MALTBY Main have battled through Covid-related problems to clinch a place among the early-season front runners in their league and a spot in the first round proper of the FA Vase.
The Miners take on Newcastle University at Muglet Lane today (3pm) after an encouraging start in the Northern Counties League set against a backdrop of injuries and depleted numbers due to the virus.
It's been a test of reserves and character but Main, who suffered only their second defeat of the season in the Premier Division when going down 3-1 to against Eccleshill United on Tuesday night, have more often than not found ways to get results.
“It has been tough,” said manager Louis Axcell. “We have been hit by injuries and self-isolations and we have not managed to name a 15-man squad this year yet. We have been down to the bare bones.
“We have been finding a couple of players here and there on dual registrations to help us out but I don't think there has been a week where we haven't had one off at least self-isolating.
“We have had a midfielder play in goal twice because our goalkeeper got Covid. We have been trying to get through the fixtures without actually calling them off and we are in a strong position in the league considering the circumstances we have found ourselves in.
“We are doing alright. We would have taken this at the start of the season at this stage.”
Maltby Main manager Louise Axcell.
Tuesday’s defeat was only their first since the opening day of the season. Mitchell Dunne gave Maltby a 13th minute lead but the visitors struck three times through Luke Aldrich, Alex Laird and Jonathan Irving to take the points.
However, Newcastle University's students will be an unknown quantity and scouting them has been difficult given current restrictions and the distance between the teams.
“We have absolutely nothing on them,” said Louis. “Last year my goalkeeper, James Pollard, played for Sheffield Hallam University against some of the top university sides. We know they will be decent footballers.
“I don't think they will be used to playing on grounds like Muglet Lane very often, which might be in our favour, and it will be interesting to go again them.
“We have been on a good run and we just have to concentrate on ourselves and give it a good go.”
Although the Vase doesn't carry the same financial rewards as the FA Cup, it is still a pleasing distraction for clubs like Maltby.
Axcell added: “The Vase is a tough competition. You generally find that the teams from the Northern League tend to do well in it.
“The prizemoney has been cut again this year but it's a bit of a break from the league. Winning becomes a bit of a habit and this is a chance to get back to winning ways.”