JAMES AKINTUNDE has welcomed the arrival of ‘quality competition’ as Chester’s strikers gear up for the new season.
The 21-year-old forward, who missed most of the last campaign with a serious knee ligament injury, has been joined at the Blues by young attackers Nyal Bell and Harry White, as well as the club’s top scorer from the 2015/16 season – Ross Hannah – who has penned a two-year deal having re-joined from Barrow.
Akintunde, who netted three times last term and fought his way back to fitness for the final month of that campaign, is relishing fighting for one of two likely berths set to be available up front.
“It’s always good to have competition as a striker,” he said. “It’s definitely been good to see the lads brought in, 100 per cent you want that competition from day one, each of you encouraging the others to go out and score goals.
“I’ve got to keep on working hard and hopefully I can learn a thing or two off the likes of Ross, because he is an experienced goalscorer and he is a great signing for the club. Ross has been there before and done it, scored goals and seen a lot of matches.
“These are great players for the National League, hopefully I can learn off Harry and Nyal too and we can keep pinching ideas off one another.
“It’s good and I’m looking forward to it, I’m just happy to be fit and playing football again.
“Jon McCarthy always gives people a chance here. If you are part of the team, you get an opportunity at some point and if you are playing well then you’ll play. He’s a fair manager and we’ve got Tom (Shaw) in as assistant and he’s been taking training sessions, and as a player from last year he’s got fair judgement of the squad.”
Chester have stepped up their pre-season training this week, having initially returned a week earlier than most teams for a week of ball work and gym sessions.
Greenwich-born Akintunde, who hopes his injury nightmare is now over, praised the work of the club’s medical staff and new strength and conditioning coach Chris Hibbert, who has been brought in to focus on injury prevention with the first-team.
“Training has been really good so far,” Akintunde continued. “The intensity is there and the quality in the squad is really strong this year.
“We’re obviously quite a new team now, the new lads have come in and we’re just getting to know one another. There’s some real leaders in the group now and very good players so it’s exciting looking forwards to the season.
“I’ve been working hard during the off-season, but I can’t overload myself or I’ll get injured again. Of course, it’s a little different this pre-season to previous years, coming back off a bad injury like the one I suffered, you can’t take any risks.
“The medical staff here at Chester have been really good. I’ve done a lot with Kath (Hopwood, physio) and we’ve now got a strength and conditioning coach, he’s come in and he’s helping massively. Especially in terms of injury prevention exercises in the morning and then after training we’ve been going to the gym and we’ve done all the right things.
“The first week wasn’t too tough but it was a decent level, so hopefully we can step things up this next week and start to prepare for the games.”
Akintunde, who bagged goals in victories over Dover Athletic and North Ferriby United last term, believes Chester can hit the ground running this term when the season kicks off on August 5, with the fixtures due for release on July 5.
“We can definitely try to steal a march on some of those teams around us, that’s definitely something we want to do and that’s why we’re in early,” he added.
“Everyone is buzzing to be back in, there’s no moaning about having less time off than some other clubs. We’re keen to get going again and make sure we start the season strongly.
“With us being a new squad, it gives us a chance to adapt to each other and get to know how we play. I think it’s the right choice to come in a week earlier and hopefully it’ll pay off.
“The staff have got it spot on with the amount of training and then the matches we’ve got to come. Hopefully we can start the season in flying form and kick on from there.”