Andy Peaks believes AFC Rushden & Diamonds are heading into their “toughest season since the club was formed”.
Having reached the Evo-Stik Southern League Division One Central play-off final during the last campaign, Diamonds are now preparing for new surroundings having been switched into Division One South of the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League.
The season gets under way with a trip to Newcastle Town on Saturday, August 13.
Peaks is in no doubt that his players will be ready for the task in front of them but he is expecting them to be part of a “hard division”.
“I am looking forward to being in the new league but, as you look down the fixture list, you can see it is going to be a hard division,” the Diamonds boss said.
“There are clubs like Gresley and Northwich Victoria who I played against when I was with Rushden & Diamonds back in the day, they are well-established non-League teams.
“I certainly think it will be the toughest season we have had since the club was formed.
“But I fully expect us to be well prepared for what lies ahead.
“It will be a new experience for all of us and I am sure the fans will enjoy visiting some new places.
“But my job is to ensure we are ready for that first day and to ensure that we are competitive and I am sure we will be.”
Diamonds kicked off their pre-season schedule by winning the Chris Ruff Memorial Cup after a 4-1 success at Rushden & Higham United last weekend.
Goals from Nabil Shariff, Jack Ashton, Luke Gardner and trialist Remy Forrester wrapped up a comfortable victory at Hayden Road.
They make their first appearance of the summer at the Dog & Duck tonight (Thursday) as they take on a Peterborough United XI with the NFA Maunsell Cup at stake.
And Peaks added: “It was a good first workout for the players, the game served its purpose.
“We were a bit rusty, which you would expect and we still had a few away.
“But it gave us a chance to have a look at some trialists and a couple of the young lads, which was very helpful.
“It’s obviously going to be tough tonight and it’s a big step up in a short space of time.
“I am under no illusions that we still have a lot of work to do but it’s all about making sure we are ready for August 13, that’s the only thing that matters.
“I expect us to not have as much of the ball tonight so it presents different challenges when it comes to closing down in groups and working hard when we don’t have possession.”