tHE waiting is finally over this weekend as Derwent Hockey Club 1sts prepare to make the step up and begin their East Midlands Premier League season.
Coach Heath Roberts’s men have not been resting on their laurels since ending last season’s promotion campaign and have been involved in a busy pre-season schedule, including participating again in the Beeston Summer League.
Roberts is under no illusions about the size of the task his players will face this time out, but believes he has the players at his disposal to survive at this higher level.
He explained: “We’ve had slightly mixed results in pre-season but we took part in the Beeston Summer League again and that went well. We finished fourth out of ten teams and the only three above us are all in higher leagues.
“Last year, we were a bit of a surprise package there; this year they were wiser to our strengths but I think playing in the summer league was a key part in us starting so well last time out and so it was a useful exercise again.
“We’ve got to really step up this year. It’s a big gap to bridge but I feel if we get our heads down, work hard and to keep to our disciplines, we should do that. It’s not going to be easy but we have strengthened our squad over the summer with three additions, and lost no-one.”
The new faces are Luke Boden, who has rejoined the club from Belper, Ian Wilson, formerly of Derby Asterdale, and James Woodard, the ex-Coalville skipper.
Roberts continued: “Luke is a defender who came through our youth scheme so I first coached him when he was something like 11.
“He is skilful and at 22 is just the right age profile for us. He’s a good acquisition.
“Ian Wilson is very versatile and adds strength in different areas. He can play right across the back four or across the middle. He is experienced at 29 and we’re going to need that know-how in this league.
“James Woodard was Coalville’s first team captain for a number of years. He is a midfielder who likes to get stuck in.
“He has good experience, good distribution skills and will help to guide the younger players through as he’s played at a good level.”
Missing for the first half of the campaign will be last season’s goal machine Ben Everett-Li, as he continues his recovery from a cruciate knee ligament injury sustained in the closing weeks of last season.
Roberts says they will miss his goals but feels centre forward Nick Harrod-Evans will be a key player in making up the shortfall.
“Nick is a traditional centre forward, an out and out number nine.
“He was an important player for us last year in between work commitments and he even got six in one game. We hope Nick will be a real threat up front.
“I’m comfortable with defence and midfield. My only slight concern is whether we have enough firepower so Nick is definitely important for us in that respect, in Ben’s absence.
“It’s going to be tough. If you look at the likes of Nottingham, they were in the National League four years ago and have a far larger catchment area to draw on, so we’re at a disadvantage there against clubs of that size, but I still think we can do it.”