CLEE Hill United boss Wayne Whitbread admits his double title-winners will have a target on their backs in the Herefordshire Premier this season.

United, champions the past two completed campaigns, including the shortened 2020-21 season, begin their defence at Wellington Rangers on Saturday.

“We are there to be shot at,” said Whitbread. “But that (defending their title) is what we shall be setting out to do at the start.

“It’s nice to have some new teams in the division, some new challenges. The tougher the league can become, the better.

“Okay, we have won it the last couple of years but if we don’t win it because we’re getting highly competitive games week in, week out this season, no problem.

“Normally we have five or six friendlies but we’ve only got two in as we’ve had others cancelled for one reason or another.

“So we’re a little bit underprepared in one sense but if you look at it another way, we’re going into the season fresh with no injuries. It might take us a few weeks to get up and running though.”

Whitbread expects league newcomers Hartpury University to be among the title challengers and it is the students who are first up for Ludlow Town Colts.

Colts have lost several players this summer – including Morgan Millard and Sol Barker to Ludlow’s first team – but have merged with their reserves, who played in Division One last term.

“We’ve got a new team,” admitted boss Mark Tonkinson. “We’ve lost a fair few players but we have gained a few too.

“But we’ve got a good bunch of lads and after the stop-start last couple of seasons, it’s all about enjoying our football again – it doesn’t necessarily matter about the result.

“I think Hartpury will be the ones to beat but we will see what they are like on Saturday.

“We can compete at this level, no problem, and I think this season is going to be the most competitive Herefordshire Premier ever.”