MIDDLEWICH Town have won the battle for the affections of Les Miranda.
The striker turned down the chance to return to Winsford United in the North West Counties League to lead Middlewich's challenge to win promotion to the same level of football.
Miranda, also coveted by Town's Mid Cheshire League title rivals Barnton, turned down United boss Dave Twite this week.
'Unfortunately he has decided to stay at Middlewich,' said Twite. 'I would have loved him to come back to us, but I understand his reasons and it is no reflection on us. I have wished him all the best.'
Middlewich manager Terry Murphy said: 'All the lads at training were on at him to stay and I told Les to make his own mind up. He said he is happy with us and I am delighted.'
Another Winsford-based Middlewich striker Rob Hopley, whom Murphy tips for bigger things, may soon have the chance to prove himself.
A trial with League One side Stockport County seems the likeliest move, but he has also been offered a chance at Northwich Vics and League of Wales champions Rhyl have also registered their interest.
Murphy oversaw Middlewich's first training session in midweek and was struck by the fitness of his squad and two notable absences.
Reserves Jamie Petrie and Lewis Warren have followed coach Neil Bithell to Congleton Town. Murphy had earmarked both for the first-team squad this season.
At the ages of 18 and 17, it seems unlikely they will command a regular place in a team playing three standards higher than they were last season.
Reserves boss Steve Moore and first-team coach Mike Alcock both asked them to stay.
Murphy said: 'If they can get a better standard of football and earn a few bob then good luck to them. But I would have thought they would be better off getting a season in our division first.'
Middlewich welcomed several trialists to training and prepare for their first friendly at Speke in 10 days. They are at Ashville on July 28 and at home to Alsager on July 31.
Winsford's first practice game is on July 27 at home to Northwich Vics Reserves.
Twite is encouraged by the fitness of the squad but, with the Miranda option now closed to him, he may still have to solve his goalscoring problems.
Belgian livewire Terry Riguax will sign and Chester-based targetman Andrew Stoneley is another possibility. So too is Danny Worthington, the former Blues skip-per who chairman Mark Loveless wants to prise from Congleton.
'We have still got Neil Holden, Ian Given and Chris Melia from last season so the situation is not desperate. Yes, we missed a 25-goal man last year but, don't forget, this squad has had a full season in the league under its belt and knows what is now required,' said Twite. United will allow the newly-formed Winsford Ladies to play their Cheshire and South Manchester League games at the Barton Stadium on Sundays next season.
Ladies chairman Tony Lee said: 'We hope this will be the start of a profitable and long-term relationship between the clubs.
'Mark Loveless and Bob Astles (United secretary) have a positive attitude and our girls will love playing there,' he said.
Winsford Girls scored a cup-winning double over Witton on Sunday. The U10s beat Witton 2-0 in their final and the U12s did the same 1-0, to win their respective Sandbach Tournament knockouts.
Associated junior club Winsford Diamonds need players for their U7s and 8s teams. Call Mike Fox (01606 558172) or Andy Johnson (552565) for further details.