The Rocks head into a new Ryman premier campaign on Saturday being warned: It’ll be tougher than ever to do well.
The men from Nyewood Lane finished 14th last season following promotion from Ryman one south and aim to improve on that this term, but it’s set to be an increasingly-competitive league.
The Rocks, though, have had a solid pre-season and are pleased with some quality additions which have left them close to finalising the squad.
They have signed central-defensive pair Craig Robson and Dan Sackman, and it looks like ex-Brighton youngster Charlie Oatway will play for them – at least for the first few games.
An extra striker remains their top priority after Dan Thompson opted to go back to Hampton and Richmond.
The premier division promises to be highly-competitive this season.
Two of the Rocks old rivals from the lower division –Maidstone and Dulwich Hamlet – have been promoted while other sides new to the league are also expected to be strong.
The management are confident that once they have the likes of Stuart Axten, Ben Johnson and Daryl Wollers fully fit, they will be a force to be reckoned with themselves.
Grays’ visit to Nyewood Lane for this weekend’s league opener is the first of seven league matches to be played in August.
Their away campaign begins at Wealdstone on Monday night.
Howell said: “We’re pretty happy with where we are.
“The Gosport performance was especially pleasing. We’re delighted to sign Craig and Dan but do want another striker.”
Head coach Darin Killpartrick said: “We’ve got a great bunch of lads who enjoy being with one another and playing together – and that’s huge for team cohesion.
“We have two or three new faces who have been fitting in really well and understanding what we’re about. You always want to be fitter but we’re getting sharper with each game.”
Killpartrick predicted that teams in the Ryman premier would have to be better even to achieve the same placings as last year – and significantly better to improve on their positions, as the Rocks are keen to do.
“I think it’s one of the strongest premier divisions in a long time,” he said.
“The teams who have come down and up into the division all look strong and some will have spent a fair amount of money on their squads.
“It’s a longer season, too, with 46 league games.
“We have seven in the first three weeks and that is massive. We’re playing a lot of the likely top teams early on, so it’s all pressure.”
Winger Arron Hopkinson has looked good – he struck a fine only goal of the game at Gosport on Monday – while keeper Mark Zawadski has been steady in the games he has played.
Youngsters like Ryan Barrett and Johan VanDriel have also pushed their claims for a chance.
Rocks bosses are still hoping to find that elusive new striker in the coming weeks.
Crawley Town continue to be interested in midfielder Kane Wills but will not sign him at the moment, which is another boost to the Rocks.
Oatway may head for the States to further his career, but will be a Rock for now.
Meanwhile, the club have their first international main sponsor after German heating specialists Viessmann won the sponsors’ draw.