NICKY Smith is hoping to bring the good times back to AFC Sudbury this season as the Yellows boss targets promotion to the Ryman League Premier Division.
AFC only missed out on the play-offs by three points last campaign, but after a summer of recruiting a trio of Conference-experienced players, while keeping last year’s squad together, he believes this will be their year.
Speaking ahead of the start of their Ryman League Division One North opener at Redbridge on Saturday (3pm), Smith said: “Promotion is definitely the aim.
“Sky Bet has us as favourites to win the league (5-1) and I thought ‘crikey, where did that come from?’
“The Ryman League will be stronger than this time last year with clubs spending money, but that does not necessarily guarantee success.
“We have set out for promotion, or to be there or thereabouts, at the end of the season. I have got no qualms about saying that with the squad we have and the experience we have brought into the place. With the youngsters we had last season, that was our main problem, and hopefully we have addressed that this season.”
Needham Market goalkeeper Danny Gay, who has experience in the Football League with Southend United, and attacking midfielders Richard Howlett, fresh from promotion with Hitchin Town, and Chris Sullivan, who has had two spells at Braintree Town, are the big additions to Smith’s squad.
Young Bildeston Rangers forward David Lorimer has also joined and a deal should be completed by Saturday for defender-cum-midfielder Ashley Stoneman, who was the captain of Southampton Solent University’s side last year, but lives near Bury St Edmunds.
But deals could not be struck with Welsh Premier League defender Gary Bansor, Joby Thorogood or ex-QPR player Stuart Wardley, who played for AFC on trial against Felixstowe & Walton United but will now remain with Haverhill Rovers.
“We had a look at him and tried to negotiate a deal but could not agree terms,” said Smith. “We are not going to bust the bank for anyone, we offered a deal and he did not accept.”
But the AFC boss is more than happy with his new additions, which include defender Nathan Clarke returning to the club to add some pace to the backline.
“I am pleased with the signings, especially Danny Gay, as that is a massive signing for us and hopefully they can all make a big impact and take us where we want to go.”
AFC remained undefeated over seven pre-season games, which were all against lower-league opposition, bar Ryman Premier outfit Aveley (1-1), after matches against Bury Town (pitch) and Lowestoft Town (AFC injuries) were cancelled.
Looking ahead to Saturday’s game, ahead of AFC’s first test at the MEL Group Stadium against Ilford (20th last season) on Tuesday (7.45pm), Smith expects Redbridge (17th last season) to be no pushovers.
“Redbridge have a totally changed team with a new manager from Stansted, who won the Essex Senior League and will be an unknown quantity, but we have done our homework and I think they well could be the surprise package and we have to go out with confidence that we have got the best squad,” he said.
Assistant Chris Tracey will be in charge of the first four matches, with Smith on holiday for two weeks.
Doubts remain over Sam Clarke, James Baker, Richard Howell and Chris Sullivan for Saturday after they all picked up knocks in pre-season.