Phillips targets promotion
Friday 17th August 2018 @ 11:53 by Mark Phillip

Buxton joint-manager Paul Phillips has set his sights on promotion this season – but he knows it will be a tightly contested race in a highly competitive division.

Having taking the reins at the club in March, Phillips and joint-boss Steve Halford guided the Bucks to an eighth place finish. However, having rebuilt over summer and strengthened the squad in specific areas, Phillips is now confident that his side can make a challenge on the Evo-Stik Premiern Division title.

Speaking to Reporter Sport before ahead of the opener at Whitby Town this weekend – the first of three consecutive away fixtures –  the former Droylsden goalkeeper said he’s relishing the chance to bring the good times back to Silverlands. “I think Buxton are by far the biggest club we’ve managed” said Phillips.

“Ashton were an ambitious club in a smaller way, but we now have a squad which we feel is the strongest we’ve assembled at this point in any season.

“I think the players are capable of doing great things, but that also comes with a heavy sense of expectation from supporters, who expect you to claim promotion or at least reach the playoffs. We never had that at Ashton; it was a bonus if we achieved that.”

Phillips and Halford have plenty of experience in this division, having guided Ashton to three consecutive playoff feats in ’14, ’15 and ’16. The duo have since had brief stints with Stalybridge Celtic and Glossop North End, though both periods were allegedly blighted by discontent behind the scenes.

Buxton is quite the opposite, as the club is in the process of regenerating the ground with a state-of-the-art 4g pitch. According to Phillips, the stadium refurb, accompanied by the chairman’s ambitious plans, made it a no brainer to join the club.”There aren’t many chairman – and this is no disrespect to anyone else – who know more about football than Dave Hopkins” said Phillips.  “We speak to him about players and issues in that neck of the woods. We always get laughed at before the start of the season. We aim to win the league, but once that’s not possible, we then set a target of reaching the playoffs. Ultimately we set out to win every game – that’s probably never going to happen – but that’s just part of our high standards and we make sure the players know that as well.

“Buxton’s a great club, and I think you can see that from the infrastructure that’s been put in place. The NPL being set up with the young lads that are coming through the academy; the pitch going down and the ground that’s going to have half a million invested into it – it’s a really massive club with a good fan base”.

While Phillips has a promising squad at his disposal – which includes prolific striker Liam Hardy, who scored 40 goals last season –  he is under no illusion that delivering promotion will be a walk in the park.

In fact, with Scarborough Athletic, South Shields and Hyde United in the same division, Phillips expects the Premier Division to be the most competitive in recent years. He said: “I think if you finish above South Shields you won’t be far off winning the league.

“It’s another club with massive financial backing, and a good group of players that have come through the leagues together, so they have momentum behind them.

“Hyde are also a great club who play top football under Darren (Kelly). I don’t know too much about Scarborough, although we played against them last year when I was at Glossop and we won 2-1 at Surrey Street. They were a good team, it was a very testing game, and they have a big fan base.

“If you look at the league last year, and compare it to this season, I think it’s a lot more competitive this time around. There are probably seven or eight teams this year, as opposed to two last season, who could potentially win it.”

The Bucks have recruited a number of influential players over summer – none more so than former Sheffield United striker, Diego De Girolamo.

The 22-year-old joins the club after a number of spells with Northampton Town, Cheltenham Town and Chesterfield.

With Football League pedigree, why has the youngster joined a club in the seventh tier of the English pyramid? “It’s come about because his brother, Nico, plays for us” said Phillips.

“It was a bit of a long shot over summer – I actually spoke to him more than I spoke to my wife on holiday – but we threw our hat into the ring and the chairman worked hard to get the deal over the line, as did myself and Stephen.

“He’s an unbelievable footballer and one of the best I’ve seen. He’s at this level because he’s lost his way a little bit in recent years. I’d be very surprised if he’s at this level in seven months time. You watch him in training and he’s like a Rolls Royce. He does things that players would do in the Premier League or the Championship, and I think if he gets his love for football back then the sky’s the limit for him”.