SIMON Haworth’s new-look Stalybridge Celtic squad for the 2021-22 season is taking shape.
Celtic’s manager has made eight new signings, though Scott Bakkor and Grant Shenton are hardly strangers as they are returning to the club. They are joined by Florian Yonsian, Matty Hughes, Scott Burton, Sam Wedgbury, Connor O’Grady and Ioan Evans.
And of the 2020-21 squad, Stephen O’Halloran, Luke Barlow, Keano Deacon and Freddie Sass have all returned with Callum Harris also close to resigning.
But that is by no means the end of the team building with Haworth keen to bring in a prolific goalscorer the team has lacked in recent years.
Haworth, whose playing budget has increased slightly from last season, added: “If the right striker is available at the right price, I would sign them.
“There are only a handful of them about and they are either on contract at clubs or what money they want would take your breath away.
“Every manager wants a big, strong number nine who scores goals but, sadly, they are a rarity.”
Haworth pointed out the signings have had a positive ripple effect.
He explained: “Since we signed Grant Shenton and Scott Burton, two players who have been used to winning things, my phone has been busier.
“Other players have seen them signing for us and thought something good must be happening at the club for them to be joining.”
Haworth has lost Jonathan Ustabasi who has signed for National League North side Chorley and admitted others will also be leaving.
“We are still talking to players, but a lot of last year’s side did not do enough to warrant being brought back,” he said.
Celtic will have a new strikeforce following the captures of Yonsian, Hughes and Bakkor.
Ivory Coast born Yonsian, 20, has been a professional at Salford City, having previously come through the academy at Rochdale where he made three first-team appearances in the EFL Trophy.
He was at Trafford last season.
Yonsian will be joined by Hughes, 28, from National League North side Chester, having started his career at Everton.
Hughes has also played for Golborne Sports, Skelmersdale United, Fleetwood Town, AFC Fylde and Chorley. Last season he was also on dual registration forms with Lancaster City.
Bakkor, 26, is back after spending last season at Witton Albion.
In his two seasons at Bower Fold, Bakkor scored 14 goals and provided 15 assists in 87 appearances.
Bakkor, Celtic’s player of the year in 2018-19, initially joined Celtic from Skelmersdale United, Before that, he had featured for Warrington Town, Curzon Ashton, Colwyn Bay and Marine.
Cetlic have reinforced their midfield by signing Burton, 33, from Bamber Bridge, and Wedgbury, 32, from Buxton.
Photos thanks to Phillip Smith Photography
Burton was with Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley at both Salford City, where he was player of the year in 2016-17, and Chester. He has also featured for Ramsbottom and Runcorn Town.
Wedgbury, meanwhile, has played non-league for England and his club career has taken him from Worcester City to Sheffield United, Forest Green Rovers, Wrexham, Mansfield Town and Buxton while he has a loan spell at Hungarian side Ferencvaros while at Bramall Lane.
And Celtic have added former Buxton player O’Grady and Tadcaster Albion’s Evans, 23, to their defence.
Centre-back O’Grady, 23, came through Sheffield Wednesday’s academy and made two first-team appearances for the Owls in the EFL Cup against Cambridge United and FA Cup versus Carlisle before joining Buxton in 2019.
Evans, a former Wales Under-19 international, began his playing days at Sheffield United and joined National League North side Gainsborough Trinity after cutting his ties with the Blades.
Goalkeeper Shenton, 30, has returned on a permanent deal having been signed on loan from Buxton.
Indeed, this will be Shenton’s third spell with Celtic, the initial two on loan from Ashton United and Buxton.
Shenton made a club record 279 appearance for Ramsbottom United after joining the club from FC United of Manchester. He has also played for Trafford and Chester.
O’Halloran, 33, has re-signed for a second season as player-coach.
The former Republic of Ireland international joined Celtic from FC United in June 2019, initially as a player.
Midfielder Deacon, 25, has re-signed for 2021-22 season as has defenders Luke Barlow, 21, and Sass, 19, a former Macclesfield Town trainee.