CAMPION joint-manager Lee Ashforth insists today's game at home to NWCFL First Division North giants Bury AFC is a "free hit".

The phoenix club have the biggest budget and fanbase in the division, and currently sit top, with 14 wins and six draws from their 20 games so far.

The Red and Blacks were looking to join them in the hunt for promotion at the start of the season, but they have tempered those expectations now.

Talking about today's clash, Ashforth said: "It's a free hit, as nobody expects us to win.

"They have the biggest budget in the league, which is always difficult to compete with, and a huge fanbase.

"That does mean we'll have a decent crowd in though, which is good for us financially.

"We want to put on a good show and do the best we can, but everyone puts Bury on a pedestal, which is understandable, as they're arguably the best side in the division."

Regardless of today's result, Ashforth does not rate mid-table Campion's chances of getting promotion.

He said: "After the Steeton defeat (on December 4), I said that was probably our chance of reaching the play-offs gone.

"Before the start of the season, I felt we'd need around two points per game to make the play-offs, and we've not managed that, only getting 30 from 23 matches so far.

"We'd probably need to pretty much win every game left now to reach the play-offs, and with us still having to visit (high-flying) Golcar, Bacup, AFC Blackpool and Pilkington, I can't see that happening."

Twenty-three games is a crazy amount to have played already by this stage of the season, but Covid, which is rearing its ugly head again with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, has played a big part in that.

Ashforth said: "We've always had good team spirit, and that's not changed in the last fortnight or so, even if nobody knows what's going to happen in the next few weeks with Covid.

"I've never got to this stage of a season with only 13 games left, but the reason why we've got so many in is so, if the league does finish early at any point, we'll have played enough for the standings to count.

"It is worrying, but health has to come first. You're seeing all the Premier League and EFL games getting called off at the moment, and it's probably only a matter of time before that really hits non-league too."

If the season does get completed, what are the aims of Ashforth and his fellow joint-manager James Bicknell, if they don't think promotion is realistic?

Ashforth said: "We've sat down as a coaching group and the main thing is just looking to see who performs well in those last 13 games.

"A lot of our planning for next season is going to depend on how the leagues are structured, because we don't know if we'll still be in the North West Counties for 2022/23.

"We need an early call on that, because we didn't get much notice when we were moved over from the NCEL this year, and that made things difficult for us, in terms of things like some players not wanting to commit to the extra travel."

Elsewhere, second-placed Eccleshill United host struggling Emley in the NCEL Premier Division this afternoon.

Other games in that league today include Thackley v Winterton Rangers, Staveley Miners Welfare v Albion Sports and Barton Town v Silsden.

High-flying Liversedge host Lincoln United in the NPL East Division, while mid-table Brighouse Town are at Dunston.