Dover boss Andy Hessenthaler says survival this season will feel like a promotion.
Whites belatedly get their National League campaign under way at Maidenhead on Saturday before hosting Boreham Wood at Crabble on Bank Holiday Monday.
Part-time Dover start with a 12-point deduction and one of the smallest budgets in a mainly full-time league so the odds are certainly stacked against them.
“We’re looking at fourth from bottom, if we can get that it will be like winning promotion and we can put everything that’s gone on behind us,” said Hessenthaler. “We’ve got to stay calm, stick together and enjoy the challenge.
“We all know we’ve got to stay in this division with this hurdle in front of us. We’ve got to play games, get some results and gather some momentum.
“Hopefully we can steer clear of injuries, that will be important for us, and if we can get a bit of consistency then we’ll see where that gets us.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t start at the weekend. We had a session on Saturday and Monday and we’ll train on Thursday and go from there. Maidenhead had a fantastic start at the weekend so it’s going to be a tough game for us.”
Dover will hope to make up the points deficit as quickly as possible but they know the National League can be unforgiving.
There are some big-paying full-time former Football League clubs chasing promotion, which means there will undoubtedly be some lows along the way for Hessenthaler’s new-look squad to overcome.
“We know we’ve got the minus 12 points, we’ve got to deal with that,” added Hessenthaler.
“We’ve got to get four wins as quickly as we can and without panicking as well if it doesn’t happen straight away. When you want something that bad you can force it, and that can’t be the case for us.
“We’ve got to be careful and while it would be great to win our first four and wipe it out straight away, we can’t panic and we have to chip away at it. It might take five or six games, or longer, but we’ve got a decent team and we know we’ve got to win games.
“It’s going to be difficult (at times) and that’s where the experienced players come into it. Along with myself and the coaching staff, the likes of Reda Johnson and Sam Wood are going to be key with our young players. There are going to be moments when they are going to be low, but we can’t make that next game be one as well. We’ve got to realise when there is a disappointment and deal with it. We can’t get anywhere if we feel sorry for ourselves.
“They are going to improve on and off the pitch, the young ones have to deal with it and grow up quickly. I believe, even though they are young, that they’re all good characters and they can deal with it.”
Dover’s squad includes seasoned campaigners like the returning Ricky Miller and Ben Williamson in attack, Jake Goodman and Sam Wood in defence, along with player/coach Reda Johnson.
There are also a number of promising young players, including local lad Ryan Hanson in midfield along with Gillingham loanee Henry Woods.
Hessenthaler added: “The balance of the team feels better in terms of positions and the pace we’ve got in the right areas, plus the mix of experience and youth.
“It feels a lot more balanced and that’s a result of us going part-time really. We’ve been able to get a group of players that being part-time suits them so that’s been fortunate for us.
“We’ve had a bit more time to get things together. At pre-season a year ago, Covid was rife in the country and nobody knew what was going to happen, in terms of the league starting which it did in the end. What we had after losing players wasn’t as strong as we wanted so having a bit more time this year has helped.”
Hanson (knee) is Whites’ only injury concern ahead of Maidenhead with Marshall Wratten and Will Moses already ruled out.
- Hessenthaler completes squad ahead of first game
Read more: All the latest sports news in Kent