GREAT Harwood Town's prospects of an immediate return to North West Counties Division One appear slim as John Hughes' side wait to kick their first ball of 2003.
But Hughes, whose side, weather permitting, travel to Westhoughton tomorrow to take on Daisy Hill (Note early kick-off time 2pm) is happy with the rebuilding job he has undertaken following Harwood's relegation last season.
Only four of the squad he inherited from Dennis Underwood, to whom Hughes was number two, remain, and while Town stand only a modest twelfth in the 18-team Division Two, Hughes believes that the foundations are in place to take the club onwards and upwards.
Hughes is set to add another piece to his jigsaw this week when he signs centre-back Russell Kay who has recently left the Army.
Hughes says: "Russell has played football in the forces at a high level. We also have Paul Mashiter available, he has yet to make his debut for us but is back from holiday and ready to pitch in."
Hughes added: "It's been a complete turnaround in terms of personnel at the club. Only four players are left from last season and the rest have been players we've introduced, many of them just kids, really.
"We have had a bit of inconsistency, we followed up excellent results against tomorrow's opponents Daisy Hill and Padiham, who are top of the league, with an awful performance in losing 5-0 away to Holker Old Boys. But I am having to do a similar thing to what Mickey Graham and I did at Rossendale United.
"You give the youngsters a chance, bring them in and have a look at them and if they aren't up to standard you have to try someone else. But I'm happy with the way the squad is shaping up now.
"You have to look as far as you can ahead and although we would probably struggle to get among the front-runners now, we are still in the quarter-finals of a cup competition and a top five spot would be a bonus.
"It's pleasant to hear positive comments from people who come to watch us when they pick out one of the youngsters and say: 'He's not bad.' We haven't even been able to train properly this week, even the artificial pitches were frozen solid, but when you get them onto proper pitches you can begin to coach the right habits into them.
"We've done well financially this year, winning ten grand in the cup, and we're in a healthier position than we've been in for five years. I'm optimistic."