LITTLE Oakley manager Matt Carmichael hopes his players capitalise on an unprecedented promotion picture next season.

The Thurlow Nunn League have confirmed that the top four sides in first division south will go up and be assured of step five football in 2020/21.

The news has sparked great excitement and is in complete contrast to last term when only top dogs Hashtag United were elevated, along with north division champions Swaffham Town.

Oakley are determined to be one of those in the mix, along with neighbours Harwich and Parkeston and Holland FC.

And Carmichael has described the scenario as a "free hit" - an opportunity not to be missed.

"There are a few sides in close proximity who should be in contention, not to mention those from further afield," he said.

"From what I see and hear, others have strengthened too - it's not as black and white as just looking at those that did well last season.

"With that in mind, I'd say the promotion places are pretty much open to anyone in the division.

"Teams are seeing it as a free hit and the best possible opportunity to achieve step five football.

"Everyone will be going for it and I think it's exciting.

"It's a challenge and there's nothing worse or more demotivating in football than knowing where you're going to end up in the table.

"Some clubs are in that position. They're pretty much assured of, say, a top-eight finish in their league.

"But this is going to be a lottery and totally different.

"It might never happen again and the season after it'll probably revert back to the champions and maybe runners-ups."

The Oakley players were due to start pre-season training last night but met up to sign their league registration forms on Tuesday.

It's now all-systems-go for the start of the new campaign and the opening friendly at home to FC Clacton on July 6.

The Acorns then host Stowmarket Town on July 13 and Brightlingsea Regent on July 16 before a trip to Mildenhall Town on July 20.

They entertain Carmichael's former side, Brantham Athletic, on July 23 and then, in their final friendly, travel to Needham Market Reserves on July 27.

"We're realistic and know we're only a village outfit," added the Oakley boss.

"In terms of history, there are much bigger clubs in our division like Harwich and Halstead.

"But we've already had a taste of success and proven our ambition, so we're definitely aiming to be right up there."