ILKESTON FC COLUMN: Time to get down to business

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So, the period of ‘useful run-outs’, ‘good fitness exercises’ and ‘money-spinning prestige friendlies’ is over and the real business is finally about to get underway.

Ilkeston host Skelmersdale United on Saturday in what looks to be a tough opening fixture for Gavin Strachan and his young squad.

It’s been an interesting pre-season, not least because Strachan has had to rebuild a squad decimated by departures and yet one which still looks to be capable of more than holding its own over the next nine months.

It’s hard to read too much into pre-season games but the ones I’ve seen (just the home games) have given plenty of cause for optimism.

What’s needed now is a good start. This is really important as losing early ground in a division like the Evo-Stik Premier can be very costly whatever your aims are for the season.

We saw last year how harsh the promotion race can be, namely just one team going up as champions and one more through the play-offs, so if the aim is once again to be up there challenging then a good start will be crucial.

I won’t be at the away game with Grantham next Tuesday - one of many away games I’m unable to cover this season for various personal and work-related reasons - but it would be a great time to end something of a hoodoo at what is a difficult place to play football at the best of times.

A lot of people have asked me where I think Ilkeston will finish come the end of April and, to be quite honest, it’s a very difficult one to call.

The ambition to get promoted is certainly evident and the fact the Robins are the only full-time outfit in the division should once again give them an edge when it comes to things like fitness levels.

Gavin Strachan is in his first managerial post so it’ll be a case of how quickly he learns what’s needed, although with mentors on hand like his experienced assistant Andy Watson and even his dad to offer advice, he’ll not lack support if it’s required!

I also hope Ilkeston folk get behind the team in great numbers and that some big gates can roar them on each week.

So my prediction is another top five finish and, unless the title is won, another play-off campaign which hopefully this time will be devoid of the agony of last May.

I’ll end this week’s column with something of a fundraising appeal.

As some fans will know through my Twitter feed, my wife is currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer and as a result I’ll be having my hair shaved off on the eve of the Skelmersdale game to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Care, all as part of their ‘Brave the Shave’ campaign running throughout August.

So, if you wish to know more about our story and to donate to what is a great cause, go and visit my donations page and any support will be greatly received.

Then feel free to laugh at my shorn head at the New Manor Ground on Saturday...