Alan Dowson is confident his new-look Dartford squad will give him more headaches this season.
The Darts manager felt his team picked itself too many times last year but it’s a different tale this time around with a greater strength in depth.
Dowson feels they’ve compensated for big departures in the form of Connor Essam and Tom Bonner by adding greater versatility across the squad.
“That’s the biggest thing that will give us an edge, we never had that competition last season,” said Dowson.
“What I’ve done is I’ve gone for hungry players in this league or a level down who want to prove themselves, who want to be here. I’ve got a squad of 18 who I wouldn’t think twice about playing.
“Maybe it was 12 last year, it’s more this season who I’m not scared to put in. Joe Rabbetts did well against Charlton on Saturday, the young kid who has come in from Dorking, so I look at it and think we’ve got half a chance here.
“That’s why I did two different teams against Charlton. I want to be panicking about my strongest XI, I never panicked last season. We played the same way all the time, we went to small grounds when people are up against you and we never had the backbone.
“I don’t think we’ll finish second-top again to be honest, it’s going to be tougher. But I believe we’ll get in the play-offs again. I know people don’t believe we can and they’re saying we’ve lost our best players and it’s a harder league and teams have got more money than us.
“We might not finish in the top three, we’ve got no right to be anywhere near that, but we’ll have a good go at the rest.”
Dowson stuck to the same formation for large chunks of last season. He wants to adapt and change as a manager and believes his current squad will afford him that opportunity.
“Last year I didn’t think we had the personnel to change that many positions,” added the Dartford boss.
“We certainly couldn’t play a three last year because we had two good centre-halves but they couldn’t play in a three. Now we can go in a three like we did in the second half against Charlton, we can go 4-4-2, we can go 3-5-2 and we’ve proved that.
“I’ll be looking at those things during pre-season, last year it was very much this is what we are, 4-5-1, because that’s the players that we’ve got. This year I think we’ve got more flexibility.
“There were times last year when I wanted to go three at the back and match some teams but I never had the players to do it. This year, I believe we have. Or I’d say let’s go 4-4-2 and match them, but we never had the players for that.
“I could be having another conversation next week and things can change as there’s a long way to go until the start of the season but I think the team has guts about them and they’re going to be a pleasure to coach.”
Dartford head to Newcastle as part of their pre-season preparations - including a match at Dunston UTS on Friday night.
It’s a case of so far, so good for Dowson as the Darts continue to put in the hard yards during pre-season.
“We haven’t even done a pattern of play yet, we haven’t worked on a throw-in, a corner, things that we’re strong at because we’ve got some big lads,” said Dowson.
“I’ve just told them to get on with it. Even when some of them signed and I said we’ve got two training sessions and then play Charlton it was a case of get on with it and that’s what we’ll do. This group have done that and I’m pleased with them.
“They know how hard they’ve got to work, and they have done that already. Last year we were a bit of a soft touch and people didn’t mind playing against Dartford because they thought that. I want a hard physical side this season, not one with players being sent-off or booked, but I think we can do that.”
Young left-back Sam Odaudu was handed the captain’s armband against Charlton in the first half of last weekend’s 2-1 friendly defeat.
The academy graduate wasn’t one of those who has already expressed an interest but Dowson was keen to see his qualities.
“I made Sam captain as he knows the Dartford way,” explained Dowson. “Charlie Sheringham wasn’t on the pitch and I wanted people who know the Dartford way. Tom Bonner is a massive miss as a personality as well.
“Of course he’s a candidate - he’s just got to believe it. He’s one of my best players at a young age so he’s a possibility.
“Sam never mentioned being captain once (before the game) but he was our best player against Charlton by a million miles, up against a player who they rate very highly and is meant to be a £2million player - he never gave him a kick.”
Dartford have signed centre-back Baris Altintop from Braintree.