Hastings United manager Chris Agutter says there are ‘no excuses’ as the football club prepares to embark on what it hopes will be a promotion-winning campaign.
Hastings will kick-off their 2018/19 Bostik League South East Division season at home to Thamesmead Town tomorrow (Saturday), with Agutter having long since expressed his desire to win the title.
He said: “We’ve got a really good group. There’s no excuses. We’ve got a group of players perfectly capable of doing big things in the division; players we’ve brought in from a higher level and players that I feel can play at a higher level so no excuses really.
“I’m delighted with the squad, delighted with what we’ve brought in and what we’ve kept, so in terms of ambition, we’re on course for where we want to be.”
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Hastings have added the likes of Daniel Ajakaiye, Jahmal Howlett-Mundle, Emmanuel Mensah and Kelvin Ogboe to the squad which enjoyed a good second half of the 2017/18 season, while Ollie Rowe has been the only notable departure.
“We’re a lot stronger - I can say that very confidently,” continued Agutter. “Just in the level in training you can see that.
“And the (pre-season) games we’ve played, Lewes - who had a very good season (last term) - we completely controlled them, Kingstonian - a team that are expected to go close in the league above - we were more than worth drawing that game and arguably deserved to win it, especially on chances.
“Last season I looked round at the bench and some games we were lacking strength in depth, whereas the Crays and Walton Casuals had players from the bench who could change the game.
“We’ve already shown pre-season against Kingstonian we brought on after an hour Ansu Janneh, Dayshonne Golding and Sam Cruttwell, and completely changed the game. So we’ve definitely got the capability of doing that this year.
“We’ve got a really strong squad. I’m really pleased with where we’re at and taking into account we finished second-top of the form table, I think we’re looking good.
“What I will say is other teams have strengthened so nothing’s guaranteed in football, as Hastings has found in previous years. I’m very happy and there’s no excuses as far as myself, the players and the club are concerned.”
Four clubs won promotion from last season’s Division One South as part of FA restructuring and while none have been relegated from above into the new South East Division, four have come up from below.
“I actually think the league could be a bit tougher than it was last year funnily enough,” Agutter went on.
“I don’t think there will be the same (points) gap from top to bottom. With all due respect, there won’t be any Shorehams this year. I think the level across the board in the league will be raised.
“In terms of rivals for promotion, Cray are a very, very good side and they’ve added a lot of quality, Hythe finished the season really well, and Ashford have invested really well and have got a very capable manager.
“It’s good, it’s exciting and I’m looking forward to it knowing that we can compete and are in a good position to achieve what we want to achieve. But we certainly know it’s not going to be an easy feat that’s for sure.
“With (eight) less games, there’s less room for error.”
Hastings have often played catch-up in recent seasons and Agutter is keen to hit the ground running this time.
“You’ve got to start as you mean to go on,” he added. “We need to start fast, playing the way I want us to play. We’ve certainly carried on from last year in terms of playing in what I regard as the right style and the right manner.
“The players have followed the ideas brilliantly and brought their own ideas as well. Again there’s no excuses and that certainly applies to starting strong.
“One of the things I’m really pleased about is we’ve come on strong in the last 20 minutes of every (pre-season) game and looked in very good condition.”
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