MANAGER Liam McDonald believes he has his best Redditch United squad yet at his disposal but has warned the opposition will be tougher than ever in the Southern League Premier Division.
As the Reds prepare to host Circencester Town in Saturday’s opening league game of the season at the Valley Stadium, McDonald said he was delighted by the efforts shown by his team in pre-season, which culminated in a fine 3-1 home victory over Solihull Moors on Saturday in which key midfielder George Carline struck twice and Troy Baker scored a late screamer.
Moors also had a side in action at home to Oxford City but nevertheless fielded a team containing former Reds midfielder Jack Byrne, James Armson, Akwasi Asante and Darren Byfield, all of whom are expected to have key roles to play for the National North promotion hopefuls.
However, they were no match for a rampant Reds team who built on a highly encouraging pre-season which has also seen them defeat the likes of Sutton Coldfield Town, Stourbridge and Kidderminster Harriers.
“We’re faced with a really tough opening game against a side who beat us comfortably last season, but I feel we are in really good shape and I have a large and fit squad at my disposal,” said McDonald.
“I genuinely feel this is the most competitive group of players I have worked with during my time here and I am delighted by our efforts and preparation in pre-season, but on the flip side we are competing in an extremely competitive division which I cannot ever remember being as strong.
“You look at the likes of Leamington who have come down, King’s Lynn Town, Poole Town will be many people’s favourites for the title again and there’s the likes of Dorchester Town and Weymouth who have large followings and will always be in contention.
“Even then, there’s Hungerford Town who get the job done most weeks and I feel that St Neots Town will be very strong this season after the recruiting they have done.
“There could be seven or eight teams who genuinely feel they can win the league, let alone qualify for the play-offs, so it’s a tall order for us to replicate what we did last season.
“However, we don’t need to worry about that. It’s about preparing ourselves as best as we can, which we have done, and being up for what is a massive challenge this season.”
McDonald revealed he knew the team he would be sending out to face Cirencester, although he expects to make changes for Tuesday’s visit to Kettering Town regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s clash at the Valley.
“I have been working towards finalising my XI for the opening day and have chosen the team, who will work to the plans we have for the game,” added McDonald.
“However, we will most likely shuffle things around a bit for the midweek game, which is often the case.
“If we are to get off to a good start on Saturday the main thing is for us to work hard and keep our focus and they are things I am confident the players will do.”
McDonald highlighted Carline as the fulcrum to his team and believes the talented midfielder will have a vital role to play in his side’s bid for a successful campaign.
“Every week last season George was immense for us and he would have walked into any side in this division,” said the boss.
“I openly admitted he was my player of the season and it’s testament to his progress that we no longer look at him as a player who has stepped up from four or five levels below. To watch him, you would think he had been playing at this level for a long time.”
The Reds will be without midfielder Max Loveridge for the opening weeks of the season after he was sidelined for around a month due to injury, whilst new striker Daniel Dubidat will miss the Cirencester fixture as he serves a suspension carried over from his time at Bedworth United.