BISHOP'S Stortford manager Martin Hayes is looking forward to the new season and is convinced that his side will regain their Ryman League premier division status this time.

The Blues just missed out on promotion last season, finishing fourth in the division one table.

Hayes said: "If we don't finish in the top three, then we might as well go home.

"I don't think there is anyone better than us in our division, so we should win it. We will be looking to win it, it's up to the players now."

The Blues boss has not made any new signings but is relieved to have his squad back together for the new campaign.

With Mark Risely on holiday and Carl Fannon and Trevor Paul recovering from injury, the team has not had a chance to gel properly in pre-season.

Hayes said: "Once we've got everyone back from injury, it will be like having new signings. We've still got Ryan Gunn out, he's been out since February with a knee injury.

"We're still not sure exactly what the injury is. He has been to doctors and specialists, but we keep getting conflicting reports.

"Running straight is not a problem for him, but he feels slight discomfort when he turns. We can't seem to find what the problem is, and if you can't pinpoint it, you can't treat it."

The ex-Arsenal man also turned his attentions to the Premiership and offered his predictions: "Arsenal have got a lot more strength in depth this year, and Liverpool will be a year better off.

"I don't think Manchester United will run away with the title."

The Blues continued their pre-season programme with a win and a draw last week.

They twice came from behind before running out comfortable winners over division three side Aveley at Woodside Park last Tuesday evening (August 7).

The visitors took the lead in the 23rd minute. Vinnie John handled in the box and Gary Lynch placed the penalty to the right of the diving Mike Collier.

John redeemed himself nine minutes later with an overhead kick which crept over the line past a defender after Danny Wolf's shot had been well blocked by the excellent Darren Smith in the Aveley goal.

Five minutes before the interval, Lynch restored Aveley's lead with a curling 25-yard free-kick.

John equalised again on 48 minutes as Smith raced out of his area to intercept a long ball but headed the ball straight at the Blues striker who was left with the easy task of rolling the ball into the empty net.

Ten minutes later, John completed his hat-trick, heading home powerfully from an Alex Riches cross.

Carl Allison turned home Tim Langer's cross for the fourth and Tyrone Hercules rounded it off with a stunning individual goal in the final minute.

In stark contrast, Stortford played a dull goalless draw at division two side Great Wakering Rovers on Saturday.

Stuart Moody played alongside Glen Southam in the Blues midfield and showed some impressive touches.

After the interval, Trevor Paul and Vinnie John were both played clear of the defence but were unable to find the all important goal.

The Blues have been drawn to play away at Tring Town in the second round of the Herts Senior Challenge Cup in the week commencing November 19.

The Ryman League campaign begins at Woodside Park on Saturday with Bognor Regis Town the visitors.

Bognor, managed by the experienced Jack Pearce, will provide a tough first test for Martin Hayes and his team.

Pearce has made a few additions to his squad during the summer, most notably striker Simon Funnell from Worthing. Funnell has been a prolific goalscorer throughout his career which has included spells at Southampton and Brighton & Hove Albion.

The Blues will be without keeper Micky Desborough (suspended), Gary Kimble (injured) and Carl Fannon (on holiday).

Next Tuesday, Stortford visit Bromley.

August 16, 2001 10:25