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Ashford United working on fitness after later start to pre-season

Ashford are playing catch-up with their fitness levels after a much-needed break.

Assistant boss Alex O’Brien says there’s still work to do but it was important to give the squad time off after their draining play-off experience.

Ashford needed a break after their play-off final disappointment Picture: Ian Scammell
Ashford needed a break after their play-off final disappointment Picture: Ian Scammell

The Nuts & Bolts finished second in Isthmian South East last season and beat Cray Valley in the semi-finals before losing to Herne Bay in the final.

“Because we were involved in the play-offs, we brought the boys back a little bit later,” said O’Brien, whose side drew 1-1 with Kennington in their latest pre-season friendly last Saturday.

“Other clubs came back earlier than we have and you can see that in the fitness levels.

“Kennington, their season starts in a couple of weeks, and they looked sharper and fitter than us, where we’re still finding our feet.

“We’re not panicking, we’re ploughing on and the fitness will come the more games we get under our belt. I’m sure we’ll be fine.

“It was important we gave the players some time after the play-off final.

“We worked so hard to get second place, we were brilliant on the night against Cray Valley, but it probably took a lot out of us and the final was a case of two nervous teams going at it.

“We said at half-time whoever scored first will win, make sure it’s us, but it wasn’t.

“Losing that final drained the players, the management and the club.

“We were all gutted because we’ve been in that position before and we hoped we could achieve promotion but football’s never meant to be easy.”

Tuesday’s friendly at Rochester was postponed due to the heatwave but has been rearranged for tonight (Thursday), with temperatures set to be significantly cooler.

With most trialists departing, there’ll be a good opportunity for the squad to get more minutes and take another step forward with their fitness.

“You’ve only got to ask the players, fitness for me is massive,” said O’Brien, who’s been assistant manager to Tommy Warrilow since their Tonbridge days.

“I still think we’re shy on that, there’s more to do, but having got rid of quite a few trialists, it opens up more minutes for the players we’re putting our trust in and we’ll get that momentum.

“There’s still plenty of time to get minutes into the players, to be as fit as possible for the first game of the season.

“Then you’re looking at eight to 10 league games to find your full match fitness.”

The Isthmian South East fixtures have been released, with Ashford starting the campaign at Burgess Hill on August 13, followed by Sevenoaks at Homelands on August 16.

“From what I’m hearing and seeing, this league is going to be really tough this season,” said O’Brien.

“With the wealth of some of the clubs and the players at this level, it’s probably going to be the best it’s been for some time.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re in and around that top half and see where it takes us.

“I’m not going to turn round and say we’ll win the league but we’ll definitely compete with the aim of being up there.

“Historically, we’re always competing and we’ve got a good history of turning people into better players.”

Ashford visit Erith Town on Saturday and welcome Margate to Homelands on Tuesday.

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