Badshot Lea co-manager Gavin Smith is looking forward to the challenge of the new season after his side returned to pre-season training last week.

The Baggies will be playing in the Isthmian League South Central Division this season after earning promotion to Step 4 for the first time in the club’s 116-year history last season.

“It’s really good to be back,” he said. “The lads should be excited to test themselves at Step 4 level.

“If we were still in Step 5 I think it would have been difficult to go again and push for promotion.

“We needed to get promoted last season – thankfully we did.”

Smith has managed to keep the core of last season’s promotion-winning side together, but he has lost some key players.

“We’ve lost a few players from last season,” said Smith. “Connagh Wilks has retired as his work is now full-on and he wants to concentrate on that – which in fairness we already knew would happen as he told us last season.

“Dan Walster has gone back to Winchester City, which offers him the chance of Step 3 football.

“Jake Hawker, Harrison Livingstone and Mal Thomas have left.”

Smith is running the rule over triallists, but expects to take his time before adding to his group.

“We can’t go out and sign people for silly money and pay £300 or £400 per week,” said Smith.

“We’ve got a young group and we’ll probably bring in two or three young lads. I’ve had players recommended to me – we’ve invited a few players down to training so we can take a look at them and see if they are interested.

“We’ve been training on a 3G pitch and technically all the lads we’re looking at can play.

“We will learn more about them in a game, though, so we’ll see how they go in friendlies.”

The Baggies start their pre-season programme with the traditional friendly at home to National League outfit Aldershot Town today (Saturday), before hosting Southern Premier outfit Winchester City on Tuesday night (July 4), and Smith plans to spread the minutes around.

“We will play two different teams for 45 minutes each against Aldershot, and will probably do the same against Winchester,” he said.

The Baggies have added to their coaching team, with former player Victor Ocansey rejoining as first team coach – and Smith is delighted to have him on board.

“Firstly, Vic is a really good guy,” said Smith. “His playing days are finished and we wanted to get him back as a coach. He’s done his badges, is a really good coach and he sees the game.

“We tried to get him on board last year but he had committed to something else and wanted to see that through. It’s really positive for us that he’s back.”