MANAGER Gary Pearson claims that a top-10 finish in the Ebac Northern League Second Division is his objective this season, but there’s no denying that Ryhope CW’s ambitions are much greater.
Two seasons ago, the Wearsiders were compulsorily relegated from the Second Division, even through they qualified for promotion, and it was a bitter blow when they dropped back into the Wearside League.
But, after finishing runners-up to Stockton Town last season, they have returned to the Northern League and it will be a surprise if they don’t challenge for honours.
“Chairman Darren Norton has massive ambitions for the club and when I met him I had no hesitation in agreeing to take over,” enthused Pearson, who was previously in charge with Crook Town.
“Our first objective is to end in the top 10 and qualify for next season’s FA Cup, which could be a money spinner.
“I want everybody to keep their feet on the ground and see how it goes.”
Ryhope’s ambitions are confirmed by the fact they have signed 10 players with considerable experience.
Pearson reckons former Hartlepool United player Andy Appleby, a prolific scorer with Jarrow Roofing last season, is his marquee signing.
Other newcomers include goalkeeper Chris Rookes, whom Pearson reckons will be a great presence, Daryl Evans, Steve Oakley, David Pounder, Chris Hughes, Mattie Weirs, Alex Marshall and Stephen Francis.
Another notable signing is Richard Hodgson, the former Nottingham Forest and Darlington player who was with Whitley Bay when they won the FA Carlsberg Vase, while Paul Braithwaite, captain of England Under-18s last season, has also been attracted by Pearson’s ambitions.
Ryhope begin the season at Billingham Town, who were relegated last season. The Teessiders’ manager, Darren Trotter, is promising that his side will more competitive. His only absentee tomorrow is Stephen Jackson.
Seaham Red Star, who visit Heaton Stannington, are also among the fancied clubs to gain one of the three promotion places.
Manager Mark Collingwood claims his squad will be much stronger than last season when they ended fourth.
He said: “I’ve signed Sonny Andrews from Spennymoor Town, Craig Price and David Gordon (Crook Town), Grant Pressling (Jarrow) and Lee Chapman (Shildon) and I believe we’ll be right up there competing all the way.”
Washington, too, have their sights set on the First Division. Manager Steven Hutchinson has brought in former Sunderland RCA boss Neil Hixon as his assistant and Dan Olsen, who was with West Auckland last season, will help on the coaching side.
Hutchinson has lined up Joe Walton (Spennymoor Town), Greg Swansbury (Ryhope CW), Josh Allen (Seaham Red Star) and Richie Logan (South Shields) to boost an already impressive squad which turned around the club’s fortunes on the arrival of Hutchinson part way through last season.
“Pre-season, we defeated First Division sides Durham City and Bishop Auckland, so I’m confident going into tomorrow’s opener against Norton and Stockton Ancients at the Nissan Sports Complex,” enthused Hutchinson.
Tony Boakes is the new manager at Birtley Town and he has had to rebuild the squad since players from Gateshead College will not be available.
“I had four seasons at Prudhoe Town and I’m looking forward to a new challenge,” said Boakes. “I’ve signed Johnny Hewitson, who was a professional at Darlington, and Kai Hewitson, an ex-Newcastle Academy player.”
Chester-le-Street host Alnwick Town at Chester Moor Park and manager Colin Wake reports that Damien Stephens has moved to South Shields, while goalkeeper Chris Rookes has re-joined Ryhope CW.
Michael Hepplewhite is likely to be out for up to 10 weeks with a groin injury and Jake Stafford’s shoulder requires an operation. It is likely he will miss a large part of the season.
Another absentee tomorrow is David Surrey, who is laid low by knee ligament damage.
The Cestrians have brought in James Jackson, Scott Heslop, Mark Pattison, Ben Johnson, Aidan Aimes and Scott Creswell.