IAN Long accepts Alvechurch will face an extra challenge in their bid to become Midland League Premier Division champions after being tagged ‘the team to beat’.
Last season Church were pipped to the Premier Division crown by phoenix club Hereford after a thrilling title fight – and the sides will renew their battle next Saturday in the FA Cup.
Runners-up Alvechurch finished 18 points clear of third placed Sporting Khalsa, having amassed 101 points, but manager Long says they will now be the target for all their rivals.
“Hereford have gone up and as we were second we are there to be shot at,” said Long. “We will be seen as a bit of a scalp. Teams will be raising their game to play us, just like they did last year for Hereford.
“We’ve got the target on our back and we know we need to be on our game in every match we play.”
Alvechurch set up their preliminary round cup trip to Hereford a week on Saturday after a 2-0 win at Shrewsbury side Haughmond on Saturday.
Jordan Nadat netted the first on 55 minutes after being put through on goal and, after Josh Sarmento was fouled, Zack Foster fired home a perfect penalty in stoppage time.
Long stressed all the focus must be on Saturday’s opening league opponents Heanor Town at Lye Meadow and then Tuesday’s clash at league newcomers St Andrews before they can ponder the trip to the Bulls.
“Heanor are a big, physical team, they are all 6ft 3ins tall,” said Long, who scouted the Derbyshire side last Friday in their FA Cup tie against Hinckley AFC.
“They are very direct and we can’t give away free kicks for them to fire the ball into the box. We need to stop their crosses and put pressure on the ball.
“We’ve got to be ready to work hard, battle hard and be mindful that anything less than 100 per cent won’t be good enough.”
Eve-of-season signing Jamie Spencer will come into contention for his debut against Heanor, who finished sixth last season.
The former Redditch and Kidderminster forward signed last week but missed the Haughmond game through illness.
However, he proved his sharpness in midweek with a hat-trick in a practice match against the Church youth team.
Sarmento, on the bench last weekend, and defender Orrin Pendley, who have both impressed in pre-season after joining from Wolves Sporting and Studley respectively, also come into contention.