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Last Updated: Friday, 18 August 2006, 08:26 GMT 09:26 UK
Robins rescue
By Pete Oliver

Having been handed a dramatic reprieve against relegation at the end of last season, Altrincham are determined to remove any doubts about their Conference status.

The Robins were on course for a creditable 18th-placed finish last term in their first year back in the top tier of non-league football.

An 18-point deduction for a fielding a player without international clearance then threatened to send them straight back down to the Conference North.

But Altrincham were spared at the 11th hour when Scarborough were thrown out instead for financial problems, and manager Graham Heathcote is determined to make the most of what he felt was a merited escape.

"It was more a feeling of justice, as I never felt we did anything wrong, and we have had to put it behind us," Heathcote told BBC Sport.

"The summer had its difficulties as a club but we've had to move on and get focused on the coming season.

"I always believed we had a right to be in this league because of the amount of points we had until circumstances took over.

The players' commitment to getting fit has been total, and I can't ask for any more than that

Heathcote on pre-season

"The important thing was to come through it with dignity, which I believe the club did.

"That's behind us now. Perhaps we will use it as a motivation in certain games, but the important thing now is to make sure we stay in the league."

Once their safety was finally assured some six weeks after the season had ended, Heathcote began work on his latest survival plan with a subtle change in personnel and a new-look pre-season regime.

"We brought the players in in June and it has been a long pre-season," Heathcote said.

"In terms of fitness levels in the first two months of last season we were found wanting late on in games so we have had try and address that the best we can as a part-time club.

"The players' commitment to getting fit has been total, and I can't ask for any more than that."

It's a really difficult scenario to try and improve your players when you've really got no finance to do so

Heathcote on squad strengthening

In terms of squad strengthening, Heathcote had some tough choices to make as he sacrificed long-serving defenders Mark Maddox and Chris Adams to help pay for new arrivals.

He strengthened in midfield with the signings of Robbie Lawton and former Halifax Town skipper Steve Bushell.

And Heathcote also looked to lift the burden off Colin Little, who dominated the scoring last season with 17 Conference goals, by signings strikers Joe O'Neill, Peter Thompson and winger Justin Bowler.

"I have tried not to make wholesale changes because bringing in nine or 10 players makes it very difficult to knit and gel," added the Robins boss.

"It's not rocket science. We relied on Colin Little massively for goals so we had to improve there and you have to be competitive in midfield so we have strengthened there as well.

"I have just brought players into areas where I felt we needed them and tried to improve our attacking options.

The players are wiser and they know what's required, commitment-wise

Heathcote on his players

"It's a really difficult scenario to try and improve your players when you've really got no finance to do so. But hopefully those we have brought in are good lads."

With Thompson and Bowler both missing the opening games through injury, Altrincham have started out with eight members of last season's side.

Altrincham could not follow up an opening day win over Stevenage with a positive result at Stafford Rangers, but Heathcote is banking on his players to ensure that this time around their fate remains firmly in their own hands.

"The players did their job last season, but they can't rest on their laurels and have to be better than last season," he said.

"If we do that then we give ourselves a chance of not being involved in a mad scramble at the end.

"The players are wiser and they know what's required, commitment-wise. We want to improve on last season and, like everyone else in football, do as well as we can."

Stafford Rangers 1-0 Altrincham
15 Aug 06 |  Non League
Altrincham 2-1 Stevenage
12 Aug 06 |  Non League
Altrincham capture Halifax pair
03 Jul 06 |  Altrincham
Altrincham release skipper Maddox
07 Jun 06 |  Altrincham
Scarborough relegation confirmed
03 Jun 06 |  Non League


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