St Albans Saints are champing at the bit for their return to NPL football’s top flight next season.
It became more of a reality for the Saints last week when the Football Federation Victoria released the fixtures for 2017.
The Saints have circled February 11 on the calendar when they will meet Avondale in their season opener at Knights Stadium.
“There’s a buzz around the club and a buzz around training,” Saints coach Kruni Razov said. “They’re all looking forward to jumping to the highest level.”
Razov will be remembered as the man who guided St Albans to promotion last season.
He took over mid-season from Zeljko Kuzman after starting the year as the Saints women’s team coach.
Getting the chance to work with the squad from day one of pre-season and bring in players to suit his style of play has Razov excited about the campaign ahead.
“You can start to work on things that you want to work on and develop,” Razov said.
The Saints have brought in a number of players who can make an impact straight away, but Razov has tried to avoid the one-and-done type of player, preferring individuals who can challenge for a starting role next season, but also have a multi-year association with the club.
“We’re signing players for the future as well because we don’t want to keep changing players every year,” he said.
“We need to concentrate on this year, absolutely, but we think we’re going to be able to survive, so we’re also looking towards the future.”
The re-signing of last season’s best and fairest Ryan McGuffie was a high priority for St Albans. With a relatively young team, the Saints needed a veteran on-field leader and McGuffie, a 36-year-old stalwart with Scottish Premier League experience, is second to none.
“He’s played professional football, so he knows how much of a step up it is and he’s not taking it lightly,” Razov said.
St Albans has brought in experienced goalkeeper Chris May, who was the goalkeeper of the year with the Melbourne Knights in 2015.
Razov had plans to create a position battle between May and last season’s promotion-winning goalkeeper Alex Baird, but Baird opted to leave the club. Others to call St Albans home next season will be Hernan Espindola (from Hume City), Matthew Cundari (Whittlesea Ranges), Daniel Chaabani (Hume City), John Lazaridis (Heidelberg United) and Daniel Slovacek (Avondale).