Ahead of the start of the Southern Premier South season opener against Salisbury on Saturday, we spoke to James Duncan (JD) and Michael Murray (Muzza) at the Open Training and Meet the Managers evening.

The evening started off with the managers thanking everyone at the club and all the supporters for their support last season, after they joined in October the support they received was phenomenal. James Duncan added that “the support off the field was a big part of helping us stay up comfortably in the end with only 4 defeats in 31 league games which they are really pleased about”

After a quick introduction, there was a few questions from the evening’s compere Giles Stevenson.

Aim’s & Ambitions for the season?
JD After last season, first aim is to improve on last season’s finishing position and a top 10 finish as a minimum, we would be bitterly disappointed if we didn’t reach that. We believe the squad we’ve put together have the ability to make the top 5 if we get some luck with injuries.

Teams to watch this season?
JD Normally when you look at a league table pre-season, you can normally spot one team that is the early favourites to go on to win, last year there was Weymouth in our league and Dorking in the Isthmian League – both went up in the end. This season, the league doesn’t have that standout favourite with 4 teams who look to be early joint-favourites (Salisbury, Taunton, Poole, Gosport)

Muzza agreed with JD about the sides to watch and added “From what we saw last season, the biggest difference in this league between the sides that finish top 10 and top 5 is their fitness. Lots of teams in this league have got quality players, the top teams last year had quality but also were the fittest sides, we’ve spent a lot of time this pre-season getting the lads ready for the level of fitness that is required”

Squad update?
We’ve managed to retain most of last seasons squad with 2 players departing at the start of the summer; Luke Warner-Eley has stepped up a level to Dartford and we think he’ll do well at that level but would have loved to keep him and Lewis Rolfe going to Cambridge City.

With the lads that have stayed, we’ve got a really strong nucleus of a squad. We had one of the best CB partnerships in the league last season and have strengthened that even further with Mark Kirby joining from Haringey – Kirbs is hugely experienced at this level and will fit in well. We’ve also added firepower at the top of the pitch with Dernell Wynter and Karl Olyide joining to help us convert draws into wins.

We’ve been lucky to stay injury free during pre-season so have a full strength squad available for Saturday, we’ll train for the last time of pre-season on Wednesday with a few spots in the starting XI still up for grabs.

Biggest surprise pre-season?
Muzza All the lads have been superb this season, I guess picking one out Jefferson Louis has come back in great condition for his age

Best result last season?
JD Home game against Frome, we won 2-1 after not playing particularly well but managed to get a result after a string of draws. First home win with late goals from Jeff and Pearcey
Muzza The 5-0 win away at Dorchester

Best moment in football? Highlight of your playing career
Muzza Best is yet to come as manager. As a player – promotion with Potters Bar.
JD As a player it has to be playing the FA Vase final with Hillingdon Borough. As a manager, winning promotion with Potters Bar two seasons ago was pretty special.

Any priorities given to different competitions?
All the competitions are important, league is possibly the priority but the prize money available with the FA Cup / Trophy is important for clubs at this level. FA Cup/Trophy are one off games that can create great memories for the players and club

Long term vision for the club?
JD/Muzza To get promoted, always the aim wherever we have been as players or as managers.

The evening was then opened up to questions from the supporters in attendance.

What was recruitment like over the summer and how did it differ to Potters Bar?
One of the big things is the additional travelling in the Southern League, its the first thing a lots of player ask about as its considerably higher than the Bostik League last season but we’ve got a group of players that are keen to buy into the project.

In terms of contacts as young managers, we’ve got a lot of quality players that they’ve played with or against as a starter and also have good contacts in higher divisions.

Are you happy with the squad?
Ye, really happy with what we’ve put together. No manager ever shuts the door to new players coming in but we’re now at the point where we would only sign players better than what we’ve already got.

Who is this years captain and who’s on penalties?
Captain – Steve Brown
Vice – lots of leaders in the dressing room
Penalty – got a few possible takers, we’ll tell the lads before each game who’s on pens.

To finish off the evening, couple of questions were asked to Jefferson Louis and Steve Brown about the preseason and training sessions?
Jeff – Everyone know’s I’ve had a lot of clubs but this has been one of the best, really enjoyed this pre-season more than anywhere else. Steve Brown – the lads have been brilliant pre-season and we’re all ready to go on Saturday

Thank you to everyone who came on Monday night and we look forward to seeing you on Saturday as we start the season at home to Salisbury.

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