12:00PM, Friday 23 July 2021
The start of the new league season is beginning to feel a little more real for Marlow boss Mark Bartley, with the Blues having now played in several warm-up matches and the release of the Isthmian League South Central fixtures last week.
The Blues will kick off their campaign at home to South Park on Saturday, August 14 before facing Whyteleafe, also at Oak Tree Road, the following weekend.
Pre-season has once again brought the Blues a few ups and downs, with the side losing to Reading City and Chipping Sodbury Town, but also recording victories over Burnham - a match watched by England forward Raheem Sterling - and Hartley Wintney, who the Blues thumped 4-0 on Tuesday night.
“Up until this stage we've been looking at different triallists,” said Bartley. “We've had a lot of them come through and that presents its own challenges, and it can also make things a little bit disjointed.
“We've also done a lot of heavy running, more than most of the other clubs from what I can gather, but that will start to lighten up over the next week or so.
“Apart from the Reading City performance, where I felt we were a little lax, I've been happy with what I've seen, and when we taper off a little for the start of the season, I hope to see more of the patterns of play we've been working on come in, so it's all good really.”
Bartley feels the club is stronger in certain areas and has more options in attack, despite the loss of last season's top scorer James Clark to league rivals Bracknell Town. The forward line has been bolstered by the return of Marcus Mealing, who scored a beauty of a free kick in this week's win over Hartley Wintney, while Nnamdi Nwachuku has also returned to the Blues, having had a prolific time in front of goal for them a few seasons ago. He also feels that there's a maturity about this group of players, who've grown up together at Marlow and are about to reach their peak.
“It's stronger in certain areas,” Bartley said of the squad's depth.
“We're still maybe one player short and, while I'm quite happy with what we've got, I'm going to keep my eye out for a certain type of individual.
“At the front end I think we’ve got more attacking options after adding in Nnamdi and Mealo, that’s been important for us.
“Last season we had James Clark scoring for us until the break, but it really was just him. We were reliant on him and, having lost him to Bracknell, I wanted to make sure we could add a couple of players I felt could score goals at the required rate.
“My team has also just matured a little bit, so if you look at the likes of Ashleigh Artwell, Devontae Romeo, Kameron English. All those guys are now 26 and are coming into the stage of their careers where they're ready to win things. They were 24-year-olds when they went into this pandemic, but they're now getting their man strength and that feels like a big shift to me.”
He added: “The fixtures are there, and it always feels a bit more real. We look at who we’ve got and how we can prepare for them. We’ve improved the infrastructure of the club, so we’ve added some social media guys, which has been really helpful, building and promoting the club. We’ve added a couple of guys to help with the technical analysis of sides, helping in terms of our preparation for matches. We’ve tried to do little bits around the edges that will give us those incremental gains.”
Unfortunately, during to rising COVID-19 cases across the country, Saturday's friendly at Livingston in Scotland has been postponed and Bartley said the two clubs would look to re-arrange it for during the Scottish side's winter break.
“We were due to fly up to Scotland to play Livingston over the weekend, but because of the COVID situation and rising numbers, it’s difficult,” added Bartley.
“We would have taken some tests, but everyone is a sensitive to the situation at the moment.
“We’re going to try and push that game back to their Christmas break and we’ll go up and play them. It will be good when we do get to play them and it will give the players a chance to put themselves in the shop window.”