HALSTEAD Town manager Mark McLean feels the race for Thurlow Nunn League division one south promotion is going to be even more intense this year than it was in last season's thrilling climax.

The Humbugs were among the title race front-runners throughout last year, before finishing third behind champions Hashtag United - who were the only side eventually promoted - and Coggeshall United.

McLean's team kick-off their 2019/20 campaign on Saturday with a home game at the Milbank Stadium against Wormley Rovers, who they lost 4-1 to on the final day of last season.

And while this season kicks off with clubs knowing that four are guaranteed to go up, McLean is anticipating an even bigger battle to make it into non-league football's fifth tier.

McLean said: “I think there are seven, eight, maybe nine sides that could win it – it’s going to be tougher than last year.

“It has to be because you have to anticipate that everyone has got stronger.

“The teams that came in last year have all learned from last year and they will have adjusted so it has to be harder but nature will take its course.

“I can’t wait and as a club, we are so excited about it."

One advantage Halstead will have this year is the way McLean has managed to keep the side that he had so much success with last year together this summer.

Despite overtures from some higher-placed clubs to key members of his squad, they have all stayed put and the Humbugs boss knows how important that continuity can be along with several new faces who have strengthened the group further.

“I hope that’s going to be a key thing for us this year," he added.

“I spoke often last year about Woodbridge and their side that went up the year before.

“They had a really strong nucleus of players with plenty who had come through their youth and reserve teams that they then added to and went and blitzed it.

“I felt we went close to that last year and that team of ours now knows each other so I know I can pull triggers at times in games and they will just get it straight away.

“The couple of boys we’ve added in have just brought in some experience into that and they get it.

“That will always stand you in good stead."