Brackley Town will begin their sixth season in the Vanarama National League North this weekend when FC United of Manchester make the long trip to St James Park.
Saints’ five-year stint in the division has been something of a roller-coaster, from play-off heartbreak to dramatic final day survival, but a steady season is expected this time around as they look to build on the promise of last season.
Under the impressive guidance of manager Kevin Wilkin, who is entering his second season in charge, Brackley finished seventh last term, just a point from the play-offs, following excellent cup runs in the FA Cup and FA Trophy.
FC United, one of the favourites for promotion among the bookies, are sure to provide a stiff test first up, as are the following two away trips to AFC Telford United next Tuesday and then North Ferriby United four days later.
Big-spending Salford City, who are part-owned by Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, and relegated York are the hot favourites for promotion to the National League.
Bidding to build on the success of last term, Wilkin has kept the bulk of his squad together whilst adding a sprinkling of new signings.
Nineteen-year-old Jordan Williams, who spent three seasons at Cambridge, is one new face at St James Park and he’s joined by striker Andy Brown, defender Connor Franklin, keeper Danny Lewis and midfielder Jack Byrne.
Several key players remain at the club, including Steve Diggin and Jimmy Armson.
“Like other teams, we want to start the season well as we did last season,” said Wilkin.
“I am pleased with where we are at this point. We start with a very good core from last season and I have been able to make some additions.
“We might run with a slightly bigger squad perhaps but what we know is that we need that little bit more quality in certain areas. We need options to change our shape and off the bench also. I need to be able to vary things and to keep things fresh.”
Saints rounded out a largely encouraging pre-season campaign with a confidence-boosting 1-0 win over National League South side Oxford City.
After a first-half of few chances, Shane Byrne went close early in the second period before Armson put Saints ahead on the hour-mark.
Adam Walker and Matt Lowe had chances to increase the margin of victory but one goal was sufficient in ensuring Brackley go into the new season on the back of a win.