AFC Sudbury manager David Batch has played down talk of a promotion challenge ahead of their opening game at Thurrock on Saturday (3pm).
The Yellows’ boss goes into his first competitive game in charge with a minimum target of ensuring they finish above last season’s underwhelming 17th place.
But after an overhaul of the squad, with 13 new arrivals and 11 departures, he is not prepared to be drawn on what would be a realistic finish.
“I’m not going to predict where we may or may not finish,” he said, following Tuesday’s final friendly at Thurlow Nunn Premier title hopefuls Walsham-le-Willows, where Ben Thompson’s fifth-minute strike separated the sides and followed on from last Friday’s 1-1 home draw with Cambridge United, courtesy of Matt Daniels’ penalty.
“When I was appointed, the football club gave me a place where they wanted to look to get to, which is progress,” he said. “I have never had a team finish below where we finished the previous year.
“It is a big ask to take a team from 17th to promotion, I don’t know what the budget was last year.
“It is like saying Norwich will go and win the league, that is not likely to happen.
“At our level it is a bit different with more player turnover, but we are not going to set that target.”
Of a possible push for the top-five play-off places, he said: “I think we have to get to Christmas and see where we are and then we make that call as to whether we are in with a shout or not.”
Nine of Batch’s new signings have come from former club Wroxham, who finished 15th last season, but he believes they are players who can progress the side.
“I am absolutely convinced had Wroxham not had a complete disaster with injuries last season we would have been near the play-offs,” he said. “Thompson scored 17 goals last season and (Matt) Daniels 11 from midfield and (Jamie) Speller about 10 and they all missed three months of the season.
“Josh (Carus) played centre-half for Wroxham for 16 years and won every trophy going, pretty much.”
Batch is expecting a tough game at relegated Thurrock on Saturday, before AFC’s first home game with bogey side Soham Town Rangers on Tuesday (7.45pm).
But with 21 players currently in his squad, he is preparing to release several and was also due to speak to on-trial midfielder Angelo Harrop about his future.
Josh Carus (ankle) looks to be out of Saturday’s opener while Michael Brothers is suspended for three matches.
Batch believes Mark Morseley’s Needham Market, Aveley and Maldon and Tiptree will fight for top spot.
AFC squad: Goalkeepers: Alex Archer, Dan Heath; Defenders: Josh Carus, Tom Cutts, Ryan Henshaw, Cobi Guyon, Ben Lewis, Scott Mitchell, Michel N’Cho, Josh Turner. Midfielders: Michael Brothers, Sam Clarke, Dave Cowley, Matt Daniels, Michael Shinn, Jamie Speller, Payton Swatman; Forwards: James Baker, Andy Fisher, Jamie Forshaw, Ben Thompson.
n AFC Sudbury Reserves have promoted former goalkeeper and reserves coach Dave Walton to succeed departed manager Ian Manby.
In their first season in the Thurlow Nunn League First Division, his aim is to progress ‘three to four’ players to the first team in a largely under-21s side with contracted first-team players unable to play.
Seventeen-year-old midfielder Jamie Crissell, left-back Sam Last, 16, and forward Ryan Swallow, 19, are his ones to watch.
The reserves travel to Team Bury on Saturday (3pm) and will play all their home games on AFC’s main pitch.