Hadleigh boss is already planning for next season

HADLEIGH United may be on course for their highest-ever finish in the Premier Division of the Ridgeons League, but manager Stuart Crawford has wasted no time in planning for next season.

Several players have already signed contracts to commit their future to the Millfield club, who have established themselves in the top half of the Premier Division in only their second season back in the top flight after a 12-year absence.

Goalkeeper Arron Benstead, centre half Paul Donnelly, midfielders Ollie Canfer and Liam Jennings have already signed on the dotted line, with defender Kris Rose close to agreeing a deal as well. Youngsters Daryl Alexander, Jermaine Haynes and Jack Severy have also pledged their future to the Brettsiders.

Crawford, whose side travel to Great Yarmouth tomorrow, said: “We are discussing the situation with other players and have also got targets lined-up for the summer to bring in next season.”

One player who will not be playing a part next season is Brett Girling. The 36-year-old former Sudbury Town, Chelmsford City, Braintree Town and AFC Sudbury defender, who joined Haldeigh last summer from Leiston, is retiring at the end of this season.

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Crawford admitted: “Brett will be a massive loss for us. He has been outstanding this season. He is such a professional - he is always at training and drives himself to most away games as he runs a boys’ team on Saturday mornings.”

Following his appointment prior to the start of the season Crawford targeted a top-eight finish – and he is naturally pleased with the progress the club has made during the campaign.

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“Whatever happens between now and the end of the season, I was told recently that we have won more games and scored more goals than ever before in a Premier Division season, and the highest the club has ever finished is 15th.”

Hadleigh moved up to eighth as they made it seven matches without defeat – fours wins and three draws – thanks to Wednesday night’s last-gasp 2-1 win at Stanway Rovers which followed on from a run of six matches without a win.

Crawford, who admitted that this season had also been a learning curve for him, said: “We lost a bit of confidence and were leaking goals, although I didn’t think we were playing too badly, so we changed the way we were playing and went for a more solid approach by tweaking the system.

“We changed the system when we played Dereham at home, won 2-0 and haven’t changed it since, although we didn’t play well at either Felixstowe or Wivenhoe, when we drew away to both teams in the same week.”

After first-choice keeper Benstead was ruled out for the rest of the season with damaged knee ligaments, Crawford moved swiftly to bring in Louis Johnson from Debenham LC.

“Louis Johnson has been a massive boost for us, and since he arrived we have been undefeated. The dressing room has picked up and there is a good spirit,” he added.

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