New signing Mark Hudson crosses the ball into the Long Eaton penalty area during the friendly at Meadow Park on Saturday, 28 July.
A major element of RCA's pre-season has been about forming a new look side, particularly in the forward line. Top scorer Mark Davison left RCA to join Spennymoor and Andy Jennings signed for Billingham Synthonia. Neil, who has been as busy on the phone as ever, has brought in Andrew Appleby, who played at Whitby Town last season, and Aristote Guerin-Lokonga, who was at Newcastle Benfield, to join Dale Jardine, who joined towards the end of last season from Newton Aycliffe.
Our midfield was also affected by the strong running Joe Walton leaving for Spennymoor and Andrew Cuthberston returning to Consett. Both quality players, it looked difficult for RCA. Neil has brought in midfielders who more than match that quality. Mark Hudson signed from West Auckland Town and David Gordon rejoined RCA after a period at Shildon. They have were joined by Daniel Reeves (formerly with Horden CW), David Southern, who played at Jarrow Roofing last season, and Adam Ward who joined from Seaham Red Star.
At the back we have been re-inforced by the signings of Jordan Fraser and Ross Preston.
There's also substantial continuity in the side from last season with top players Neal Atkinson, Brian Close, Steve Jones, Adam McGuinness, James Oates, Richard Paxton and Gary Shields recommitting to the RCA cause.
Our first friendly was on Friday, 13 July at Esh Winning. The date proved a bad one for Andrew Appleby, who scored the only goal of the game and broke a finger, an injury that was to keep him out of competitive action until the Allan Thompson Memorial Cup. And then David Southern manages a fracture too. When the order of the day is jelling new faces that's the last we needed.
I wasn't at the Petershill match. I heard we were thin on the ground, that the hospitality was excellent and that we were well beaten 4 - 1, after a good night out!
The game against Blyth Spartans was very entertaining. Blyth took their goals very well and we had our chances.
The Long Eaton match was disappointing. They were fitter and more prepared than us - their season started two weeks before ours, so that was not a surprise - but we were flat and in need of forward line fire power.
For the West End friendly, Neil brought in two new forwards: Sean Sweeney and Aristote Guerin-Lokonga. Both played well, although Sean will not be continuing with us. Aristote looked sharp and mobile, scoring two headed goals from a corner and a cross.
Newly promoted Ryhope CW might have fancied their chances in the Allan Thompson Memorial Cup, but despite falling behind to a terrific opening goal, RCA ran out confident 4 - 1 winners, with a hat trick from the returning Andrew Appleby, who looked very sharp given his lay off, before a sweet strike from Mark Hudson underlined the superiority.
So, a mixed bag, but most importantly good and promising progress and more additions have followed in midfield. While some undoubtedly good players have moved on, RCA fans can feel confident that new quality has come in. It looks like we will be a very competitive side this season. Just what we've come to expect from Neil, Carl, George and Ian.