“THE challenge has been set: Every player we bring in must improve us.”

Heading into the new season, the target is clear for Dorchester Town: To improve.

Since the Magpies’ relegation from the National League South in the 2013/14 season, Dorchester have not finished higher than 13th in the Southern League.

That placing came in the 2015/16 campaign and a downward trend has manifested into successive seasons fighting off relegation.

The Magpies were even saved by the pandemic in 2019/20 when, sat bottom and nine points from safety with 10 games to go, the FA null and voided the league.

Moving forward, chairman Scott Symes is keenly aware of the need to restore a feel-good factor at the Avenue Stadium.

“I did my research when I came in as chairman. It’s been seven, eight years since we finished anything above 13th in the league,” he said.

“So it’s not just the last couple of seasons.”

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However, the desire to make changes has been complicated by the pandemic.

Symes said: “Every time we’ve locked down, we’ve not been in the best position. That’s made it difficult to make the changes.

“Managers haven’t had consistent time, player recruitment is more difficult – are we going to come back, play four games and stop again?

“Everything in that sense has been a challenge. On the pitch we’ve been controlled by the pandemic in what we can and can’t do.

“Certainly now, we’ve had the break. Off the pitch we could continue with the plans we’ve had, which are just as important as on the pitch.

“The whole club needed reinvigorating. On the pitch, off the pitch, the stadium – everything.

“Player development, we needed to build that in for competition for places. It just has the feel-good factor around the place with the community going to the stadium and seeing it in a different light.”

Dorchester have still managed to improve their footballing capacity, though.

Manager Robbie Herrera and assistant Kevin Hodges are fostering an attractive, possession-based game and players’ performances are being analysed like never before.

“Over lockdown, we couldn’t change too much other than philosophy, which we’ve talked about a lot with Robbie and Kev,” Symes said.

“And professionalism. We now use GPS pods, we collect data, we analyse and present back. There’s a very different approach.

“We’ve now been able to recruit for this season and it’s been absolutely critical.

“The challenge has been set: Every player we bring in must improve us.

“Those players we’re bringing in that are going to start, they must be better than what we’ve had or what we have.

“That’s been the challenge and why there’s not been loads of new signings.

“It would be nice to get one or two more, but we don’t want to rush in that sense that we bring in a body to fill a shirt.

“We’ve got the under-23s that are quite comfortable to come in.”

Dorset Echo: Christos Papakonstantinou, left Picture: MARK PROBINChristos Papakonstantinou, left Picture: MARK PROBIN

New signings Tom Soares and Tom Purrington have bolstered the midfield, while Christos Papakonstantinou adds an exciting new option in attack.

Dorchester have called on the services of talented loanee goalkeeper Gerard Benfield from Weymouth, while defender Calum Buckley has linked up for a second loan spell.

The final piece of the puzzle is a striker.

In the meantime, Dorchester have in-form Sam Bayston who has netted five times in pre-season.

So, both on and off the pitch Dorchester mean business. The improvements and plans in place are there for all to see.

The only way is up.