ACCRINGTON Stanley boss John Coleman has said he has never felt so good about a season as this one.
The Reds began their pre-season campaign on Thursday night at Radcliffe Borough before they take on three Coca Cola Championship sides in Cardiff on Saturday (3pm), Preston on Tuesday (7.30pm) and their annual battle against neighbours Burnley on Wednesday (7.30pm) at the Interlink Express Stadium.
Coleman, who has added young midfielder Anthony Barry to the set-up after the former Liverpool schoolboy was on trial at Stanley last season, is still assessing his options as regards othersignings but his happy with his squad so far.
"We have 14 players signed on and I have never felt as confident as I have in this pre-season," said the boss whose side are 10-1 to win the League with bookies William Hill with Hereford favourites at 5-1 although Exeter boss Alex Inglethorpe said he thinks his side will do it.
Coleman continued: "The lads look fit, there is a really good spirit in the camp and with a few additions - which are in the pipeline - then I think we can mount a really good challenge this season. I think I need to add another four or five players to the squad and will be doing that over the next few weeks."
But it does looks increasingly likely that he will lose Rory Prendergast this week to Coca Cola League One side Blackpool. The left winger has impressed on trial - scoring one and making goals in their friendlies in Scotland - and Seasiders boss Colin Hendry confirmed: "I am hoping to tie up a deal in the next few days."
And Coleman said: "We are expecting to know for definite what is happening with Rory by the end of the week but I am just concentrating on the squad I have here at Accrington now. Any deal we do will be the right one for the club."
A fee will be involved and a sell-on clause for Prendergast who has a year left on his Stanley contract.
But, despite the loss of striker Lee McEvilly to Wrexham and probably Prendergast, Coleman is still happy with his current squad and his targets.
He was set to run the rule over a goalkeeper on Thursday night in the clash with UniBond side Radcliffe. He is also due to have a look at ex-Tranmere striker Alex Hay, former Man United defender Lee Lawrence and ex-Burnley winger Matt O'Neill who was on loan at Stanley last season over the coming weeks.
But Coleman says ex-Rochdale striker Leighton McGivern won't be signing for the Reds and that former Burnley' midfielder Tony Grant is just training with Stanley to get himself match fit.
Meanwhile, the boss admits he is raring to go now and Cardiff, Preston and Burnley represent a good challenge for his side as they build up for their assault on the Nationwide Conference title.
"It is good to have games of that stature and it is a good test for us. We have got to remember though, that they are only practise games and you don't get points for them but, saying that, I want to win every game I play.
"The local friendlies always provide a good atmosphere and hopefully we will start to see the benefits of the hard work the lads have been putting in."
These have included swimming and fitness training as well as running up sand dunes at Southport.
Defender Robbie Williams says it has been hard, especially in the heat, but is ready for the challenge ahead. Stanley's longest serving player will be battling with Mike Flynn and new signing Andy Tretton for the centre half slots.
"Andy is a good player and a nice lad and it should provide good competition for places this season," said Williams.
- FORMER Red Lee McEvilly scored on his Wrexham debut against European Cup champions Liverpool.
The striker signed for the club last week and came on as a sub in the 4-3 defeat. Former Rochdale hitman McEvilly said he is relishing being back in the league. He said: "I have had a few knocks in my career. People have put me down but Wrexham boss Denis Smith has given me confidence to play back in the league with Wrexham.
"It was nice to score against Liverpool, but it's not all about my goal. All I'm worried about now - and so is the manager - is my fitness for August 6. I want to keep the fans happy and if I play well they will be on my side."