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Needham Market boss Richard Wilkins aims for play-off push once more ahead of second season in Southern League

Needham Market manager Richard Wilkins may have been relieved to learn Ian Holloway’s Stratford Town appointment was a practical joke, but was still keen to highlight their opening league fixture opposition as ‘very dangerous’.

The BetVictor League South Premier Central side will be away to Town, who finished fifth last season, in the opening weekend of league fixtures on Saturday.

They will then host Hitchin Town in their first home match of 2019/20 on Tuesday night (7.45pm), as Wilkins once more targets a top half league finish and a play-off push.

Football: Preseason Friendly ..Needham Market Vs AFC Sudbury..Joe Neal scores for the marketmen ..Photographer Ben Pooley. (14917063)
Football: Preseason Friendly ..Needham Market Vs AFC Sudbury..Joe Neal scores for the marketmen ..Photographer Ben Pooley. (14917063)

The team’s opening fixture is a match Wilkins sees as ‘one of the hardest’ his side are likely to face all season, as he tipped the Knights Lane club for promotion.

But the Marketmen boss, who is starting his third season at the helm of the Bloomfields club, is encouraged by the experience – and knowledge – gained from last season in this division.

“We learned a lot last year, when we were shifted across into this league,” he said.

“It’s a tough league, that much was clear, and there are some teams with hefty budgets out there, so it holds a lot of challenges and different ones to the Isthmian League. But it helps to have more of an idea what to expect from sides.

“And what we can expect on Saturday is a hard game, it’s possibly one of the hardest games of the season to face Stratford away. I would expect them to be up there come the end of the season.”

Stratford were the subject of an April Fools’ Day joke that was reshared in July, suggesting former QPR boss Holloway had agreed to join the Step 3 club, which caused some confusion among the division’s managers.

Wilkins added: “Stratford are a very dangerous side, and a well-supported club, so I would expect a good crowd and atmosphere.

“I have added experience and I think we are in a much better position as a squad, but you just never really know until you get going.

“My initial thoughts are to aim for a top half finish and pushing towards the play-offs again, what’s the point of aiming for midtable?”

Former Leiston shotstopper Marcus Garnham, King’s Lynn Town attacking midfielder Craig Parker and Cambridge United’s Joe Neal (initial one month loan spell, with plans to extend it) have all signed on the dotted line.

More football news from the Bury Free Press:

* Dyer tips west Suffolk duo to be next Ipswich Town breakthrough acts

* Walsham bid to end FA Cup hoodoo

* Bury Town tie up deals for trialists Ross Crane and Cruise Nydazayo formerly of AFC Sudbury and Lowestoft Town while talks ongoing with another

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