CHRIS IWELUMO has stressed the importance of keeping Chester’s squad injury-free and available throughout the course of next season.

Jon McCarthy’s side began the previous campaign in fine form, lying seventh in the National League standings at Christmas, but injuries kicked in during the second-half of the campaign as they slipped alarmingly down the table, eventually finishing 19th.

Key performers including Craig Mahon, James Akintunde, Jordan Chapell and Ross Killock were forced to miss long periods of the season through injury, with a host of other players including Sam Hughes, Blaine Hudson and Theo Vassell all suffering spells on the sideline.

McCarthy has since revamped his squad with eight new signings and the Blues have focused on recruiting quality over quantity ahead of the 2017/18 season, including the likes of Paul Turnbull, Kingsley James and Ross Hannah.

Former Scotland international Iwelumo, who has returned to Chester in a new role as first-team striker coach, believes it is vitally important the club keep their prized assets fit and healthy ahead of the big kick-off on August 5.

“We can’t afford many injuries,” he said. “The boys have that mentality that if they’re feeling anything then they look to play through it, but we don’t want that, they’ve got to tell us.

“August 5 is the most important date and that’s what we stress to them. We’ve got great dialogue as a group between the staff, the players and the physiotherapy department. We’ve also brought in the injury prevention side of things now.

“Last year we lost four or five big players through injury, with the squad we’ve now got that can’t be allowed to happen this season.

“We’ll do everything in our power to make sure we have that full squad to choose from. But the quality and competition is there for all to see.

“The manager made some big decisions in the summer, he’s decided to bring some big characters in and he’s recruited  very well.

“I’ve seen straight away the players have that drive, passion, commitment and you already know we’ve got big characters and leaders out on that pitch.

“Sometimes things don’t always go your way but you’ve got to have that mentality, mindset to do something about it. If we keep doing the right things we’ll get back into games when it’s not going our way.”

The ex-Charlton and Wolves striker, who was appointed as McCarthy’s assistant back in November, has been impressed with the fitness levels of the first-team squad after they reported back for pre-season last week.

“I’ve got to say the levels that the boys are at is fantastic, they’ve come back in fantastic shape,” the 38-year-old continued.

“We’ve got to make sure we pace ourselves properly, ensure we’re not ahead of schedule if you like, because it’s all about August 5 and being right on that day.

“It’s like they’ve been here years which is important as it seems they've settled in as quickly as possible. That runs down to the staff too, the gaffer has put so much in place in order to have a successful season. When I first came to the club in November there was something special here.

“The gaffer has so many ideas and he’s getting supported in order to move forward, we’re one big team and we’re looking forward to the time ahead.”

Chester have arranged an intense period of six friendlies in 10 days from July 10 onwards, before two home friendlies with Football League opposition in the form of Walsall and Port Vale on July 22 and 29 respectively.

That run of games is nothing compared to what Iwelumo faced during pre-season in Germany when he joined Aarhus Fremad in 1998, as they embarked on a staggering 24 pre-season friendlies within a six-week period.

“What I’d experienced, the same for Macca, Tom, Dave Felgate, it’s all come together,” he added. “When I was in Germany we played 24 pre-season matches! That’s just match practice all the way, we need to get that base fitness under our belts first and then we can do more of the explosive stuff over the next few weeks.

“ Once the season starts, it still takes three or four matches to regain that sharpness, that’s just the way English pre-seasons go, it’s so important we get those matches under our belt.”