Published: 06:00, 17 September 2020
| Updated: 06:39, 17 September 2020
By Joe Harbert
Manager Ben Smith believes Herne Bay are one of up to nine clubs potentially in contention for Isthmian South East title glory this campaign.
Smith, who will be taking charge of just his second full season at the Kent Vehicles Stadium following his appointment back in May last year, insists the club’s ‘measured approach’ during recent months should allow them to edge even closer to the summit of the table compared to last term’s fifth-place finish.
He said: “Pre-season has probably looked outwardly like it’s gone brilliantly, but I’ve not been overly happy with the performances, especially the earlier games.
“But you obviously have to take into account that the lads have had so long off, so there was no doubt a hangover from last season that was subconsciously still there - we also had a great opportunity that was taken away from us in terms of going up.
“So it’s taken a bit of time to mentally refresh and mentally refocus for the season, and that was the thought process behind having a long pre-season with nine games and we’ve got better the more we’ve played.
“But of course this league has teams like East Grinstead and Ramsgate who could have been relegated last season, but over the summer have spent a lot of money.
“Other sides probably spent a lot last year in the hope of getting promoted and can’t continue doing that now because they gambled on that possibility.
“We’ve obviously gone for a more measured approach where we’ve built on what we had, and then brought a few lads in that can add to that quality, and that will hopefully pay dividends in terms of consistency.
“So the expectations are definitely a lot higher compared to when we started together - people will expect us to be up there and anyone I’ve spoken to has said that as well, which is different to before when we were a bit of an unknown quantity.
“That shows the ambition we have as a club has translated onto the pitch which is good, and that’s why our aim is to get promoted and something I’m not going to shy away from.
“It’s not been too often that Herne Bay has had that objective, but of course there are eight or nine other sides that will be saying the same.”
One of the division’s form sides prior to lockdown, the former Canterbury City boss adds that his side are an even better unit compared to both 12 months ago and back in March.
The club have made defensive reinforcements a priority throughout the summer, with the likes of Mo Kamara, Dan Johnson and Raphe Brown arriving from Ashford, Margate and VCD Athletic respectively since the team’s last competitive fixture six months ago - an area of the field Smith insists has improved his team.
He explained: “We had two squads last year really - at the start of the season we moved some players on after a bad start, and then it continued to evolve to the point where our defensive record wasn’t too bad at all.
“But if you look over the course of the whole season we still conceded too many goals, so if we can keep teams out now then we know we’re going to score goals, and on Saturday at Hastings we were outstanding defensively.
“We are also generally very clinical, with players like Zak Ansah someone I firmly believe will score 25-30 goals this season.
“He had 24 last year when it was cut short, so that’s certainly not me looking at expectations like that with rose-tinted glasses as the manager.
“We’ve also added players like Bradley Stevenson and brought guys back like Dean Grant, and they’re just two additions that can contribute, and that’s why I think we’re in a better place when you think of the players that have also stayed from last season.”
He continued: “In terms of Saturday against Whyteleafe, they are probably the most attacking side in the league, so it’s a game where we’ll have to be on our guard and set up properly defensively.
“So it will no doubt be a difficult one, but I’m confident and we’ll just have to see how we go.”