Loxwood boss Dave Cocoracchio feels the Premier Division will be the most fiercely-contested it has been for many years - but thinks their superb spirit can keep them in the mix.
With three promotion places to the Bostik League up for grabs rather than the usual one, there seem to be a number of teams strengthening for an assault on the top three spot.
The Magpies will look to continue to build on their joint-highest sixth-placed finish that they achieved last term, but their manager knows they face stiff competition with the ‘serious sums on money’ being spent.
With Mark Beard stepping away from the managerial job towards the end of last term, Cocoracchio took over and is delighted to have kept virtually all of his squad together.
They have also added goalkeepers Sam Smith and Brendan Milborrow with Dave Carruthers away at university. Versatile Gary Pritchard is re-joining the club along with defender Tom Familton, with Lewis Scally, despite signing, being away travelling in Australia.
Cocoracchio expects plenty experienced players to be at this level this year adding to the division’s competitiveness.
He said: “Pre-season has been very good. The most important part was to get everybody back that we wanted from last season. Everyone that I wanted to re-sign, has re-signed.
“It’s been brilliant from that point of view and meant the togetherness and the group mentality has been great - everyone has clicked. It’s been an excellent pre-season, irrespective of results, we wanted to work on patterns of play and that has progressed with each game.
“It seems very clear now that one of the biggest challenges seems to be that a lot of players in the league are being offered serious amounts of money.
“The end result is that players that may have been playing Bostik League football will be happy not to take on the travelling or extra commitment for the same money in this league.
“Lots of teams have put investment into salaries with three places available to get promotion. I think the quality of players will be excellent and it will be the best it has been for many years.”
Cocoracchio added: “We finished sixth last year and we just want to improve and kick on from there.
“I know that will be very, very tough. There are three teams in the league that everyone is talking about being favourites. Haywards Heath won the league last year and they are a good side and kept the majority of their players. Then Three Bridges and Horsham YMCA have got quality signings in, that’s not taking into account Chichester, Pagham and Eastbourne Town.
“We do not have the same budget, but to have that spirit in the squad and management team that we do, I think that means a lot at any level of football. Hence why I believe we can compete.”
The Magpies kick off their competitive season by hosting Holmesdale in the FA Cup on Saturday.