Hastings United will be looking to hit the ground running when they kick-off the season at home to newly-promoted Wingate & Finchley today (Saturday).
Last time out The U’s endured a troubled campaign which saw them avoid finishing in the relegation places only on goal difference.
Jason Hopkinson, embarking on his first full season as manager after taking over from Tony Dolby at the end of last year, is expecting better things from a very youthful squad.
He said: “Realistically we are looking at mid-table but if we get a good run together and avoid serious injuries then we have half a chance (of pushing on for the play-offs) because we do play.”
The first visitors to The Pilot Field are a Wingate outfit which will be making its Ryman Premier Division debut.
The Division One North play-off winners have strengthened their squad with a whole host of new additions, and pre-season included a match against the Gibraltar National XI during a four-day training camp near Marbella, Spain.
“I’ve had Wingate watched and I know they will be very, very fit,” warned Hopkinson. “They’ve been away on a training camp and I’ve taken teams away before and when you come back it puts you on the front foot for the start of the season.
“We’ll be alright because we’re a decent footballing side,” Hopkinson said. “The difference from last year is I’ve got a decent bench. I’ve got 18 players and a few youngsters, and I will be happy to start with any of those 18.”
Hopkinson - who says pre-season title favourites Lewes “have four times the budget” of Hastings - could also make use of the loan market which last season proved so invaluable when the presence of Harry Beautyman and George Porter helped stave off relegation.
Team news and Ross Sutton, who would have started at left back against Wingate, is sidelined for a couple of weeks at least after injuring his ankle in Hastings’ final pre-season game against Corinthian Casuals, which ended in a 1-1 draw.
Midfielder Jack Walder could start but is unlikely to play the full 90 minutes as he continues his rehabilitation from long term injury.