After 11 years in the wilderness, Stockport County are once again enjoying life in the Football League.
Having once rubbed shoulders with the likes of Manchester City and Norwich in English football’s second-tier as recently as 2001, their demise was a particularly tough pill to swallow for the Edgeley Park faithful.
But Dave Challinor’s side are now out to prove that they are here to stay after a tumultuous decade that almost saw the club go out of business before finally returning to where they belong.
Sitting just outside the play-offs with more than half the season to go – it’s not surprising that County’s long-suffering fans are optimistic that better times lie ahead.
After an absence of more than a decade, how have you found the return to league football?
“It’s been a bigger step up than we anticipated.
“It’s taken us longer to adjust than we thought, not helped in part with adding more quality to the squad.
“It was eight players in total I think, but the adjustment is almost complete now as we seem to have found our feet.”
County were promotion favourites in the summer. I imagine from the outside that whether it’s a good start or an underwhelming one depends on your perspective… so, what’s your perspective?
“We had a slow start, that’s for sure. The natives were getting restless but it appears that the adjustment period is in full swing.
“We never got hammered in those early games and we could see shoots of what looks like a great team for this level.
“Now we need to continue to build on each good performance with another one.”
After only two wins from your first 11 league games, there were some murmurs of discontent, as you mention. But are you happy with the job Dave Challinor is doing now?
“A small minority, and I mean minority were calling for his head, but we’re behind him and who knows where he can take us.
“The last thing we want is to replicate what Salford are doing.”
It seems as though you’ve really turned a corner now, especially with four wins in six. What’s been the difference recently?
“The players are bedding in – it’s as simple as that.
“We already had the players at the club once the eight or so came in, so it was just a case of finding a formula that worked.
“We have a depth of a squad that others in the division would kill for and when you can bring Sarcevic and Camps off the bench, you know you must be doing something right.
“All will play a part though in a long season with lots of rotation.”
Do you feel you’ve now got a formula to kick on?
“In a word, yes. And we’re hoping to continue to build on it.
“We’d like a couple of additions in the January window – a striker as a minimum, definitely.
“There’s a school of thought that Ryan Croasdale is the key factor in the good run. I can’t argue with that, but it’s coincided with a number of players turning up.
“As I mentioned, we have the strength in depth to maintain any decent form we have.”
It’s been a long and arduous journey back to the Football League, so how good is it to finally return to the likes of Bradford and Tranmere after years of visiting far-flung places in English football’s fifth tier?
“It’s brilliant – and it was only really when we visited Valley Parade that it sunk in, for me at least, that we were back.
“You say far-flung places, we say Colwyn Bay and Vauxhall Motors.
“We’ve always travelled well as a fanbase, so that’s not a shock.”
As for Chally’s role in your success and completing that journey back to the promised land, what has he achieved at Edgeley Park so far? And how?
“There’s no doubting that the financial backing has a huge part to play, but with that backing comes the pressure to get it right, which he has.
“My opinion is that it’s the high intense press and turnovers that are doing it – it’s easily said and seen, but not so easy to implement.
“We’re at our best when we’re hunting in packs, which is what our midfield do extremely effectively.”
What would you consider to be a good season for County in their first campaign back in the EFL? Is a play-off challenge a realistic proposition?
“Seventh or above will do for me.
“I’ll stick with my own personal pre-season prediction – to get into the play-offs at the first time of asking would be magnificent.
“At the same time, we know what we are so my overriding thought is that being back in the Football League is fantastic in itself!”