Ambitious striker Matt Blake makes difficult decision to leave Norwich United for higher-level Leiston
- Credit: Archant Norfolk
Prolific goal-machine Matt Blake admits he's 'gutted' to end his remarkable three-season stay with Norwich United – but is relishing the challenges which lie ahead.
The former Wroxham and Thetford striker scored an impressive 119 goals during his three seasons with the Planters, helping to win back-to-back Thurlow Nunn Premier Division titles.
However the 27-year-old will not be joining the Blofield-based club in their first attempt at Step Four of the non-league pyramid in Ryman League Division One North next season under new boss Steve Eastaugh, who has just been elevated to manager at Plantation Park.
Instead Blake will be plying his trade a level higher, with Ryman Premier side Leiston.
'I came across from Wroxham with Hilts (Damian Hilton) and it was legendary, unbelievable,' Blake said of his time with Norwich.
'We had the Vase runs, going away to Benidorm at the end of the seasons – I've got so much love for everyone there and I'm gutted to be leaving but you've got to be fair to yourself at the end of the day.
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'A lot of the lads shuffled over from Wroxham and I've got some good friends there but I can't just stay because we're friends. I want to go and test myself and express myself at the highest level I can.'
Blake has signed a two-year deal with the Suffolk side, who finished eighth last season and have just promoted reserve team boss Glenn Driver after the exit of former Bury Town manager Richard Wilkins.
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The news came just before the Planters revealed that Eastaugh had taken over as manager from John Edridge, whom he served under as assistant last term after Hilton's exit to Wroxham.
'I'm confident I've got everything that I need to play at that level,' added Blake, a painter and decorator who lives in Thetford and works in Bury.
'I've got good strength, I feel I can cause problems at any level because of my pace in behind and I'm hungry, I don't give defenders a minute's rest. But I guess only time will tell.'
The ambitious front man admits he felt he needed a fresh start by the end of last season though he scored 45 goals for the Planters for the second consecutive season.
'That's really what I'm hungry for, to try and get in and around the Conference level and maybe more,' Blake continued.
'I've had a few phone calls from lads with pro teams saying 'this guy is looking at you', so I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing.
'I fell short a bit at the end of this season but I think that's because I was a bit bored and I needed that injection of hunger. 'I'd just been there a bit too long and the time was right to go.'
United are still adjusting from the surprise February exit of Hilton to Wroxham, with former assistant Edridge the man initially charged with preparing the Planters to battle with the Yachtsmen and Dereham in Ryman North.
He has now been replaced by his assistant, with the club explaining the move in a statement on their official website.
It read: 'Steve joined us last season as assistant manager and head coach and his knowledge of the game at a higher level helped guide us to the Thurlow Nunn Premier League title for the second season in a row.
'Everyone connected to Norwich United wishes him well as our new manager in what is expected to be a hard season ahead of us in the Ryman League North Division.
'Last season's manager John Edridge will be staying with us as assistant manager. Due to personal and work reasons John believed that he could not commit fully to the post as manager during the coming season. We would like to place on record our thanks to John in the professional manner in which he has helped guide us to another championship winning season and two cup finals.'
Blake thinks his former club will be fine though, coming off the back of two hugely successful campaigns.
'It is a bit of a difficult time but they've got Steve (Eastaugh, assistant) in and he's very clued up, he knows what he's doing,' Blake added. 'So I've got no worries about them at that level. They've signed a few players already so they'll have no problems.'
Blake is hoping Leiston are in for a good season as well, where he will be reunited with a former Wroxham team-mate.
'Christy Finch came on loan to Wroxham while I was there and we got on well,' Blake said. 'They're saying they want to play two up top so that would be good. Christy's got a good left peg and to be fair he scored 20 goals playing on his own up front last season so he's a good player.
'They're aiming for the play-offs. They had their eyes on them last season and were right up there but fell short in terms of goals to keep that position. So I hope I can go over there and have a good time and get in the play-offs or better.'