PREVIEW: Kidderminster Harriers v Luton Town
No-one had given Harriers a prayer of even challenging for top spot after they lost their opening five matches and drew the next 10.
But they went on a stunning run after that, finishing just two points behind eventual winners Mansfield, recording a stunning 28 wins from 36 games.
In the play-offs, they were beaten in both legs by Wrexham, losing 5-2 on aggregate, but boss Steve Burr has kept the majority of the squad together as he said: “The ones who have stayed with us, you hope that they can step up.
“While you hope the new boys coming in can improve us.
“We have brought them in with the right intentions and hopefully that will be the case, but you just never know until such time as the season gets under way.”
Burr has signed midfielders Jamie Tolley and former Wales U21 international Lee Fowler, 30, after his release from Doncaster Rovers, along with ex-Hatters winger James Dance plus promising young wideman Dior Angus from Solihull Moors.
Striker Michael Gash also completed his move from Cambridge United, having initially arrived on loan as he agreed a two year deal, while Jack Byrne returns after missing most of last season with a knee injury and ex-Lincoln defender Josh Gowling signed up too.
Harriers also swooped for young striker Joe Lolley who notched an amazing 88 goals in 83 games for Midlands Combination side Littleton and was part of the Great Britain team who finished runners-up at the World University and College Games, before scoring a hat-trick against Chasetown in pre-season.
Former Bedford Town defender Jamie Grimes has also penned a new one-year deal after impressing in the friendlies, while young Academy star Tyrone Williams was awarded his first professional contract.
Meanwhile, winger Marvin Johnson, who played 42 times last year, agreed a new 12-month deal, despite reported interest from Crewe Alexandra.
There were some departures though as defender Mike Williams was released as was midfielder Keith Briggs, while James Vincent, Sean Clancy, Danny Pilkington, Tom Sharpe, Ricky Shakes, Manny Panther and Martin Devaney all left too.
This season has started in mixed fashion for Harriers, as they defeated Gateshead 3-1, while also beating both Braintree and Chester.
Their away form though, which saw them storm up the table last year, has been hit and miss, losing to Alfreton and also Nuneaton already.
Team news: Harriers look set to be without midfielder Jamie Tolley as the former Shrewsbury Town man continues to struggle with the Achilles problem that has kept him out of the team’s last two matches.
Hatters are without Anthony Charles (shoulder), Danny Fitzsimons (knee) and Jon Shaw (hernia).
Alex Lawless is expected to miss out once more, but Solomon Taiwo and Mark Cullen are back in training.
New signing Paul Benson may well be handed his debut, while Alex Wall completed 75 minutes in an inter squad friendly last week.
Top Skrill scorer - Harriers: Kyle Storer (2). Hatters: Luke Guttridge (2).
Man in the middle: Kevin Johnson - knows all about Luton v Kidderminster clashes, having taken both games last season in a campaign where he officiated 22 matches, showing 65 yellows and five reds.
Also had the whistle for Luton’s wins over Woking and Forest Green, plus the home defeat to Mansfield.
The two other Town games he has taken in previous seasons both ended in Luton wins, while this year Johnson has officiated two games, showing seven yellows far.
In charge: Steve Burr. 50-year-old Scotsman who had spells with Stafford Rangers and Macclesfield in his playing days, and he is stilly highly regarded by the Silkmen as being part of one of their most successful periods as a club.
Began his managerial career at Nuneaton Borough as assistant but took over when Brendan Phillips was sacked in 2000.
Left in 2002-03 and moved to Hucknall Town then on to Northwich Victoria, where he was also apppinted England C assistant manager in 2005.
Departed Northwich to join Stalybridge Celtic but joined Kidderminster in January 2010, where he has done a hugely impressive job since, winning the Blue Square Premier Manager of the Season last term, despite missing out on promotion.
View from the oppostion: Steve Burr - “I’m sure Luton will be up there, but I am a believer that if we are right and we can get playing how I want us to play, attacking at every opportunity and creating chances and excitement, we can be a match for anybody as well.
“Our two home performances have been good and we’ve had a good atmosphere.
“If we can continue where we’ve left off then hopefully we can get another three points.
“You always look to win your home games and they say to try and pick up what you can away from home though we’re always trying to win our away games as well!
“We just lost that little bit of a spark on Monday against Nuneaton that we’ve had at Aggborough [but] Nuneaton have made a good start to the season so it was not going to be easy.”
Ones to watch: Michael Gash - 26-year-old forward joined Kidderminster on loan last season after a prolific campaign at Cambridge United.
When moving to Aggborough, he scored seven times in 13 games, with the forward also enjoying previous spells in his career at Ebbsfleet, York and Rushden.
Fellow forward Anthony Malbon was top scorer at the club last term, with 19 goals, as the pair are one of the most lethal combinations in the Skrill Premier.
Friendly faces: James Dance spent two years at Kenilworth Road, where injuries restricted him to just 32 appearances, scoring four times.
He moved to Aggborough on a free transfer when released by Luton at the end of the campaign and has featured three times so far.
We’ve got form: Town have a superb record at Aggborough, winning five of their six encounters, the other ending in a thrilling 3-3 draw.
The biggest win was a 4-1 triumph back in Division Three in the 2001-02 season.
Danny Williams had put the hosts ahead on 50 minutes before Matthew Taylor equalised immediately. Hatters then ran riot as Matthew Spring and Steve Howard made it 3-1, before Spring added his second to finish the rout.
In total they have scored 15 goals to the hosts seven in reply.
Last time out: Hatters were 2-0 winners at Aggborough last term during the second game of the campaign thanks to a quickfire first half brace from striker Stuart Fleetwood.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Janos Kovacs, Ronnie Henry, Greg Taylor, Alex Lawless, Jon Shaw (Matt Robinson 87), JJ O’Donnell, Scott Rendell, Stuart Fleetwood (Andre Gray 79), Yaser Kasim.
Subs not used: Dean Brill, Dean Beckwith, Dan Walker.