FORMER boss Jim Harvey has tipped Chester to take the Conference North by storm next season.
Chester were made favourites to win promotion to the Conference Premier by the league sponsors early last week with odds of 4/1.
Harvey, who will see his Stalybridge Celtic outfit try and thwart Chester’s promotion hopes next season, agrees that the Blues are amongst the favourites to take the title.
“I don’t think they will find it particularly tough,” he declared when asked whether Chester would find the step-up from the Northern Premier League a problem.
“I imagine that they will have one of the biggest budgets in the league and they are one of the biggest clubs, so it is understandable that they are amongst the favourites.
“They have been very successful during the last two years and they have a budget that enables them to continue their progress through the leagues.
“They will soon be back where they belong, which I believe is the Football League.”
Harvey was in charge of Chester City for a matter of months in late 2009 and early 2010 as they lurked from problem to problem before their demise was finally sealed.
The 54-year-old accepts that his time at the club was tough, but is delighted to see those associated with Chester back smiling.
“The support Chester has is terrific and it is great to see everyone smiling again,” he declared.
“The circumstances were very different when I was at the club and that has been helped by the fact that they are winning games.
“However, it is not all about winning games. We all love football because of the emotions involved.
“Towards the end of my time people were not smiling and there were a lot of dark days, now when I go back to Chester I see people enjoying themselves.”
Crowds of over 3,000 have roared Chester on during the last two years and Harvey has highlighted the club’s fanbase as a reason why Neil Young will be able to mould a team capable of winning a third successive title.
“The crowds Chester get are a big boost to their budget,” he explained. “At Stalybridge we get crowds of 500 while Chester were getting 3,000 at times.
“That means that Neil Young has six times the budget I do. With that type of budget he can sign experienced players who know the league, while I have to go out and find young talented players that people haven’t heard of.”
Stalybridge missed out on a place in the Conference North play-offs last season by a single point and have been priced at 20/1 to win the title this time around.
However, Harvey knows that this season will be about rebuilding his side rather than challenging the likes of Chester, Halifax and Guiseley.
Ex-Chester youngster Rhys Meynell, Craig Hobson and Phil Marsh are amongst those to have left Bower Fold since the end of the 2011/12 campaign.
“My budget isn’t strong,” said Harvey. “We have lost half of the team that came close to the play-offs last season and big changes will have to be made.
“We sold Connor Jennings to Scunthorpe in January for £100,000 which was a massive boost for the club because we needed the money.
“His departure was a major factor in us missing out on the play-offs, but now we are back to square one.
“It will be the start of a two-year cycle for us this season. I will look to sign players for this season with an eye on getting them ready for a push the year after.
“It is disappointing but we will see what we can get together and I look forward to playing against Chester.”
Meanwhile, Blues boss Neil Young admitted he was close to signing an experienced midfielder in a bid to strengthen his squad for the Conference North campaign.
He said: “A deal has virtually been done to secure the services of a midfielder from a higher level who can play a wide or central midfield role.
“The players I have signed so far have been brought in to improve us, and the midfielder I’m planning to sign will certainly do that.
“My target is to assemble a squad of 18 or 19 players which includes two goalkeepers before the players turn up for pre-season training which is scheduled to start on June 28.”
- Chester’s scheduled pre-season friendly match against Cheshire neighbours Crewe Alexandra on August 11 has had to be postponed because of Crewe’s League Cup commitments.
The Blues have now arranged a home friendly match against Welsh Premier League club Bangor City for that day.