Graves: “We’re in great shape already”

Joe Ashurst scores for Hucknall in their 3-3 draw with AFC Mansfield. Photo: Hucknall Ram Photography.
Joe Ashurst scores for Hucknall in their 3-3 draw with AFC Mansfield. Photo: Hucknall Ram Photography.

Andy Graves feels Hucknall Town are in better shape than at the same stage of pre-season last year as the new campaign edges ever closer.

The Yellows will begin their Central Midlands League South season with a trip to Mickleover RBL on August 5, before a home game with AFC Kilburn a week later.

And with some good pre-season displays under their belts and more useful tests to come, Graves is happy with how things are progressing.

He said: “Pre-season games are what they are but we’ve had some good performances and results.

“One of the biggest plusses for me has been bringing in striker Shaun Smith who was our number one target. He scored 20 goals for South Normanton last season and not only finds the net but also creates a lot too, so I hope he’ll complement the strikers we already have and in turn help them improve their own scoring records.

“That was the main area we needed to focus on as I felt we were maybe nine goals short of winning the title last year. I don’t mean it in the sense of our overall goals total, but more that if we’d been more clinical in certain games we’d have picked up crucial points that we ended up dropping.

“Defensively we were sound last year and I expect us to be again, so improving our attacking options was a high priority.”

With Graves keen to put the emphasis on squad depth this year, and in turn utilising the club’s reserve team as a good extension to his first team options, the Yellows boss feels more confident that can be beneficial this time around.

He said: “We’ve not had to bring too many in from outside as there are two or three from last season’s reserve side who I feel confident can make the step up this time.

“Added to that, there are some good lads who have come in that will start off in the reserve team to see how they get on, meaning we’ve got that bit more quality to call upon than I think we’ve had in previous years.

“Fitness wise things are already going really well too so I’m generally very happy with how it’s progressing.”

The latest friendly saw Hucknall draw 3-3 with AFC Mansfield on Tuesday night, an own goal plus strikes from Joe Ashurst and Adam Nelson earning a draw against the Northern Counties East Premier Division side.

Next up will be a slightly unique challenge as Hucknall take on a side of free agents at Watnall Road this weekend.

The Pat Samba XI will include players who have been released from professional contracts and who are keen to earn deals ahead of the new campaign, including some who have previously been at clubs abroad.

Graves said: “We were due to play the Royal Lancers but they had their tour cancelled so that game had to be scrapped.

“We were then contacted by Pat Samba who is a professional football coach and also runs a fitness centre in Nottingham.

“He has groups of ex-pros that have been released and they go around playing games to get them in the shop window. It’s not dissimilar to what Glenn Hoddle used to do with his academy.

“They’re playing Blackburn Rovers on Thursday night and then ourselves on Saturday. There could well be some very good players on show and I’m told one was even at Paris Saint-Germain, so although we don’t know quite what we’ll be up against it will be a good test for us.”

In the FA Vase, meanwhile, Hucknall have been drawn at home to CML North side Clay Cross Town in the first qualifying round, to be played on September 9.