THE GLOVES are off as Danny Alcock and Stuart Jones battle for Accrington Stanley's Number One spot this season.
Boss John Coleman has said he won't make his mind up until tonight about which goalie will take his place between the sticks in the Canvey Island opener tomorrow
But 21-year-old Alcock, in his second year at the Interlink, is hoping he will get the nod.
"I will just be keeping my fingers crossed," said the former Barnsley and Stoke shot-stopper.
"I want to play as many games as possible. The aim is always to do better than I did last season.
"I was disappointed last year as I played in a lot of GLS Conference Cup games and I thought I did all right but I wasn't playing week in week out which every player, no matter what position, wants to do."
Alcock played in five league games in the last campaign - in the 2-1 win over Hereford, the 5-0 victory over Northwich, the 2-1 loss at Carlisle, 2-0 defeat at Crawley and the goalless draw at Hereford on the final day of the season.
But Carl Ikeme, Paul Crichton and Jon Kennedy were ahead of him in the pecking order. These may have gone but this season he is up against 27-year-old experienced goalkeeper Stuart Jones, who has Sheffield Wednesday, Torquay, Chester City, Reading and Doncaster Rovers on his CV and signed for the Reds this summer.
"Stuart is a nice guy and it is good competition for me - and he looks like Anthony from Big Brother!
"The lads have been giving him a lot of stick but he takes it well and has a laugh about it. We do train together and we both have the same aim - to be first choice - but it is the same with all goalkeepers.
"You do learn bits off every keeper you train with - like technique and angles but the main thing is to be confident. I feel I am a good shot-stopper and kick well but there are a few aspects of my game I need to work on but hopefully I can improve them this season."
The youngster admits pre-season has been a tough one.
"It is the hardest pre-season I have ever had but I am actually a goalkeeper who likes running - not many goalkeepers do. I can beat a couple of the lads and I did beat Cav in the 12 minute run although he used the excuse he was injured. He tried to put a dampener on it but I did beat him!
"But it has to be hard as we know we need to start the season off well as well as finish strongly.
"We have two part-time teams first in Canvey Island and Altrincham and we have got to make sure we go there with a spark that a hard pre-season gives you and not be too laid back."
He feels he saw too much Conference football from the sidelines in the last campaign and wants to make sure he is out there experiencing it first hand this season. But he knows the league has got harder.
"I watched more games than I would have wanted to last season but there are some good sides in the Conference, it is a strong league. There isn't probably too much passing but it is more physical and the teams work hard for each other. I was impressed with the standard when I signed as I don't think they are any different to any Second or Third Division teams.
"It will be hard this season again to get into the play-offs but we all believe we can do it. Hereford, Woking, Halifax and Aldershot will be strong but we have got to make sure we have a good start - and then it continues."
Jones, who has signed on a non-contract basis, admits he has shaken off the "Anthony" jibes from his team-mates.
"I have only had this comparison here at Accrington - nowhere else!" admitted the new shot-stopper, who was training with Rotherham when Paul Cook phoned him about coming to Stanley.
"But I don't mind. Robbie Williams has been called "Eugene" so I think a few of us are getting some stick.
"But I have settled in well and they are a really nice bunch of lads here. Hopefully we can be successful as everything seems to be going in the right direction.
"There are a lot of decent players, with a nice mix of experience and youth, so we're looking to be successful. My aim is promotion."
And he wants to be remembered for his goalkeeping skills rather than the resemblance once the season starts.
"I have set my own little targets - I keep them to myself but obviously to concede as few goals as possible would be a good start. To play 40-odd games would be even better - but I don't know if I will start tomorrow. I will just wait and see but hopefully I will do my bit.
"I have played in the Conference before for Hereford a few years ago - only for five games though so I'm a bit of a novice at this level. But I am just looking forward to the season starting now."
And Jones says he and Danny, while rivals on the field, are working well together in training.
"Danny's a good lad. He's still young but hopefully I can push him along the way. We haven't got a goalkeeping coach with it being a Conference team, but hopefully I can do my bit and, if he does get called upon, I'll be there to support him, no danger."