The Thurlow Nunn Premier Division title race will be the closest it has been for years, according to Dereham Town boss Matt Henman.

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With last season’s Eastern Counties (formerly Ridgeons League) top-flight champions Wroxham moving up to Step Four of the non-league ladder a host of clubs are expected to challenge for the championship.

The Magpies, who finished a disappointing 10th last campaign, are one side who are likely to mount a serious promotion charge alongside last season’s high-fliers Ely City, Brantham Athletic and Wisbech Town.

And Henman is targeting three points this afternoon as Dereham look to get their campaign off to flying start at Felixstowe & Walton United.

The Magpies manager said: “We want to win the game. We went there last season in our final game and we created enough chances to win it, but lost by the odd goal.

“We want to put that right. They’ve signed a couple of experienced players so they’ll be stronger than they were but so are we.

“Wisbech have looked strong in pre-season and have assembled a decent squad. They’ve done well for the past few seasons and Brantham are the same. The league will be very tough this year.

“A lot of player wealth has been spread among teams so I don’t think there’s going to be a Leiston or a Lowestoft who will run away with it. I think it will be a really tight top six.

“We’ll definitely be looking to challenge and do better than we did last season.”

Luke Hannant (hip) is touch and go for Dereham, while Sam Willis’ fitness will be assessed after he returned from travelling around the world this week.

Jay Eastoe-Smith and Luke Tuttle will also miss the start of the campaign as they serve the first of their three-match suspensions.

Much-fancied Wisbech kick-start their title bid at home to Walsham-le-Willows without last season’s top marksman Chris Bacon, Anthony Reeve (both suspended), Darren Jimson and Matt Lunn.

Fenmen boss Steve Appleby, whose side plundered 26 goals in their seven pre-season games, said: “Expectation is fine as long as people aren’t daft about it. You can’t expect the boys to perform like they have done every week as that’s nigh-on impossible.

“I’m trying to get the players to relish that expectation because if you want to win things you will find yourselves in that position. We’re in it for the title.

“It would mean everything to us and it would mean everything to the people of Wisbech. They have waited a long while for this.”

Also opening their campaign at home is Norwich United - who like the Fenmen enjoyed an unbeaten pre-season. Paul Chick’s men welcome Hadleigh United with new signings Matt Dixon, Jordan Rocastle, Mark Baxter and Tom Balls all included in the squad.

Premier Division new boys Thetford Town entertain Wivenhoe Town while Kirkley & Pakefield travel to last season’s runners-up Ely. Gorleston visit Mildenhall Town and Diss Town begin their programme at Stanway Rovers.

In the First Division, where roughly half of the sides play their opening league fixtures, relegated Great Yarmouth Town visit Long Melford.

Bloaters boss Mike Derbyshire is upbeat about his troubled outfit’s hopes as they look to rebuild following a season that nearly saw the famous seaside club go out of business.

He said: “The optimism around the club is so different to everything that was going on last season. This season is my season. Last season was somebody else’s frankly.

“This time I’m not coming in to pick up the pieces. It’s probably the first time, almost, since I took the job that I am looking forward to a game. If I have got headaches, they are the kind I want and not the kind that drag you down.

“I am not making any predictions but I would be very disappointed if we can’t finish in the top half of the table.”

Portuguese recruit Alberto Lopez suffered a fractured shoulder in the Sailor Brown tournament while regular number one Ben Cudden has been struck down by tonsillitis. New signing from Beccles, Danny Cable will don Yarmouth’s jersey today.

Elsewhere, March Town United travel to Debenham LC while Fakenham Town visit Halstead Town.

Lowestoft Town continue their preparations for the new season, which starts at home to Whitehawk next Saturday, when they welcome Ryman League Premier Division champions Billericay Town.

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