LITTLE Oakley first-team coach Ben Swan believes his side's tough pre-season schedule will help reveal "characters and leaders" within the Acorns squad.

Manager Matt Carmichael deliberately cherry-picked a taxing run of games against the likes of Stowmarket Town and Brightlingsea Regent.

Both play at a higher level, with much-fancied Thurlow Nunn League premier division side Stowmarket running out 2-1 winners on Saturday and Regent, of the BetVictor Isthmian League premier division, 4-0 conquerors on Tuesday night.

Oakley also played FC Clacton on July 6 and lost 4-3.

Next up they visit Mildenhall Town on Saturday before hosting neighbours Brantham Athletic on Tuesday.

Both matches promise to be similarly tough but that is part of the appeal, according to Swan.

“The players know they're playing for places and these games against higher-placed opposition really help in that respect," he said.

“We could arrange a game against a much lower side, rock up and win 10-0.

“But no-one learns anything in that scenario and we don't see how the boys cope with pressure or who the characters and leaders are.

“At 4-0 down against Brightlingsea, we challenged the players to keep a clean sheet in the second half and they managed to do that.

“We really want that sense of leadership this year.

“We want to be competitive and prepared to dig in and fight.

“We're going to play in some pretty hostile environments next year and while we're going to need quality, we're also going to need character and determination.

“I really feel we're going to get that from this group of players."

August's Thurlow Nunn League first division south fixtures were released on Monday afternoon.

Oakley start with a trip to Burnham Ramblers on August 3.

“I'm feeling really positive about the new season," added Swan.

“We've had great numbers at training, the tempo has been good and it's been going very well.

“The mood is excellent, the players are hungry and I genuinely believe we're going to be a strong, competitive team in a very tough division.

“It's about finding the right balance and making sure we have square pegs in square holes, rather than square ones in round holes.

“We're certainly working hard towards the goal and trimming our squad down to around 15 or 16."

Swan previously worked with Carmichael at Brantham and is enjoying being back with him at Oakley, alongside assistant boss James Good.

Mark Sharp is a coach within the set-up and also playing a pivotal role in terms of the club's new academy, which is being run in partnership with AFC Sudbury.

“Matty, James and myself work well together," said the UEFA B coach.

“We share the load and together we want to have a fit, well-drilled squad.

“We want the players to do the right things and for everyone in the squad to know their role.”

Lee Willcox notched the Oakley goal against Stowmarket.