PRESTWICH Heys kick of their new season with an FA Vase first qualifying round tie at Penistone Church on Saturday.

After a two month long pre-season build up, where at times it was uncertain if competitive football would resume, Heys boss Matt Barnes will be looking for his side to hit the ground running against the Sheffield-based side who play in the Northern Counties East Premier Division.

The pre-season has been a mixed bag results wise for Heys, but Barnes has shuffled his pack and tried out different systems throughout the build-up.

It will be with great interest that Heys fans will await the starting line up for this first encounter of the campaign for what looks to be a tough test.

Penistone play in the Northern Counties East Premier Division where they finished fourth last season. Their division is one higher that the level Heys play at in North West Counties League Division One North.

They have played one competitive fixture this season in losing 3-2 at Skelmersdale United in the FA Cup.

There will be a familiar face amongst the opposition in Alex O’Keefe who last season played against Heys for Shelley, scoring a particularly memorable goal, in keeping with his “Aguero” hairstyle in the 2-2 draw between the teams at Adie Moran Park.

There are no replays in the Vase this season, with the game going to straight to penalties. The winners of the tie will be at home to Wythenshawe Amateurs in the second qualifying round on October 5.

In the past week, Heys have played two games against sides who topped their respective divisions last season.

Jack Coop fired a hat-trick but could not save Heys from defeat against 1874 Northwich at Adie Moran Park last Tuesday.

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In a rousing pre-season encounter, played with great intensity, Heys played some great football but paid the price for a slow start to the second half which the visitors capitalised on with two quick-fire strikes.

1874, who were leading the way at the top of the North West Counties League Premier Division when the season ended early due to Covid-19, took the lead in the fifth minute when a defence-splitting pass released Duckworth who went through to score.

However, Heys responded swiftly, levelling in the 11th minute. Good link up play, from the back, ended with Coop going through and finishing with a shot into the top right corner.

As play flowed from end-to-end it was the visitors who struck next on the half hour. A free-kick on the edge of the box being driven into the bottom corner by a trialist.

Heys’ response was once again almost immediate as in the 37th minute a great break down the right and cross picked out Coop who delivered a thunderous finish.

On the restart, it was 1874 who were the quickest out of the blocks, going ahead for a third time in the 47th minute. A free-kick on the edge of the box was put into the bottom right by the trialist.

Heys’ slow start was punished again two minutes later with a fourth goal for the visitors. A Heys free-kick was intercepted by Gardner whose run took him into the box before he cut inside to finish into the bottom left corner.

With Barnes shuffling his pack, Heys regrouped and were rewarded in the 76th minute when their pressure brought a penalty which was converted by Coop for his hat-trick.

Hopes of a comeback were ended four minutes later when Northwich scored a fifth. A pass through the heart of the Heys defence found Brownhill who made no mistake.

A defeat for Heys but one from which they will take plenty of positives.

Heys then slipped to a 3-1 defeat at Vauxhall Motors on Friday night.

The Ellesmere Port based side were harshly done by last season, with the cessation of the campaign robbing them of a promotion they had already secured from the NWCL Division One South.

This was always going to be a tough assignment and although Heys had their moments, it always felt that the hosts had their measure.

Vauxhall took an early lead with a penalty and handball, which was adeptly finished into the left side of the net with Heys keeper Russell Saunders going the opposite way. it stayed that way until half time before the home side increased their lead on the hour with a shot into the bottom corner just beyond the reach of Saunders.

Vauxhall made it three shortly after but, a quick break culminating in a low finish into the bottom left corner. Heys’ endeavour was rewarded in the closing minutes with a goal from Alfie Belcher.

n Heys' new youth team made an instant impression with a stunning 11-1 win over Stalybridge Celtic in the FA Youth Cup first qualifying round.

Nick Simister’s side start their season in the North West Youth Alliance on October 4 at home to AFC Darwen.