DARREN Manning will be filled with ‘a lot of pride’ when Hullbridge Sports compete in an Isthmian North fixture for the first time in the club’s history.

Sports are set to kick-off the new campaign by welcoming Witham Town to the Ryan’s Heating Stadium tomorrow.

And Manning, who led his side to the Essex Senior League title last term, cannot wait to see his side competing in the fourth tier of non-league football.

“It feels like it has been forever since the end of last season,” said the Hullbridge chief.

“The players have been working for more than 12 months for this and this weekend is a big moment for the club.

“We are ready and raring to go. I can’t wait for the game to start.

“Seeing how far we have come since James Wakeling, my assistant manager, and I took over 20 months ago fills me with a lot of pride.

“We were bottom of the Essex Senior League when James and I came in, so this is a fantastic reward for us.

“A lot of hard work has gone in to get to this point and we’re excited to get the season underway.”

Hullbridge head into the curtain-raiser following mixed fortunes in results.

Sports also suffered an FA Cup extra preliminary round defeat to Essex Senior League outfit Stanway Rovers last weekend.

And Manning is looking for a reaction tomorrow.

“We were nowhere near our best against Stanway and the boys know that,” added Manning.

“The players were below the standards we have set, but they have responded well in training and have looked very good.

“Stanway were very good and deserved the win.

“Although it was disappointing to go out of the FA Cup, we have to look forward and we’re only focused on Witham.

“Pre-season was up and down for us.

“It’s always difficult in pre-season because you have players going away on holiday and you’re trying to get everyone fit.

“But we’re ready for the season and the players just want to get out on the pitch.”

Manning has kept the vast majority of the squad which were crowned the Essex Senior League champions on the final day of last term together.

But Manning will not think about personal friendships when he picks his starting line-up.

“You can’t have any sentiments in football,” admitted the ex-Grays Athletic assistant manager.

“I have to pick the team I think will give us the best chance of beating Witham.”