Manager Keith Curle spoke this week about his hopes for the coming season as he looks to put together a squad which will once again compete in the upper reaches on the division.
“I had my initial meeting with the players last week and it gave me an opportunity to outline the core credentials for the minimum requirements for next season,” he said. “We want our players to be progressive and forward thinking and we want them to have a winning mentality.
“Everything we do is about us winning more games, getting more points, scoring more goals, conceding less goals and keeping more clean sheets than we did last season. We’re aiming to be very competitive in the top half of the table. That’s the aim.
“The three teams who started as favourites last season – Plymouth, Portsmouth and Doncaster – all finished in the top three, and probably in the correct order from what happened over the course of the season.
“With what we’re putting together now we want to be considered at the minimum as a top seven team once again. Where we will finish within that, who knows, because I wouldn’t put money on anybody running away with it this year.
“There are teams who have spent big money and Mansfield, Lincoln and Luton are examples of clubs who should be obvious contenders. However, spending big doesn’t always guarantee success and it’s up to the other clubs to compete and to stake their own claim.”
“Part of the journey we had last season was very enjoyable for a lot of people and that’s down to the competitive edge we have in our changing room,” he continued. “That won’t change. We need a little bit of things going our way this season, particularly in terms of injuries because that kept key players out of the mix for long periods last year.
“We will need that element of the rub of the green because we’re going to go with a smaller squad again. That’s because I believe the money I’m spending is going in the right areas on the right players.
“I am always on the look out to improve the squad. The club will tell you that they get fed up with me asking for more but I see that as part of my job. When this club is fighting at the top end of the Championship we’ll be able to say the job is nearly done. I know where the team is at and I know we still have a lot of room for improvement.
I know that I bug the life out of this football club and the stakeholders because I’m always asking for more and more ...
“I think there is enough in the budget for me to work with as a starting point. It’s part of my job to keep banging on doors and asking for more. I know that I bug the life out of this football club and the stakeholders because I’m always asking for more and more. I’m always giving them a nudge, it bugs them, but it’s good because they know I’m trying to improve myself, the football club and the results we get on the pitch.
“As well as that I want to improve the spectacle we create for the supporters. If I stop asking and I stop being the driving force the club will not improve. Within that, if there’s no money to spend there’s no money to spend, but I’ll still ask.
“I do know that the football club are doing everything they can to direct revenue and finances in my direction. When they give me money I don’t spend it myself, I spend it on their behalf based on my judgement of where we need to improve.
“We aren’t able to compete in the market with teams who are going out and buying players for a quarter of a million pounds. We can’t go and sign 14 players and put them all on top League Two money. We can’t go and offer extortionate signing on fees to centre forwards and other key positions.
“We can’t compete on that front but we’ve got a competitive budget and a changing room with good players who can play at a higher level. We’re going to be thin on numbers so we’ve got to make sure that the training and games programme is tailored to get players out onto the football pitch on a regular basis.”
With pre-season now heading into its second week the United boss also confirmed that he’ll be utilising the same approach to trialists which has borne fruit in recent seasons.
“Because we had a shorter break this summer I felt it was important to allow the incoming players and the existing players to reintroduce themselves into the culture we have here,” he commented. “We’ve kept the training squad down to the players who are signed and here because I’m trying to put my stamp on them.
“As well as we did last season there’s still room for improvement, whether that’s through more gym sessions or more fitness work. It’s sometimes easier to get that across to a smaller group of players.
“During the latter stages of the week we have identified a few trialists who will potentially come in. It’s important that they bed in very quickly and that they understand the standards we require.
“Some players will come in and be able to fit that standard very easily, other players won’t be able to offer me what I need for that particular position. It’s always interesting to see what trial players have to offer because they are all desperate to prolong their careers. If that fits with what we can do then it make sit very worthwhile when inviting these lads along.”