PRESTWICH Heys kick off the New Year at home to AFC Darwen on Saturday as manager Matt Barnes celebrates a year in charge at Adie Moran Park.

The Heys boss admits it has been a "very strange but enjoyable" 12 months – a year dominated by the coronavirus pandemic where his side have played just 21 competitive games.

However, they have been in fine form in what has been a stop-start season and currently sit in sixth place in NWCL Division One North – six points behind leaders Bury AFC but with two games in hand.

Due to Covid restrictions, Saturday’s attendance is limited to 150, on a first-come, first-served basis. Supporters will be subject to track and trace on entering the ground either by using the NHS app or providing information to stewards.

Heys follow this with a midweek trip to Atherton LR next Tuesday (7.45pm), which forms part of a busy month following a revision of the fixture list by the league, who will be issuing fixtures on a monthly basis to tie in with ongoing COVID restrictions.

Meanwhile, Barnes has strengthened his attacking options by signing striker Jamie Ramwell from Premier Division Squires Gate.

Ramwell joined Squires Gate, for whom he has played four games in this curtailed season, during the summer from Daisy Hill.

The 19-year-old regularly found the net at the New Sirs, scoring 20 goals last season, including one in their 3-0 win at Heys.

He also played a key part in Daisy Hill’s 3-2 win at home to Heys in the return fixture last December – a performance that made a lasting impression on the Heys boss.

“I’m absolutely delighted to get Jamie on board,” said Barnes. “He is a player I have admired since he played against us last season and again for Squires Gate in pre-season.

“I tried to sign him in the summer, but he opted to go to Squires Gate, but I always knew we would get him in one day.

“He adds extra quality to our already strong squad and I’m sure he will settle in quickly. I would like to give massive thanks to Luke (Evans) at Squires Gate in making the transfer go through smoothly.”

Of his 12 months in charge, Barnes added: “My year has been a very strange but enjoyable one.

“We have done absolutely fantastic in the competitive games, only losing six.

“Hopefully, things will settle down. I want to build on the foundations we have laid and maintain the winning mentality.”

Lockdown has given everyone plenty of time to reflect on things but the Heys boss is happy with how things are going and has seen no reason to alter his initial vision and objectives

“The vision hasn’t changed at all from the day me, Sean Cookson and Mark Dickinson took over,” added Barnes.

“My high points of the year are, without question, being proud of my squad and the togetherness I see between them.

“ I see in training and on the pitch how they are obsessed to achieve success.

“The future is bright, and I would like to say thanks to all involved at Heys, the supporters, players and volunteers for the support they have shown and given to me this year. I am excited for what we can achieve together.”