Kirkley & Pakefield boss Paul Tong believes the club has “made a statement” over the summer by holding on to its young starlets.

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Other Eastern Counties clubs were circling after the likes of Ryan Crisp, Kyle Baker and Jordan Smith impressed for the Royals last season but Tong believes their commitment to his side shows they are heading in the right direction.

“We’re really pleased to have secured the likes of Ryan Crisp, Kyle Baker, Scott Manning, Jordan Smith and Dominic Smith on contracts – I think that sends out a real statement about where the club is headed,” said Tong, whose side start their Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties campaign at Ely next month. “It says that it wants to look after its own and it’s great they can see we are moving in the right direction.”

Tong has also added to last season’s squad with the signings of Ross King, Lee Hunter and Scott Woodcock although he admitted that the loss of Ryan De Coteau was a blow to his plans.

“We’ve managed to make some really good signings,” added Tong, pictured. “It doesn’t look like Ryan De Coteau will be re-signing for us which is disappointing but we wish him the best of luck in the future. We will miss him but it’s a chance for someone else to come in and stake a claim. On the other hand it’s good news that Craig Roberts has agreed to stay on.”

Tong has been pleased with how pre-season training has progressed so far and is looking forward to seeing his side pit their wits against Ipswich Town U18s at Walmer Road tomorrow (kick-off noon).

“We’ve had great numbers in training and everyone is very enthusiastic about the season ahead. It feels like everyone is pulling in the same direction and I think it’s an exciting time.

“I think the lads are really looking forward to getting a game in – there’s nothing quite like it. I think it will be prove that we are not fit enough yet but that will come as the pre-season campaign progresses.”

Tong confirmed he will still look to the club’s impressive youth system and expects several to make the step up to the first team over the course of the season.

General manager Harry Goldspink revealed last month that he is looking for a top six finish but, while Tong expects to see improvement from last season, the former Yarmouth boss is more reserved in his expectations.

“I expect to win every game. However, you have to be realistic and hopefully the boys will have learned from last year.

“We obviously want to improve on last year – that’s always a bare minimum that you expect. It’s a long road but credit to the club because they have not placed any demands on us. We want to try and have a run in the cups and we will see how it goes. There’s only so much I can do. I will prepare the lads in the right way but once they cross that white line then it’s up them.”

• Kirkley’s pre-season campaign continues on Tuesday night when the welcome Lowestoft Town to Walmer Road, kick-off 7.45pm.

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