TOMMY WRIGHT says there are still places up for grabs for the league kick-off as Stratford Town prepare for the final friendlies of pre-season.
While Town will face FC Stratford on Saturday (noon) as part of a free family day at the Arden Garages Stadium, they end the warm-up fixtures at home to Evesham United on Monday (7.45pm).
Manager Wright plans to use the clash as a final audition for the Southern Premier Central kick-off at home to Needham Market on Saturday, August 10.
Wright used 19 players in last week’s home defeat to National League North side Brackley Town – ending a run of five friendly wins in a row – but he expects to field a team close to the line-up to meet Needham against the Robins.
“The starting line-up for when the league games begin is still not decided,” Wright told the Stratford Town Independent Supports Association website.
“There’s healthy competition and there’s still a few places up for grabs, but the starting line-up for the Evesham game will be an indication of what it will be for the opening league game and it will then be up to the players to impress and show they deserve to keep the shirt for the following Saturday.”
Town scrapped Wednesday’s planned trip to Desborough Town to allow more focus for the opening league matches against Needham, title favourites Stourbridge on August 12 and Kings Langley on August 17.
“The reason we cancelled the Desborough game was to instead have the training sessions to tighten up in a few areas both defensively and offensively and the Evesham game will then be a test to see if they’ve digested it all and are ready for the league season,” he added.
Wright admitted the defeat to Kevin Wilkin’s Brackley highlighted a difference in quality with a high-flying step two outfit but he won’t be downhearted.
Having assembled a new squad – only four regulars remain from last season’s highest ever finishing Town ranks – Wright has been generally pleased with how the players have settled in.
However, facing a Brackley team who include ex-Coventry player Carl Baker and ex-Solihull Moors title winners Danny Lewis, Gaz Dean, James Armson and Connor Franklin, set new standards.
Dean opened the scoring on five minutes, reacting quickest when Town failed to deal with a Shane Byrne corner.
The Saints had to wait until the final minutes for a second when Liam Holman pounced after keeper Sam Lomax parried a Tendai Daire effort.
“I thought we were the second best team to everything all day against Brackley,” said Wright.
“But saying that we’ve played against a team that have been in the National League North play-offs for the last three seasons and also been in two FA Trophy finals, winning one of them as well.
“They are a very well-drilled side who are probably one of the title favourites for their league this year. Carl Baker is an exceptional player as he was when in the Championship and League One but they are all quality performers.
“Nevertheless there are some positives to take from the game. Until the last minute there was only one goal in it and it was a massive plus that Sam Lomax was outstanding and made some terrific saves particularly late on.
“Overall I believe we’ve had a very good pre-season. We’ve scored goals and kept clean sheets and showed plenty of resilience against a top quality side on Saturday.”