AFC Sudbury manager Chris Tracey has pulled off a double-transfer swoop ahead of the season opener at home to Cheshunt on Saturday (3pm), including a player who has represented England at up to under-20 level.
Midfielder Ben Bowditch, brother of former Ipswich Town striker Dean Bowditch, has joined the Yellows on loan from Ryman Premier side Concord Rangers as Tracey looks to mount a serious promotion push in his first full campaign as manager.
Bowditch, a 28-year-old former Tottenham Hotspur trainee, who played six senior games for Colchester United, is joined by targetman Leon Antoine, who had originally signed for Harlow Town from Maldon and Tiptree but has now made the switch to Suffolk as back-up to James Baker.
Tracey was also waiting back on a decision from 33-year-old midfielder Ben Smith, a former Arsenal trainee with vast experience in the Football League, who was at Crawley Town and Aldershot Town last season and played in AFC’s last pre-season friendly, a 2-2 draw at Bury Town on Friday night.
Bowditch and Antonie took Tracey’s summer signings up to 11, as part of a 22-man squad, with midfielder Craig Bussens having left without playing a game and 17-year-old striker Tom Ross from Ipswich Wanderers having also joined. But he does expect that number to be reduced as he settles on a regular side.
Speaking of Bowditch, a box-to-box midfielder recovering from a calf injury who has joined initially on a one-month loan starting Saturday, the AFC boss said: “I chased Ben at the end of last season at the same time as Lee Boylan, he is a player of massive pedigree.
“I have a good relationship with Danny Cowley, who is the manager of Concord, and Danny phoned me up said Ben needs some games and can he come over.”
AFC kick-off their Ryman League Division One North season at home to Hertfordshire side Cheshunt, who finished 18th last season, before travelling to Maldon and Tiptree on Tuesday (7.45pm), as they look to remedy last season’s slow start, which ultimately cost them a play-off place.
Tracey said: “I believe the competition for places this year, if I can keep this squad together, is key to it and I would be happy to be in the play-offs.
“I think behind-the-scenes the club is geared up for it (promotion), it is a fantastic club and Ipswich saw that the other week but it is a very hard division to get out of.
“I think the average age of the side, if everyone stays, is 26 and so a lot of the players are either at their peak or just the other side of it but they have been at a higher level, so have a lot of experience.”
Last season’s leading scorer James Baker is doubtful for the weekend with a thigh injury, meaning Antoine could be in line for his debut and then face his old club on Tuesday.
Tracey has narrowed the pitch at The MEL Group Stadium in favour of his 4-4-2 diamond formation, though has also drilled the squad in 4-5-1 and 4-3-3 setups.
* For full squad list, see this week’s Suffolk Free Press.
* For live updates of Saturday’s game, follow @russclaydon on Twitter from 2.30pm.