Matlock Town players will swap sunbeds for shin pads this week as they return for pre-season training ahead of a tough schedule of friendlies.
Boss Mark Atkins welcomes his troops back from their summer break tonight (Thursday), just a week before the first friendly against Derby County at the Autoworld Arena on July 3.
And Atkins believes the earlier than usual start date could benefit his players long-term.
He said: “We’re back a bit early due to the Derby game but it means we’ll have two or three sessions to bed the players in before that game, rather than it being a bit of a mad rush like it normally is.
“That can bode well for the future as there is less risk of injuries.
“The players are generally left to their own devices over the summer but they’re a good set of lads and we’ve never had any problems before so I’m hopeful they will all return in good shape.
“They all know what our pre-seasons are like and that they’re tough in a physical and mental sense.
“But initially it’ll all be about ball work and fitness and not peaking too early. Then, around the time of the Sheffield Wednesday game, we can step up the pace a bit ahead of the new season.”
Atkins says he is delighted to have secured the services of full-back Micky Harcourt, who has joined many of his team-mates in committing to the Gladiators for next season.
Atkins said: “Micky has been with us since the first season I took over and has been excellent the whole time.
“He had some disciplinary issues early on but has calmed down a bit now and been top class, as emphasised by the fact he had offers from clubs in the league above.
“But, as with many of the other lads, he wasn’t interested in going anywhere else despite having offers and has stayed on, which means once Liam Needham signs next week which he’s agreed to do, all of our contracte players from last year will have committed to us.
“That’s important because we have the good nucleus of a squad and are probably only two or three short at the moment.
“We’ll have a look at a few trialists because it only takes one jewel to emerge and that can solve a problem.”
Atkins admitted he was disappointed that striker Shaun Tuton left the club to join local rivals Buxton, but was understanding of the player’s decision.
He added: “Shaun wanted a contract and had an offer from Buxton that we simply couldn’t compete with so I can understand him leaving in that sense.
“It’s obviously disappointing though as we wanted to keep him and build our team around him.”
By Mark Duffy