A summer of transition is often a phrase attributed to struggling clubs after a difficult season, but the same can be said of a Saltash United side that enjoyed quite a good campaign last time out.
Dane Bunney led the Ashes to an impressive showing on their Western League Premier Division return last season, with a run of ten wins from their final 14 games propelling the team towards a fine fourth-place finish.
But Bunney’s departure at the end of the campaign left the east Cornwall side in need of a new leader – or pair of leaders as it turns out, with popular Ashes midfielder Danny Lewis stepping up from his player-assistant role to become one of the new men at the helm.
Lewis has brought former Plymouth Parkway man Shane Krac in as his co-manager, and the pair have their sights set on another season of steady progress at the Waterways Stadium.
“Obviously, quite a lot of things have changed in terms of management and in terms of personnel,” Lewis told Cornwall Sports Media. “Everyone who has left has left on the right terms. Obviously, three or four have left and we’ve signed five so there has been a fair amount of change and change takes an element of time, but I thought last season was great strides made in coming fourth, and for me, to emulate that or to top that is very much our target.
“Even though Saltash came fourth last season it did take a late, late surge, and it did feel as if every game – even against teams who were 18th or 19th – every game was tough so we’re definitely not taking anything for granted. It’s a case of applying ourselves and making sure our boys are up for it every game.”
Lewis and Krac have wasted little time in adding to their side this summer, with one early signature coming in the form of former Ashes hero Callum O’Brien, who has returned to the club after a season away at local rivals Torpoint Athletic.
A popular player amongst the Ashes faithful, defender O’Brien has been at the heart of the Saltash side in the last few years and is set to record his 200th appearance for the side this term.
“[O’Brien is] excellent,” Lewis said. “Our league now is a very physical league and every team seems to have a centre-half who’s massive and a striker who’s massive. It certainly felt as if at times last year we missed that presence, and above that he’s a lad who a lot of our fans love and enjoy watching him play.”
Adam Carter and Mike Smith will add firepower to the Ashes’ front line, with prolific forward Carter signing from Plymouth Parkway, while Smith returns to east Cornwall following a spell away from the game.
The pair will provide extra depth in an attack that Lewis feels has been too reliant on Sam Hughes – who scored 23 goals in 35 outings last term – especially following the departure of Rubin Wilson to Bodmin Town.
“It has felt, especially over the last year, that we’ve had to rely on Sam [Hughes] and it was very, very important, especially at this age, not to flog him,” Lewis said. “Now, in terms of options there’s a lot of options there, and if it all clicks and it all works it means we’re not having to rely on him every single game.”
Former Plymouth Parkway defender Harrison Davis and ex-Tavistock midfielder Jake Miller complete the quintet of new signings at Waterways Stadium, with Lewis and Krac identifying a need for the pair’s creative flair to help get them out of any tight spots this term.
“For me, Harrison and [Jake Miller] bring that creativity,” Lewis said. “Our team has always played well and played attractive football, however we’ve missed maybe in the tight games that little bit of spark and the pair of them are that type of player who can make something out of nothing.
“It was key for us to add winners and add lads who have had times at the top end of this league and lads who have been able to show that consistency factor, which is what you need at this level.”
Their impressive end to last season saw them finish two places and 12 points behind second-placed Exmouth Town, who are now preparing for a maiden season in the Southern League Division 1 South.
There will be elements of the Ashes support that will be daring to dream of following the Devonians’ path, but is it a dream shared by the club?
“For me and Shane and obviously the club, yes,” Lewis said, “but again it’s just about taking a stride at a time and just ensuring that we are able to play consistently and take each game as it comes, and if we can do that and our players click I’m sure our boys will be up and amongst it.
“However, it is a very, very tough league and if you’re not quite at it, it is easy to lose a few in a row. It’s very, very important that we’re not just accepting ourselves as challengers and it’s important that in every game our lads are having to turn up and having to apply themselves, and if we do that I’m sure we’ll be absolutely fine.”
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First five matches
Sat, Jul 30: Clevedon Town (H) 3pm – League
Tue, Aug 2: Mousehole (A) 7.45pm – League
Sat, Aug 6: Falmouth Town (A) 3pm – FA Cup EP
Tue, Aug 9: Torpoint Athletic (H) 7.30pm – League
Sat, Aug 13: Buckland Athletic (A) 3pm – League
Last season at a glance
League: 4th in Western League Premier (P:36, W:20, D:5, L:11 – F:80, A:46)
Cornwall Senior Cup: Semi-finals – lost 3-1 to Wendron United
Les Phillips Cup: Third round – lost 3-1 at Exmouth Town
FA Vase: Second qualifying round – won 5-4 on pens at home to Bodmin Town after 2-2 draw but were later removed for fielding an ineligible player
FA Cup: Extra preliminary round – lost 6-4 at home to Millbrook in replay after 2-2 draw in first match
Managers: Danny Lewis & Shane Krac
Chairperson: Julie Morley
Ground: Waterways Stadium (Callington Rd, Saltash PL12 6DX)