AFC Portchester’s manager Ian Saunders is both a pleased and concerned man heading into the new Sydenhams Wessex League Premier Division campaign this weekend.
Summing up his thoughts on the eve of the new season the Royals’ boss is pleased with the shape the club is in going into the 2018-19 season both on and off the field.
However, the concern comes in his view that this could be one of the toughest Premier Division seasons yet and the impact that could have on Portchester’s dreams of securing Southern League football come next April.
That doesn’t mean Portchester will shy away from trying to achieve their ultimate goal of winning the league title and securing their next step up the non-league pyramid system in the next nine months.
Saunders and joint manager Mick Catlin have been working hard throughout the close season to freshen up the Portchester squad and they will go into their opening game – at home to Team Solent on Saturday – with plenty of new faces in the team.
The challenge facing the club now is to pull all of their pre-season changes together and come out on top of a division which Saunders believes will see every club start in a stronger position than they finished the last campaign in.
“It will be another tough season for everyone in the Wessex League,” reflected Saunders as he assessed the opposition his side will come up against.
“I have seen that every team in our division have improved their playing staff, to which end, it could be the toughest competition for many a year.
“In particular I think Sholing, Lymington and Alresford will be very strong, while Horndean have a number of Wessex Premier Division winners in their ranks and they have had a phenomenal pre-season.
“I also think Portland and Hamworthy, both under new management, will also be extremely competitive and outsiders could be Fareham and Baffins Milton Rovers, who both have good young squads and experienced managers.
“Our pre-season has gone exactly how we thought it would go. Our performances and fitness levels have improved with each passing session and other than the Horsham display, we have been encouraged with the squad as it has been shaping up.
“We were sorry to see a few of our players leave, but this has given us the chance to freshen the place up.
“The new lads are starting to gel so our fingers are crossed that it keeps improving.”
AFC Portchester will be fancied by many to do well this season – thanks to the experienced management duo of Saunders and Catlin, players who have been in the Wessex Premier Division and above in their careers, and an off the field set up which is the envy of many clubs in the area.
There is quiet optimism at the Crest Finance Stadium that this will be the club’s season to finally go higher than their current step five status and Saunders knows what that would mean to everyone connected to the club.
He added: “The chairman, his committee and everyone at the club have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure the facilities are second to none, especially for our level.
“The club are not shy in saying that we crave step four football and we will do our very best to try and achieve that dream.
“Off the field I think the club are in great hands. We have a new and fantastic set of sponsors, behind the scenes the chairman and committee are hugely active and we hope our management structure, throughout the club, will continue to improve our performances on the field.
“There has been steady progression over the past 18 months but we certainly want to see the ultimate improvement this season and we will strive to achieve this goal if possible.
“We are always keen to have good cup runs and this season will be no different.
“The development of good homegrown players is also vital to us all. We are a huge community club and it is very important that we continue to create pathways for our young players to progress into senior football, ideally at the best level that we can offer them.”
AFC Portchester open the season with two games at the Crest Finance Stadium – they are at home to Team Solent on Saturday, August 4 (kick-off 3pm), and Baffins Milton Rovers on Tuesday, August 7 (kick-off 7.45pm).