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Wilkins boosts squad ahead of testing new league for Needham

Needham Market manager Richard Wilkins has said he is targeting four or five signings ahead of their first season in the newly-created Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Central Division.

He said the club had a big challenge waiting for them with the league changes, as they will face teams they are unfamiliar with, in unfamiliar territory across the 2018/19 season.

And so building a strong squad, with strength in depth, is the key aim of the off-season.

His comments follow the signings of former Chelmsford City goalkeeper Jake Jessup – to replace retiring shot stopper Danny Gay – and Leiston utility player Joe Marsden.

Wilkins had known for some time that Gay was intending to retire and kept an eye for a suitable replacement across the season.

He became interested in Jessup when he made two ‘outstanding’ saves against the Marketmen, while on loan at Thurrock.

“It’s a bit of a relief to have agreed terms with him, it had been a bit of a concern to know our ‘keeper was retiring,” Wilkins said.

“There aren’t many around, it’s a specialist position and even harder to find someone of the standard you then need.

“Jake is six foot six and with the quality to match his size, he’s a commanding goalie. He will fit in well.

“He spent most of last season on loan at a number of different clubs and we will offer him the chance to play regularly at one place, that was a big attraction for him.”

Wilkins is also enamoured with the versatility of Marsden, who is capable of playing anywhere in midfield as well as defence, comfortable in a full-back position.

Wilkins is keen to develop the player in a midfield position, while using him as cover in case of injury to one of his full-backs.

“It was a problem we had last season with Jake Dye being out injured, and having to play Luke Ingram in that position – it’s great to know we have that cover now,” he said.

“It’s no secret we struggled with injuries last season and I’m thinking of that as I build for a new season in a new league, it’s going to bring new challenges.

“And players like Joe, who is young but also experienced having played at Step 2, will help us to tackle these.”

While he confirmed that most of last year’s squad have re-signed for another season, youngster Ryan Gibbs is likely to move on due to work commitments, while Callum Harrison’s move to AFC Sudbury is still ongoing.

l Meanwhile, the Bloomfields club have announced four pre-season friendlies.

Needham will be away to Long Melford on July 14 before hosting Colchester on July 17.

On July 20 they will visit Brightlingsea Regent before welcoming AFC Sudbury – and former manager Mark Morsley – to Bloomfields on August 3, with the new season kicking off on August 10.

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