Chris Tracey believes Cornard United are capable of making big strides in the Thurlow Nunn League First Division during 2017/18.
The former AFC Sudbury boss, who this season will share the manager’s position with assistant Jack Wignall, is hopeful of masterminding another improved campaign at Blackhouse Lane.
With their season opener at home to Leiston Reserves now just over two weeks away, Tracey has set his sights high for The Ards, with talk of a top-five finish very much in the conversation.
“We’ve improved over the last few years but we want to kick on now,” Tracey enthused.
“We’re trying to make the club as a whole more professional and our aim is to be back up there among the top five.
“We think we can be competitive and we’ve got the players who can help us do that.
“I think we’re going to cause problems with our pace in the team. Defenders don’t like pace, it’s going to be quite exciting.”
Tracey took over in the hotseat at Cornard a few weeks into the start of the 2015/16 season, and the last two years The Ards have finished 15th in the First Division, with last season’s points tally of 47 their highest in eight years.
Since being relegated from the Premier Division in 1996, Cornard have only managed to finish in the top half once.
But with the majority of last season’s squad on board, coupled with the addition of several new signings, including new coach Dan Crompton, who Tracey says comes with ‘Premier League insight and knowledge’ from his time in the Crystal Palace dressing room last year, optimism is running high at Blackhouse Lane this summer.
“Everybody who is staying we’re happy to have, but in Daniel Joyce I think we’ve got the best goalkeeper in the First Division,” Tracey said.
“He’s a young keeper at the right age who very rarely makes a mistake, and he brings confidence to the team.
“When I look at the spine of the team, having Luke Edwards, who was player of the year for us last year, as well, they’re the two linchpins.”
Cornard’s goals conceded column, which in 2012/13 stood at an eye-watering 154 in 34 league games, continues to drop, with last season’s tally standing at 72.
At the other end of the pitch, The Ards last year enjoyed their most clinical campaign in front of goal since 1993/94, as they fired in 63 goals in their 40 league games.
While Dan Brown, who was Cornard’s third top goalscorer last season with eight goals, looks unlikely to re-sign for the upcoming campaign, Tracey hopes the returns of Rowen Drann, Billy Skinner and Reece Morgan will soften the blow of his departure.
The Ards have made a solid start to their pre-season friendlies, with victories over FC Clacton (3-1) and Hedinghams United (6-2) last week.
Cornard are set to visit Sawbridgeworth tonight (7.45pm), before hosting Lakenheath on Saturday (4.30pm).
n Meanwhile, Long Melford manager Jamie Bradbury is hoping to get three or four new signings over the line before their first game of the season a week on Saturday.
The Villagers have already lost star striker Jamie Griffiths to Needham Market, and Reece Clarke (unassigned) and Michael Runnicles (FC Clacton) have also moved on to pastures new.
“There are three or four players we are waiting to get over the line,” Bradbury said.
“The squad is shaping up nicely and we’d like to have them players signed tomorrow night (tonight) as it’s our last game before the big kick-off against Brantham.”