads over the last fortnight.

"That's been especially true this week, as I've been the one in control and I've had chance to put my own stamp on things.

"A lot of the lads we have here have come through academy football anyway, so they’re used to our coaching style with lots of analysis.

“We’ve got a lot of hungry lads in the first-team here, who are keen to learn and develop at the club.”

Matchdays offer the best learning environment of all, with today’s clash with fellow strugglers Atherton having the feeling of a must-win game for an Avenue side who have been victorious just once in the league since August.

But McStravick said: “There’s a lot of football still to play after the weekend, so we don’t want to focus too much on Atherton being a must-win game.

“It’s more about how we perform on the day and how we put into practice everything we’ve worked on in training this week.

“We’ve done our homework on Atherton, so we know what to expect from them, but we have to focus on ourselves first and foremost.

“We’ve got a good group of lads here and a strong starting XI, with players in there that can change the game if we need them to.”

Someone who undoubtedly falls into that category is Shanks, who this week had his loan extended from Spennymoor Town until January 2.

McStravick said: “Connor’s been superb for us to be honest and he’s the type of player we want here.

“He likes to get on the front foot, he’s comfortable on the ball and he’s got game intelligence.

“Connor’s also so hard working, and his GPS stats in games and training are right up there.

“He’s just someone who wants to do well, and you see him staying back after training to work on his game.

“We’re glad to have extended his loan from Spennymoor, and hopefully we’ll get the chance to keep him for even longer after January 2.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Connor Shanks dances through the Gainsborough defence to score a wonderful goal for Avenue last month.Connor Shanks dances through the Gainsborough defence to score a wonderful goal for Avenue last month. (Image: John Rhodes.)

Avenue have had some trialists down at Horsfall, but McStravick does not expect any new faces to have signed by this afternoon.

That means Avenue’s most recent acquisitions are Reward Mwakona and Jayden John, the former coming in with plenty of experience in Welsh and Northern Irish football and the latter having played for a number of non-league clubs in England.

But McStravick said: “Experience helps, but any player we bring in, it’s about their character and what they can add to the existing group.

“If we can develop characters here, we’ll be happy, and I’ve seen lads show real leadership in training this week, so hopefully they can bring that personality into the Atherton game.

“We’re always looking to bolster the squad, but I’m happy with the current group and what we’ve got here already.”