Maynard: "We are ready for the challenge"
Updated: Aug 7
Manager Stuart Maynard says his team are right up for the challenge of mixing it in one of the strongest ever National Leagues and plans to look upwards and not down.
Maynard and the board of directors have spent the summer judiciously upgrading and strengthening the squad, with Olufela Olomola, Max Kretzschmar, Lewis Kinsella, Matt Young, Sam Habergham, Dom Hutchinson, Sam Howes, Mason Barrett, Deji Elerewe, Tarryn Allarakhia, Jordy Mongoy and Malachi Napa all putting pen to paper on various deals at The Vale.
The quality and depth of the squad provides Maynard with optimism that his side can continue to punch above its weight, like it did last season in finishing 16th.
"This league gets tougher every season and tougher to stay in – let alone to be competitive in and better than we were last season," said Maynard. "We will aim as high as we can and demand lots from the lads. Our aim is to consolidate in this league. It's tough as teams coming up are already full time and I think we'll end up being one of only two part-time teams. It will be a big ask but we've strengthened, and the squad is stronger than last season. The trouble is everyone else has strengthened, too.
"It makes it exciting though, a real challenge, and I can promise you we'll go into every game looking to get something. It will be demanding but we are ready for the challenge. We are here to stay in this league and we believe in what we've got."
Maynard is under no illusions that there will be tough patches, times when the resolve is really tested amid a tough run of fixtures, but he says it is vitally important the whole place remains united.
"We will have difficult patches, no doubt," he said. "But we must stick together when we do, like we did last season. When we lost a couple, we stuck together and that really helped carry us through. We are highly motivated management team. We have every confidence in our ability and the ability of the lads."
The Stones kept 13 clean sheets last season and Maynard feels that underpinned the team's mid-table finish. He wants to try and replicate that with a reconfigured backline.
"Clean sheets bring real success," he said. "We haven't been best defensively at the minute in pre-season, but it's about defending collectively: defending right from the front, from the wing backs and from midfield. Defenders are there to defend when they get called on when the opposition break the first two lines. It will take time to gel but we will be solid when it does. You build from the back and then work your way forward. We've got good players to come back. "We've also got goals in us throughout the whole team. We can score from set-pieces and we can open teams up. Josh [Umerah] got 16 last season but I think everyone will chip in this season. We are looking forward to it. We can't wait."
Buy tickets to Saturday's game HERE. We can't wait to see you all back at The Vale. • Pictures by Darren Campbell
• Interview by Chris Woods