SOUTHERN LEAGUE DIVISION ONE SOUTH AND WEST
"WE HAVE to go up this year," was the simple message from Tony Choules, whose Uxbridge side came within 90 minutes of promotion from Southern League Division One South and West last time around.
The Reds went down 1-0 to Oxford City in the play-offfinal in a game which still rankles Choules, who felt his team was dealt an unfair hand by being made to play less than 48 hours after defeating Fleet Town in a rain-delayed fixture, while Oxford had an extra day to prepare.
Choules has resisted any urge to make more than just a few changes to his squad and the ill wind that followed Steve Ringrose's departure from Hillingdon Borough looks to have blown a couple of players his way who could just make it third time lucky for the manager.
"This season is a big one for us," admitted Choules. "History tells us when you get in the play-off finals the following season is a bit of a let down and we need to make sure that doesn't happen.
"Wehad agreat start to last season and then a dip in form and mentality cost us automatic promotion, but I don't believe for one second we were helped by the Southern League.
"We're still very bitter about that. "I believe if we were given another 24 hours we would've beaten Oxford - we played for half an hour in a 90-minute game."
Neville Roach (joined Didcot), Mark Boyce (Wealdstone) and Louis Wells have left the club and have been replaced by Dave Lawrence, Gavin Brown (both from Hillingdon), Ryan Wharton (Burnham), Chris Fermie (AFC Hayes) and Paul McCarthy (Bracknell).
Choules was licking his lips with anticipation at seeing Mark Nicholls and Lawrence in unison - two players that bagged more than 20 goals from midfield last year - while another acquisition from within the borough, Fermie from AFC Hayes, has arrived to bolster midfield too.
"I've been an admirer of Chris for a long time," said Choules, who tried to sign him last year. "His work ethic is awesome and he can play too.
"I just want to add a little bit more mental and physical toughness to our make-up and Chris fits the bill perfectly."
Brown, a right-back who loves to get forward, could find himself lining up alongside his former Boro team-mate Wharton.
Described by Choules as an old-fashioned centre half, Wharton has arguably played himself to the front of the queue in pre-season, especially since Mark Weedon (knee) and Jordan Oldham (ankle) will miss the opening five weeks and maybe more.
Neville Stamp (knee) and Jon Dyer (knee) will not figure for some time either, certainly not for Saturday's visit of Cirencester Town and the trip to Beaconsfield SYCOB on Monday.
Choules picked out usual suspects Paulton, Didcot and Bridgwater as his main rivals for promotion as well as newcomers Truro City, and after two years at Honeycroft with good financial backing from the board, he knows the clock is ticking for him to take that next step.
SOUTHERN LEAGUE DIVISION ONE SOUTH AND WEST
THE first five games will provide Joe Mitchell with an immediate test of whether he has solved last year's biggest problem.
A blind man could see AFC Hayes conceded far too many goals - the third most in the league at 99 - and with top scorer Danny Jordan having left for pastures new they either have to find another 30-goal striker or tighten up at the back if they are to improve on 14th place.
Centre half Gareth Paxton has arrived from Beaconsfield and left-back Danny Bennell from Hillingdon Borough with just that in mind, although fellow defender Ryan Fenton has joined Jordan at Slough and Chris Fermie has left for Uxbridge.
Mitchell's side starts away to Wessex League champions AFC Totton on Saturday followed by a visit from Didcot Town, third last year, on Tuesday, with Paulton Rovers (seventh), Uxbridge (play-off finalists) and Western League champions Truro City to come after that.
"We've got a hard start to the campaign," said Mitchell. "I hope to not leak so many goals so that's why we've got the likes of Gareth Paxton in.
"We're going to base our training on not conceding and if we can do that it will certainly help us - we will only need to score one or two goals instead of five or six."
Mitchell has had what was already a tight budget cut even more, but he has managed to attract a raft of new players including midfielders Craig Totton and Warren Gladdy from Harefield, who will join up with former Hares clubmate Ricky Pither, who was morerecently at North Greenford United.
Centre forward Dean Pitcher (Cobham) and Victor Abuchi (Hanwell) have also come to Farm Park while goalkeeper Mark Philpott will seem like a new signing after 16 months out with a broken leg.
"I'm quite happy with our performances in pre-season considering the state of the finances at the club at the moment," said Mitchell. "I would have liked to have kept DJ but Slough were offering a lot of money.
"If I can keep Mosiah Polidore fit and Trevor Charlery and Jay Pereira can produce the form they are capable of, we'll do fine.
"If we can keep that squad together I'll be more than happy."
The manager was yet to hear from Ryan Kirkland.