Willows set to lose talisman Ollie Hughes

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Walsham-le-Willows could be about to lose star striker Ollie Hughes but manager Paul Smith still believes they can mount a title challenge.

Hughes, who scored 22 goals as they led the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division at Christmas before eventually finishing sixth, is on the verge of a dream professional move to Conference side Luton Town.

He scored one and set up one as a trialist in the Hatters’ 4-2 friendly win at Thurrock on Monday, having also played at Histon last Thursday.

“I was held back after the match Monday and was told how well I had played in a mix of first-teamers and scholars and the ball is in their court really,” said Hughes, who is free to play in the Willows’ opening game at Godmanchester Rovers tomorrow (3pm), having watched on as his teammates put in a solid performance in a 1-0 home defeat to AFC Sudbury on Tuesday to complete their pre-season campaign.

PE teacher Hughes, who turned down a contract offer at Needham Market said: “It is very much up in the air at the minute, so I am just waiting to hear back from Luton but it is exciting times.”

Smith, who admits it would be a blow to lose his top scorer, has a ready-made replacement in new signing Andrew Wood, who also bagged 22 goals for Mildenhall last season.

Former Thetford and Ely midfielder Liam Bolton and ex-Needham Market defender Nathan Clarke have both also joined, while former Bury Town centre-back Roscoe Hipperson is set to sign when he returns from holiday.

Asked if they would be aiming for the title, Smith — whose side won 4-2 at Debenham LC on Saturday — said: “You have to believe that you can.

“With the squad last year we came sixth and we didn’t have a very big squad but we have a stronger squad, the same size but more strength in depth.”

Ryan Foster and James Tatham (both holiday) will miss tomorrow’s game, with the Willows travelling to Felixstowe and Walton United on Tuesday (7.45pm).