OFFICIALLY, the 2019-20 North West Counties League season never happened and for Northwich Victoria, that is probably no bad thing.

Manager Steve Wilkes and his squad certainly aimed high but any prospective promotion challenge was blighted by inconsistent form.

When the coronavirus pandemic forced the campaign to be null and voided, Vics sat 11th in the Premier Division table and although they had games in hand on sides above them, their chances of a late run at the upper echelons were remote.

Having had a chance to reset and bring in some fresh blood, Wilkes is shooting for the stars again.

“To say last season was disappointing is a bit of an understatement,” he said.

“There’s three promotion spots available again and we have to set out to try and fill one of them. If you offered me third place now, I would bite your hand off.

“With all due respect to the North West Counties League, this club should be in the league above at least.

“We’ve got to believe we can get out of this league but its going to be tough because there’s a lot of clubs paying big money now.”

In this most unique of seasons, Vics and other clubs at their level have spent the past month playing cup matches mixed in with pre-season friendlies.

Having got past Wilkes’ former club Padiham initially, Charnock Richard ended their participation in the FA Cup at the preliminary round stage, winning via a penalty shoot-out after their tie at Wincham Park ended 2-2.

Their run in the FA Vase – a competition in which they got within 90 minutes of a Wembley final appearance in 2018-29 – cleared its first hurdle against Golcar United on September 19 and a trip to North Ferriby awaits next Saturday.

For this week, though, it is finally time to focus on league matters and as starts go, they have it pretty tough.

Charnock Richard again stand in their way for their opening fixture on Saturday before Warrington Rylands visit Wincham Park on Wednesday.

However, having had a lengthy pre-season which included players training in his back garden at one stage, Wilkes is hopeful one key improvement shines through.

“One thing that let us down last season is that we were nowhere near as fit as we were the season before when we got to the Vase semi-finals.

“That’s something we’ve addressed this year and we’ve got quite a fit squad now.

“We’ve had a good pre-season, beating two teams from the Northern Premier League in Witton and Atherton Collieries, but I don’t get too carried away by those results.

“I think our first four league games are against teams that finished in the top five, so we have a tough start.

“We brought our players back a little earlier than some other clubs and hopefully, we’re that little bit fitter.

“We’re hopeful we’ve got a good blend of experience and youth.

“We’ve got two youngsters in Matty Birchall and Tommy Grinrod who are both 18 but are good enough to play every week and at the other end of the scale, there’s Mike Hale in goal at 33 so it’s a good mix.”