Justin Bennett is determined to lead Gosport Borough’s bid to make progress as they kick-off their Vanarama South campaign at Chelmsford tomorrow.
The Borough striker went through the full range of a semi-professional footballer’s life in the space of a season last term as he started slowly in attempting to adjust to the higher level, before he was loaned out to Poole Town.
But the move worked wonders for him as he found his scoring touch again.
Bennett returned to break the club’s all-time goalscoing record and played at Wembley in the FA Trophy final defeat.
The front man remains a key figure for Borough but knows he has added competition for a place up front, with Robbie Matthews and Matt Paterson among the summer recruits.
And amid a troubled pre-season campaign, which has seen skipper Jamie Brown’s future thrown into doubt, Bennett is keen to build on an encouraging first season at the club’s highest level.
‘As a team, we want to push on from what we did last season,’ said Bennett.
‘We ended up with a top-half finish after struggling all season so we want to improve on that and possibly push for the play-offs.
‘We have strengthened the team so there is no reason why we can’t.
‘We’ve got Robbie Matthews and Matt Paterson in, while Rory Williams and Dan Woodward are still there.
‘There are plenty of good strikers to choose from.
‘But I think I have learnt a lot from last season and I’m hoping to prove that I can score more goals at this level.
‘Paterson looks a very good finisher and Robbie is something different because he is a big, powerful lad and you probably need someone like that at this level.
‘But I will do my best to be out there as much as I can.
‘The manager has mixed us up during pre-season. I have played alongside both of them so we are all a bit in the dark on what team he will pick.
‘He keeps us guessing and Alex can be unpredictable.’
Pike, who was unavailable for comment ahead of the first game of the season, has had other issues to contend with this week.
Skipper Jamie Brown looks unlikely to be involved in the match-day squad as his disciplinary action – following comments made on social media about Borough’s pre-season trip to Guernsey – has not been resolved.
But the club have yet to make any public comment.
Bennett accepts that pre-season has not been ideal, with the club’s pitch being relaid and all fixtures played away from Privett Park.
But he understands that it was worth the inconvenience for a new playing surface.
He said: ‘It’s not been the best pre-season but our minds are set on Saturday now.
‘It’s been disjointed because we’ve had our pitch relaid but it looks amazing.
‘We’ve been forced to play all of games away from home and some have been more successful than others!
‘We haven’t had the facilities to train properly but, again, that was out of the club’s hands because we didn’t have the pitch to use.
‘We haven’t had proper goals to use. We’ve had to use cones.
‘But the training has been excellent and we played really well on Friday at Guernsey before the floodlights went out, so you can’t say it has hindered our pre-season too much.
‘The team clicked, which has given us some confidence going into this weekend’s game.’