Holwell Sports face step into unknown as United Counties League kicks off

Sam Bettinson has not played for Holwell since picking up a serious injury in the 2013/14 season EMN-180108-113645002
Sam Bettinson has not played for Holwell since picking up a serious injury in the 2013/14 season EMN-180108-113645002
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It’s a case of time will tell for Holwell Sports boss Andy Gray as he guides his much-strengthened squad into a new league.

Gray admits that the opening salvoes in the United Counties League Division One will be a step into the unknown after their surprise move from the East Midlands Counties League.

“The aims are difficult because it’s a different league and not many of us have an idea of what it’s about just yet,” he said.

“It’s a disadvantage not knowing the league, but one we are going to have to do deal with.

“We won’t know where we are until the season is up and running, but I’m confident we’ll do well.

“A top-six finish and FA Cup football the following season would be great for the club.”

Gray goes into Saturday’s tricky season-opener at Raunds Town with a healthier squad refreshed by a raft of new signings.

Creative midfielder Jack Baker and Matt Hendey have joined from Melton Town, while Kieran Foster returns to Welby Road after a season at their crosstown rivals.

Kyle Reek, meanwhile, has made the move in the opposite direction and is the only departure.

Another boost for Holwell is the long-awaited return of forward Sam Bettinson from a serious ankle injury.

Barwell-based Gray has also used his local roots to bring in striker Ross McGarry and central midfielder Harry Thompson, the latter recently returned to the UK after a spell in the Australian pro league.

Thompson made almost an immediate impression, setting up three goals and scoring the other in a 4-0 win against a strong Barrow side.

And Gray’s own management team has been strengthened by the recruitment of assistant managers Luc Carta and Richard Armstrong, while discussions are ongoing for a potential new candidate for reserves team manager.

“Compared to what we were working with last season the squad is twice as strong,” he said. “But if someone wants to join who can add quality that will happen, of course.

“Last season the squad was, at best, threadbare; I had 17 to pick from and sometimes looking at the bench, the options weren’t there.
“The depth is better now and we’re really looking forward to the new venture.”

With Holwell sharing the same league as Melton for the first time, a few exchanges between the two clubs are perhaps to be expected this season, particularly after the customary player-swaps.

But as a newcomer to the area, Gray insists he has no interest in old rivalries; everything will be done on merit.

“I had a meeting with the players and told them I don’t care where they’ve been and who they’ve played for,” he said. “They will be judged on what I see and whether they fit in with what we want to do.

“I think people believe in what we are trying to do and like the way I try to play football.”

Holwell signed off a mixed pre-season bag with a 4-1 home defeat to old East Midlands Counties league opponents Ashby Ivanhoe on Tuesday evening, but it followed some encouraging displays.

“We’ve won a couple, lost one and drawn one, but the results are largely irrelevant,” Gray explained.

“It’s more about the performances and how people are fitting into formations.

“I’m fairly happy so far, they need to be a bit mentally stronger, but that will come in time.”