WITH Taunton Town returning to competitive action tomorrow, the County Gazette spoke to two of their attacking midfielders - Ross Staley, who joined the Peacocks last season, and Les Afful, who signed for the club this summer.

There is a mood of optimism in the Peacocks squad, as they target the Holy Grail of promotion this campaign.

Manager Leigh Robinson is fully aware of the expectation placed on his side given the players signed, and the increase in the number of automatic promotion places from one to two for this season.

Utility man Staley, who has excelled at wing-back and as an attacking midfielder since joining last autumn, has no doubts about their focus this year.

He said: "First and foremost, we want to win the league - end of.

"Last year the team got to the FA Cup first round, and getting anywhere near that this season would be a bonus – for the finances, morale and to see if we can get to play a pro team and get on TV!

"If I could win everything I would, but we've got to go one better than last season and go up."

Afful - signed from Truro this summer - also fancies the Peacocks' chances.

"I believe this will be Taunton's year [to win promotion]," he said. 

"But from my experience, I know it's not easy – no matter how good your squad is, you've always got to turn up on the Saturday and put a proper shift in.

"We want to get to the top of the league as early as possible and stay there, so we're not chasing."

This is The West Country:

TUSSLE: Ross Staley in action against Bristol Rovers in their pre-season match at the Viridor Stadium. Pic: Tim Norbury

Staley is pleased with how pre-season is gone, and with the seven new players who have come in.

"We've played lots of games, which is really good – as a player that's what you want, and the minutes have been shared out well I think.

"I believe that the people we've brought in have just made the team stronger, as there's a lot of good players and we're fighting for our positions."

He added: "[The new players have settled in] really well, particularly Ben Adelsbury - I think he's been the pick of the bunch, but all the additions have been positive and settled in as well as you would hope.

"Our team togetherness is really strong, just as it was last year.

"In terms of preparation, I think we're pretty much there, and I just can't wait to get started."

Afful says he has been made to feel very welcome since his arrival.

"[The welcome] has been really good, from the staff and players to the fans. It's a nice little club here.

"I have [enjoyed pre-season] – I was a bit out of the picture at Truro come the end of my team there, so it's nice to get back involved and get some games under my belt."

The Truro connection also helps, as Afful new many of the Peacocks squad already from his time there.

"It's a big chunk of the squad now, and it's a bit like turning up at Truro – I know a lot of the lads, so that's nice for me, and there's a lot of experience there.

"I've known Wrighty [Matt Wright] for a few years now, and I'm sure he'll do well [as captain].

"He's a big character and sometimes the team needs that."

This is The West Country:

LEAP: Les Afful in the air action Weymouth during pre-season. Pic: Tim Norbury

Both Afful and Staley are clearly happy to be in Taunton - for the latter, it was an easy decision to stay after last season's exploits.

"Absolutely [an easy decision to stay]," he said. 

"We took our time getting there last season, but once we did I didn't want to go anywhere else.

"Credit Kev [Sturmey] and the groundstaff for looking after the pitch, it looks unbelievable – that was a big factor in me staying, as was Meaks [Michael Meaker] staying, as that makes my job a lot easier."

Concerning the fans, he added: "Coming from Hereford I'm used to large crowds, but since I've arrived we've been hitting 400-500 for home games, even on Tuesday nights.

"That's something special, and a credit to the club, Kev, the gaffer and all the lads."

Looking ahead to tomorrow's league opener at Cirencester Town, Staley concluded: "You always want a good start.

"They've come down from last season, and I don't know much about them personally, but I'm sure Meaks will do his research.

"We're a team that's been tipped to do well this year, so we want to get the three points and get the ball rolling."