Hadleigh United manager Christian Appleford confident of avoiding a repeat performance in 2019/20 campaign
After signing seven new players, including a pair with higher-league experience, Christian Appleford admits he would be ‘shocked’ to see his new-look Hadleigh United side struggling for survival this time around.
The former Mildenhall Town manager came in at the end of January when things looked dire but was able to rescue them from relegation last season.
They eventually finished 16th in the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division and six points above the drop zone. The previous campaign had seen the Brettsiders finish in it before getting a reprieve as Haverhill Borough’s ground grading situation saw them relegated instead.
But ahead of their opener at Kirkley & Pakefield – who finished fifth last term – on Saturday (3pm), Appleford is confident there will be no repeat performance. They will then host Stanway Rovers, following their sideways move back from the Essex Senior League, on Tuesday (7.45pm).
“I would be shocked, with the players we have got, if we are anywhere near there again,” he said.
“We are a lot more competitive now.
“I have my own target in my head where I think we can finish, but I want us to be progressive over the next couple of years and mid-table and playing good football and being competitive would be the first step of any evolution.”
He is very happy with their summer transfer business having managed to bring in defender Kye Ruel after he failed to agree a new deal with higher-league Felixstowe & Walton United, while Matt Paine is a defensive midfielder who, before joining Stowmarket Town last summer, captained Billericay Town to a treble winning campaign at Step 3.
“There is definitely a bit more of a professional structure at the club now and that comes from people like Matt Paine and Kye Ruel,” he said.
He feels new midfielders Josh Cheetham and Wayne Blackman can add a bit of flair to the side while he was delighted to bring former Great Yarmouth Town striker Joel Glover in to boost their attacking options following the departure of 2018/19 top scorer Romario Dunner. The latter is set to now test himself two leagues up with Brightlingsea Regent.
Aside from Michael Harvey’s stop-gap deal, the only departure from the squad has been midfielder Tom Driscoll, who has decided to take a break from semi-professional football. Appleford believes the return of long-term injured players Ben Elliot and Dan Knight - who returned to action at the end of pre-season – Marco Makris and Kyle Cassell (Army duty) can be like new signings too. The latter is set to return from Canada at the end of the month, while left-back Makris, signed last summer, is still sidelined until October.
It will also be a while before new addition Blackman is seen as he is set to be sidelined for up to six weeks with shin splints, having not played in a year following surgery on a knee injury.
Meanwhile, Appleford himself is set to miss the first two league games and following weekend’s FA Cup tie, at London Colney, due to a holiday planned before being appointed.
His player/assistant Danny Smy and first-team coach Scott Lawrence are set to be hin charge, in what he says looks a testing but equally exciting start.
“It is a tough start,” he said. “Stanway are coming back into the league and they will certainly be looking for a good start themselves.
“Kirkley did well last season and now have a new manager who has come in. Then it’s the FA Cup, Stowmarket (H - now Wednesday, August 14) and Mildenhall (A - August 17) but we are actually really looking forward to these games.”
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More by this authorRussell Claydon