By Steven Oldham, Sports Correspondent
Stockport County’s Joe Connor believes the club can challenge for promotion next season after securing their Blue Square Premier status with Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Braintree Town.
County are now mathematically safe, with relegation-threatened Hayes and Yeading United seven points adrift of The Hatters with only two games left to play.
Connor, who joined the club in December on non-contract terms before earning himself a deal until the season’s end, believes County can now chase for promotion back to the Football League.
He said: “I am positive we can challenge for promotion now next year, either by winning the league or through the play offs. If we stick together, and Jim (Gannon) can add players in the summer, we have a great chance.”
That a County player is even contemplating promotion is refreshing for the club’s fans to hear. Two relegations in as many years had left the club on its’ knees and it quickly became clear this season they were in a third successive dogfight in the Blue Square Premier – the lowest level the club has ever played at.
“When I joined, the club had lost 7-0 to Grimsby and been knocked out of the FA Trophy by Stalybridge – it was probably the darkest days in the club’s history,” he said.
“County are such a big club, and it’s been really sad to see them going down the leagues in the past few seasons.”
“Bearing that in mind, I think we’ve done well to ensure safety with two games to play. There have been massive changes this season with players coming and going.”
The desire for success at Edgeley Park is perhaps most evident by both Director of Football Gannon and the squad’s disappointment at squandering their 1-0 lead over Braintree in the 93rd minute, despite the massive implications the point gained had in their fight for survival.
“I was devastated to concede so late on. It took the gloss off making sure of safety a bit,” admits Joe.
“We were pretty comfortable, but we’ve done it a few times this season, letting teams score late goals. It’s caused us problems and we need to stop it right away.”
Saturday saw another of County’s young players make his senior debut. Defender Kyle Brownhill, who turned 17 last month, came on as a sub late in the second half. He follows the likes of Ian Ormson, Danny Whitehead and Ben Say in stepping up to first team football this year.
Joe said: “The young guys have done well this season. It’s great for them to be getting first team football here rather than being at a big club – it’s a huge step up from the youth leagues.”
“The club will still have a young squad next year – I’m 26 and the oldest in the team!”
To further illustrate Joe’s point, the squad had a practice match in training a couple of weeks ago – younger vs older. The cut off point for being on the older team was 21.
Keep your eyes on MM later in the week for the second half of our interview with Joe, as he speaks about the Tamworth game, what he thinks he contributes to the team and more…
Stockport County play their final home game of the season on Saturday at Edgeley Park against Tamworth with a 3pm kickoff.
Tickets are available at the club’s ticket office, on the turnstiles on the day or via www.stockportcounty.com
Follow Steven Oldham on Twitter – @spoldham