(PROLIFIC: Hayes & Yeading’s Manny Duku shoots against Fleet Town. PICTURE: Paul Paxford/Pitchside Photo)
By John Lyons
Upbeat manager Paul Hughes is confident Hayes & Yeading United can challenge for promotion – even if they lose hot-shot striker Manny Duku.
The 25-year-old Dutch striker weighed in with a club record 39 goals last season, 33 in the league, as United finished third in Evo-Stik Southern East last term. However, the season finished in heartbreak as the west London oufit slipped up 1-0 at home against sixth-placed Cambridge City in the play-off semi-finals.
It means they face another season at Step 4, albeit now in the Bostik South Central. After being the only team in their division to top the century goal mark last term (103), United will be eager to hit the goal trail again to earn promotion – though they may have to do it without prolific ex-Banbury United marksman Duku.
Former Chelsea and Luton midfielder Hughes, 42, who initially took the reins alongside Ritchie Hanlon in late 2016 before taking sole charge towards the end of that 2016-17 season, said: “Manny is one of the few on contract, he’s got another year to run, but there’s been a lot of interest in him – and there still is.
“Whether I’ll be able to start the season with him, I don’t know – it’s a grey area. There are a few people with serious interest, but they have to make a proper offer.”
With the uncertainty over Duku’s future, Hughes has been keen to add to his strikeforce in case the worst happens.
He has brought in a trio of strikers – Lee Barney from Beaconsfield Town, Lewis Toomey from Chesham and Kaane Fehmi, who returns to the club. In addition, Hughes has snapped up defenders Ed Asafu-Adjaye (Hemel Hempstead) and Liam McDevitt (St Neots) and midfielders Scott Bridges (Royston) and Josh Chamberlain (Berkhamsted).
Having also retained the bulk of last season’s squad, the former Kings Langley manager, who has lost skipper Tommy Smith to Biggleswade Town, is optimistic the coming season will be a successful one.
“We may need to replace Manny’s goals – and 39 goals is a lot to replace – but I think we can do that if it comes to it,” he said. “We have brought in good strikers and I think it’s healthy to have that competition up front.
“We’ve also got Duncan Culley up top as well and he’s played Conference South with Hampton & Richmond.
“I’m up to my limit now, but if someone top quality comes up, you have to look at it. Saying that, the players we have brought in are good quality and if we started the season with what we’ve got now, I’d be happy.”
With Hayes & Yeading switching back to the Isthmian League from the Southern this summer, there is an added element of uncertainty, but Hughes is staying relaxed.
“I’m not familiar with a lot of the teams and that’s a challenge in itself, but I believe we have a stronger squad than we ended up with last term and that makes me feel optimistic,” he said.
“Promotion is what we want and when we look back on last season we’re asking ourselves if it was perhaps a blessing we didn’t go up. We have another year to get things right on and off the field.”
After a nomadic existence in the years proceeding the move to their plush new SKYex Community Stadium, United benefited from having their own permanent base last season.
Following three relegations in five years from 2012 to 2017 that saw them slide from Step 1 to Step 4, there is now a new mood of optimism at the club.
Chairman Tony O’Driscoll said: “Having our own stadium is massive. We are still leaking money, but not as much as before when we were having to pay the likes of Beaconsfield and Maidenhead to groundshare.
“It cost a lot of money and you don’t get the crowds. By going home, the crowds improved. There’s still a long way to go, but we’re going in the right direction.”
As for Hughes, he’s keen to add another promotion to his burgeoning managerial CV after bagging three in a row with Hanlon at former club Kings Langley. However, he admitted it’s not quite the same buzz as being a player.
“It’s just different,” he said. “As a player you are responsible for your own performance, as a manager you are responsible for 16 to 20 players.
“It’s not as physically strenuous, but there’s a different kind of stress. It’s out of your hands a bit, and you have to learn to trust players and give them a licence to make decisions. It’s a big learning curve to give them that degree of freedom.
“You are still part of the banter and camaraderie, but you can’t compete with the playing side. When you are on the pitch, you are in a battle. It’s not quite the same on the sidelines.”
*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper which is available every Sunday and Monday
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