Hoppers need to gel quickly says coach Arnold

Paul Arnold
Paul Arnold
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Head coach Paul Arnold believes he will find out plenty about his new-look Preston Grasshoppers squad over the opening few weeks of the new season.

Hoppers began their campaign in the North Premier season with a dramatic last-ditch victory away at Sandal last weekend.

Seemingly cruising at half-time with a 19-7 lead, Hoppers found themselves 24-19 behind with just minutes of the match remaining before Jake Squirrel’s late conversion sealed the points.

And tomorrow they face another tough-looking proposition in the shape of Wirral, who arrive at Lightfoot Green.

The Old Wirralians enjoyed a thumping 48-3 win against over Pocklington last Saturday, running in seven tries without reply.

With nine new players in the Hoppers squad, Arnold – who took over from Garth Dew following the club’s relegation from National League Two North last season – admits his side’s ability to gel quickly will be severely tested over the next few weeks.

“Sandal only lost three games at home last season and they were all against the top three teams in the division,” said Arnold, who is hoping to guide Hoppers to promotion at the first attempt.

“It’s not going to get any easier with Wirral this weekend. The first six league games have not been too kind to us – we’ve got the division’s six top teams.

“It’s not going to be easy especially when you are trying to gel a new team together. Wirral had a good win last weekend and they have had a good pre-season as well.

“They are very organised and have a big pack. I think the game against Sandal last week was a bit of a wake up call and showed us that it’s not going to be an easy league.”

Hoppers will make a late choice from an 19-man squad which includes two who were unavailable last Saturday – Will Hunt in the backs and Sam Gale in the pack.

Summer recruits Alex Hurst and Scott Jordan are both unavailable this weekend, while another, Alex Isherwood, is scheduled for a first appearance.

Vale of Lune did the double over Blackburn in North One West last season, so will travel there tomorrow with high hopes, especially after their thumping home win over Burnage last weekend.

Jordan Dorrington is out with a knee injury so Vale shuffle their backs, with Adam Macluskie at full-back and Fergus Owens in the centre. Dan Rainford comes into the second row.

Fylde visit promoted Caldy in National One.

Hoppers (from): Crossley, Trueman, Skofic, Stott, Fitzpatrick, Hunt, M Murray, Squirrel; Mabaya, Millea, Altham, Madden, Arnold, Roddy, A Murray, Gale, Isherwood, Trippier, Lamprey.

Vale: Macluskie; Hall, Owens, Higgin, Jacques; B Dorrington, Swarbrick; Cowey, Powers, Pillow, Rainford, S Wallbank, D Baines, Stewart, Ayrton. Replacements: Foxcroft, Fellows, Ramwell.