The wind of change that has swept through Walsham-le-Willows’ side over the off-season may be just what they needed to give them a new lease of life — according to effervescent manager Paul Smith.
The Thurlow Nunn League’s longest-serving boss, having taken up the reigns at Summer Road ahead of the 2011/12 campaign, says he is more enthused going in 2017/18 than he was last season — despite losing a raft of key players, including 25-goal talismanic striker Andrew Wood.
Smith, who is hoping to tie up a deal for a new goalkeeper still, has challenged front two Ryan Gibbs and Jack Brame to rise to the challenge ahead of their Premier Division opener at FC Clacton tomorrow (3pm), as well asking for his midfielders to weigh in with more goals.
“Woodsy scored 25 goals a season for the last four seasons, I believe, so it will be hard to replace that,” he admitted.
“But we did not have many players chipping in with seven or eight last season, so it would be good to see a few of the midifelders chipping in with their fair share.
“Sometimes last season Woodsy was being so tightly marked as our dangerman that you were wondering how we would get a goal, so now he has gone we won’t have that problem and it is a chance for the other lads to step up.”
Andrew Cusack’s return to the club at left-back, from last season’s spell at Bury Town, is the standout signing for Smith’s men, who will be looking to eclipse last season’s 14th place finish with mid-table in a highly-competitive looking division where they will have to compete with some big spending clubs.
“That does not bother us at all,” said Smith of the eye-catching signings made by some of their divisional rivals, including newly-promoted Stowmarket Town.
“A few players have obviously left us, but I am a great believer that when one door closes another one opens.
“We have been looking good in pre-season and it is another chapter for us.”
He added: “Everything is looking promising and the atmosphere in the squad is good.
“I am really looking forward to getting started and I think we will surprise a few people.”
Former long-serving player Trevor Newman has come in as Smith’s assistant to provide a new take on things and provide a good bridge to some of the younger players.
And despite the despite the seven departures, including goalkeeper Craig Brand, defenders Matt Morton and Nathan Clarke and midfielders Alex Steed and Josh Curry pre-season results have been impressive. The Willows won 4-1 away at Whitton and beat Debenham 3-2 at home before losing 3-1 at Framlingham on Saturday.
A friendly at West Wratting was called off due to the state of the pitch this week, meaning the squad took part in an inter-club match instead.