11:47AM, Friday 05 August 2022
Photo credit: George Beck
They couldn’t have asked for a much tougher start to their National League South campaign, but Slough Town’s joint manager, Neil Baker, believes the pressure is all on Havant & Waterlooville heading into the sides’ opening day clash at the Draper Tools Community Stadium.
The Rebels travel to Havant off the back of a mixed pre-season, however, Baker and Jon Underwood’s men signed off with a confident 1-0 win against Jack Wilshere’s Arsenal u18s side last Friday.
While the Rebels have strengthened over the summer, bringing in the likes of George Wells from Maidenhead United, Johnny Goddard from St Albans, Elliot Benyon from Oxford City, and James Dobson from Hemel Hempstead Town, Havant are in many people’s opinion one of the pre-season favourites for the title.
In Jason Prior, Danny Wright, and Muhammadu Faal – who scored more than 40 goals for Enfield Town last season – they have one of the league’s most feared strike forces, however, while it’s a daunting curtain raiser for the Rebels, they certainly shouldn't have anything to fear.
Their recent record against the Hawks has been good, claiming four points from their two matches against them last season, while Havant’s form in pre-season has also been up and down. Traditionally slow starters, Slough are keen to hit the ground running a little faster this year, but Baker has heaped the pressure onto Havant ahead of Saturday’s opener.
“This is a game that focuses the mind, that’s for sure, but sometimes in that first game there’s a lot of pressure involved because you’re desperate to get that first win,” said Baker.
“Especially if you’re at home and it's a game that people think you should win. When you start away from home against probably the title favourites, it takes a bit of the pressure off that first game.
"I think it's a good game for us to have. In the last few seasons, it's taken us a while to get going. We've been slow starters, but we want to start a little faster this time.
“Havant are up there with Ebbsfleet as the standout favourites for me, and there’s been a lot of money invested in that side, but we’re looking forward to it, they’re the kind of games we enjoy, and we’ve got a reasonable record against Havant over the years.”
After Saturday, Slough have a week to prepare for the visit of Tonbridge Angels to Arbour Park the following Saturday (August 13). Pre-season has come, and gone, mercifully swiftly for Baker, who tweeted last week that it was a ‘process to get through’ for managers and players alike. He’ll be glad to get back to the competitive action, and, providing Slough prove themselves to be a competitive outfit, he’ll be keen for them to improve on last season's 13th placed finish.
“Pre-season has gone relatively quickly, and I think we've had a reasonably good pre-season,” he added.
“It’s not been perfect, but it’s been OK, and we just need to look forward to Saturday and try to get something from a game that we know will be difficult. The Arsenal game was a good one.
"They’re a young side and it was a nice game for us to finish on. Whenever you play any professional side it's a good experience, and we should have won the game by four or five to be honest.
“That would have been a fairer reflection on the game, but we didn’t pick up any new injuries which is key really. We’ll have one or two players missing for the weekend, but I’m not going to give too much away on that front. We’ll definitely be stronger the following week (for Tonbridge Angels), but we are where we are.”