New Peterborough Northern Star boss Rob Ward is relishing the challenge of managing at Step 5 level for the first time.
Ward has succeeded Raff Mazzarella, who has moved into a director of football role, at the Dogsthorpe-based club.
His reign begins in earnest with a tough FA Cup test as Star welcome local rivals Deeping Rangers to the Branch Bros Stadium for an extra preliminary round tie tomorrow (August 5, 3pm kick off).
“I don’t think we could have asked for a tougher start than a tie against Deeping,” admitted Ward.
“Every game is a final in a cup competition and we’re determined to show how far we’ve come.
“We’ve managed to retain around 80 per cent of the players from last season and add a few decent signings.
“It’s been a mixed pre-season, but you always expect them when a new manager comes in and makes changes to the personnel and the playing system.
“Things have taken a bit of time to bed in, but I feel we’ve been getting there over the last fortnight with some pleasing performances individually and as a unit.
“I’ve been an assistant at Step 5 before and I’m now looking forward to the challenge of managing at this level.
“We want to improve on last season and I’m looking at the minimum of a mid-table finish rather than being in the bottom half.
“I’ve got a decent track record in cups so I’m hopeful of a couple of good runs in those competitions as well.”
Ward, who holds the UEFA B licence, spent 18 months at Peterborough & District League Premier Division side Ketton after moving to this area from Hertfordshire.
Experienced full-back Stewart Lambie has followed him from that club while promising striker Zak Munton has joined from Holbeach. He played with several members of the current Star side when at Bourne Town.
Midfielder Craig Rook has arrived directly from Bourne, while defender Jack Bloodworth is back for a second spell with Star after representing them in his younger days. He helped Peterborough Sports Reserves win the Peterborough & District League Premier Division title last term.
Two other new faces - former Netherton keeper Ross Ingram and ex-Oakham United shot-stopper Simon Dalton - will fight over the number one berth following the departure of Dan George to title contenders Eynesbury Rovers.
Star then launch their United Counties League Premier Division challenge with a home clash against newly-promoted Wellingborough Whitworth on Tuesday (August 15).
Star’s tie with their UCL Premier Division rivals is the pick of the local FA Cup games this weekend.
There’s added spice to the tie with former Star chief Michael Goode now managing very successfully at Deeping.
Goode has enjoyed two seasons in charge of Rangers and has been buoyed ahead of the third by holding onto defender Jonny Clay and midfielder Charlie Coulson despite advances from higher-level clubs.
New signings defender Charlie Ward and winger Brad Hockin from Sleaford should make their debuts at Star, while classy midfielder Michael Simpson is back in non-league football with Deeping after a spell managing Sawtry in the Peterborough & District League.
Wisbech Town and Holbeach United, who were both victorious in their opening UCL Premier Division games last weekend, are also in FA Cup action on Saturday at Biggleswade FC and Ely City respectively.
Yaxley will hope to take their excellent pre-season form into their FA Cup tie at UCL Division One side Raunds.
The Cuckoos were unbeaten in the summer and scored plenty of goals. The reigning UCL Cup winners should win comfortably at Raunds.