For anyone with only a tentative grasp of Welsh footballing matters, it would appear that nothing has really changed at Rhyl FC. They are unbeaten and lead the way in the table, the same as at this stage last season when they built a momentum that would carry them to their first title in five years.
However, off the field it has been a summer of change at the League of Wales club with no bigger surprise than that which saw manager Allan Bickerstaff depart just three months after leading Rhyl to the winners rostrum. Into the breach stepped defender Greg Strong to assume the role of player-manager. First managerial opportunities normally only arrive at clubs who are down on their luck, but if anyone thought that the former Bolton Wanderers FC and Motherwell FC player has had it easy after the invitation to take over the reigning champions they should think again.
His appointment was followed by a huge turnover of players as budgetary pressures hit home. The closing of the transfer window has brought back some stability but only this week, with an important local derby against Bangor City FC on Friday, Strong learned that last year's leading scorer Neil Roberts is off to head a new youth project at Manchester City FC. Nevertheless, the new man in charge has received a resounding response from the players that remain and the new signings that have arrived and with four wins and a draw from their first five league outings, the north Wales outfit once again look the team to beat.
"I was adding it up the other day and we have lost 13 players from last season's squad which is an awful lot," Strong said. "It's been a difficult summer and for the first two games I struggled to get enough bodies to sit on the bench. The fact that we've started well is a credit to the players."
There are new pressures on every manager this term with the league reducing from 18 to 12 clubs next season. Strong expects his men to give another good account of themselves. "We have a small squad but it's a strong squad and as long as we stick together and keep believing we'll be there or thereabouts."
If nothing else he wants another crack at the UEFA Champions League. They had the misfortune of being drawn against FK Partizan in the second qualifying round – Bickerstaff's departure came after he missed the games because of a family holiday – and a 12-0 aggregate defeat. "The scoreline did not do us justice but for everyone it was brilliant to be involved," Strong added. "There are players in the English Premier League who might never get to play at that level and it was a massive experience."
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