Burke prepared for tough season in ‘attractive league’

PUBLISHED: 10:49 03 August 2017

Mark Burke and Darren Sarll shake hands after the draw. Picture: Danny Loo

Mark Burke and Darren Sarll shake hands after the draw. Picture: Danny Loo

Danny Loo Photography 2017

Hitchin Town manager Mark Burke says this season’s Southern League Premier Division campaign could be the most difficult of his tenure.

After play-off heartbreak in each of the last two seasons, the Canaries will go into this season with the expectation that this will be third time lucky.

But Burke is playing down their chances ahead of the league opener, away to Merthyr Town, the side they beat in last year’s play-off semi-final.

He said: “It’ll be great if we could [get promoted] but it’s going to extremely difficult. I think this year could be the toughest since I’ve been here.

“You look at the likes of Weymouth, Kettering, Farnborough, Hereford, Slough, Gosport have just come down, Bishop’s Stortford, King’s Lynn; it’s an attractive league and I’m expecting some really big gates.

“The first thing though is Merthyr and obviously they’ll be looking to avenge the playoff defeat last year.

“It’s always a tough place to go as they’re a good footballing team so it’s going to be tough.

“Then it’s St Neots here followed by Banbury, who I think will be the dark horses.

“I look at the league and I can’t see any weak teams. I know we’ve been in the playoffs for the last few seasons but for me if we can get a top-10 finish I’ll be happy.

“We’ve lost a few players but I’m hopeful the recruits we’ve brought in will be as good.”

They will head to Wales for the opener though full of confidence following a penalty shoot-out victory over St Albans City in the Herts Charity Cup on Tuesday.

“It was nice to win our first competitive game,” he added. “I thought it was entertaining. We played some good stuff, they played some good stuff.

“We played Wealdstone on Saturday and it opened our eyes a little bit as to what we need to get to the next level.

“And St Albans weren’t at their strongest so don’t get fooled by it all but it’s good to play against those teams.

“But it’s nice to win our first competitive game, albeit by penalties, but you’ve still got to finish the job off.

“It’s a nice little confidence boost for us. The game against Arsenal last week was the same but we were brought back to earth slightly, a bit of a reality check, against Wealdstone.

“I think we gave as good as we got.”

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