MIDDLEZOY Rovers head into their opening Somerset County League match tomorrow in optimistic mood after a promising pre-season.

Zoy start away to Stockwood Wanderers (ko 3pm), with their first home match of the campaign coming against Staplegrove on Wednesday, August 16 (ko 6.30pm).

They finished fifth in last season’s Premier Division, and manager Craig Berry is looking to push on this year.

He said: “We want to finish higher than last year, and have some cup runs.

“Last season we didn’t make it past the second round in any of the cups, which was disappointing because we’ve previously been making semi-finals.”

Their pre-season has brought some mixed results, but leaves them in a good place for the return to competitive action, Berry says.

“We started very well against [Western League] Bishops Lydeard, in a game that was played at a high pace and was very competitive, ending 0-0.

“We then faced Berrow & Highbridge, who were understrength, but we took our chances and won 6-1.

“Against Bridgwater Town we were missing players and lost 2-1, missing a penalty in the 88th minute.

“Last Thursday we faced Uphill Castle, and it was one to forget, losing 4-0, although we learned a lot.

“We tried different things, and it reinforced that we should stick to what we know; you can’t change the shape of the wheel overnight.”

The squad is in a strong position, as they haven’t lost anyone from last season, and several past players have returned – Berry reckons they have gained three or four new first team players.

As for players to look out for, Berry mentioned the goalkeeper Greg Turner, saying that he has attracted attention from Western League clubs, and provides a great base for his side.

Others, such as Jake Horsey and Andy Smith, are now in their prime.

“There’s a group of players who are 26 or 27, hitting the peak of their knowledge and understanding of the game, so they attract the eye,” the boss added.

“But we have a lot of players who do the important work for us – they’re like furniture here, at the club for 10 or 12 years.

“Sometimes we can forget how lucky we are to have them.”

Inspired by Louis van Gaal, I asked Berry what the Zoy football philosophy is.

“We try and play from the back,” he said.

“But that can encourage the opposition to move higher up, so I want the players to see opportunities to find our quicker players in space.

“It’s like a game of chess, reacting to your opponents, but we certainly like to play if we’re given the opportunity.”

He added that the club’s youth policy is also important, as they look ahead to not only this upcoming season but the campaigns to follow.

“The club aim to get 16 and 17-year-olds into the first team, and give them a chance to show they can play.”