Stronger Hadleigh will fear no-one this season

HADLEIGH RETURN: Duane Wright has re-signed from Needham Market and manager Stuart Crawford believes he will be a key addition
HADLEIGH RETURN: Duane Wright has re-signed from Needham Market and manager Stuart Crawford believes he will be a key addition

Hadleigh United boss Stuart Crawford is quietly confident of a successful season after assembling what he believes is his best-ever squad.

The Brettsiders finished eighth last season with their challenge for the title tailing off rapidly after an amazing run to the quarter-finals of the FA Vase.

But manager Crawford, in his fourth season in charge, believes he now has all the ingredients to ensure his side can last the distance.

Ahead of Saturday’s season opener at home to Woodbridge Town (3pm) in the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division, he said: “The aim, as with most clubs, is to try and finish as high as we can.

“I am not going to shout around saying we are going to win the league, but we expect to do reasonably well.

“We are as strong as we have ever been, if not the strongest I have ever had and we seem pretty solid all round.

“We have not made too many changes and the nucleus of the side who did well last year are still there and I just have a feeling we are not going to give too much away.”

He added: “We are very optimistic about the season ahead and we definitely do not fear anyone.”

Among his five summer signings are former players Duane Wright (Needham Market), a midfielder or striker, and forward Josh Mayhew (Brantham Athletic), who have been brought in to address the lack of an outright goalscorer last season, with midfielder Ollie Canfer having topped the charts with 12 league goals.

But Crawford is set to play Canfer as a striker this season and believes he will flourish higher up the pitch.

“He always scores double figures from midfield, but I think he can hit 20 goals this season,” said the Hadleigh boss, who used him there for the last handful of games last season.

Of re-signing former captain Wright, he said: “If we can keep Duane Wright fit he could be the main man for us this season — he has been outstanding in pre-season.”

He also picked out destructive midfielder Liam Jennings as key as well as confirming centre-back Paul Donnelly will again captain the side.

Young goalkeeper Fred Howe (AFC Sudbury) has joined to rotate with veteran Darren Moyes, while winger Phil Kelly (Brightlingsea Regent) and right-back 
Ryan Stafford (Woodbridge Town) complete the new additions.

Striker Lee McGlone has left the club for Felixstowe and Walton United as Crawford looks to address the commitment problems he believes held them back last season.

Earlier in the summer, goalkeeper Dan Heath (AFC Sudbury via Wroxham), winger Marcus Josiah (Diss Town) and player-of-the-year Ollie Brown (Needham Market) also moved on.

Hadleigh, who travel to Haverhill Rovers for their second game on Tuesday (7.45pm), enjoyed wins over higher-league opponents Wroxham, Leyton Orient and AFC Sudbury in pre-season, only losing to Colchester United Under-21s in their first game.

“We could not have wished for it to go any better, but it means nothing if you do not go into the league campaign and start well,” said Crawford.

The Hadleigh boss picked out Gorleston and Godmanchester Rovers as the sides he expects to be among the main challengers for the title.