Forres Mechanics manager Charlie Rowley is excited by the prospect of welcoming supporters when the Can-Cans play their first game in 16 months in their Highland League opener against Wick Academy.
Mechanics will start the new campaign with a home match against the Scorries on July 24, before making the trip to Formartine United the following weekend.
Forres will host Strathspey Thistle on August 7, followed by an away trip to Fort William.
The Can-Cans opted not to participate in last season’s truncated Highland League campaign, with their last competitive fixture coming against Fort at Mosset Park on March 11 just days before football was initially suspended due to Covid-19 last year.
With Mechanics coming back into the 18-team league this year, Rowley is hoping his side can rise to the occasion on their return.
He said: “There is an obvious sense of excitement, added to that the fact the first game is at Mosset Park.
“By the time July 24 comes around we will maybe get some fans in which would give it an added excitement factor.
“Hopefully we can put a performance in that’s worthy of the support we have had behind the scenes over the last year.”
Rowley says preparations are already underway for the opening day task of facing Gary Manson’s Wick, adding: “We start pre-season this weekend and now the fixtures are out, reality hits home and we target the first game of the season.
“All the preparation will be for Wick at home which is a difficult game to start with. They are a quality side who on their day are more than capable of beating anybody.
“There will be a level playing field with everybody looking to get off to a positive start. It’s always difficult regardless of the opposition.”
Rowley has retained the bulk of the Can-Cans squad, with Robbie Duncanson and Stuart Knight among those to sign new deals in recent days, while Owen Loveland has joined on loan from Elgin City and Ruari Fraser has signed from Formartine United.
Forres had sat seventh in the table when the 2019-20 campaign was halted, but finished eighth on a points-per-game basis.
Rowley is hopeful of improving on his side’s league position this time around, adding: “All the usual candidates will be fighting for the title, so we will be hoping to catch on to their coat-tails if I’m being honest.
“We feel some of our signings will make us stronger. Owen Loveland having something to prove in terms of his Elgin career, and if we get one or two targets we are trying to get there is no question that top-six is the least of our ambitions.
“We are not saying we are ever going to be title contenders at the minute as there’s a lot of work to be done.
“We certainly feel we can improve from the last campaign we played in.”