ALAN Devonshire expects this season’s Vanarama Conference to be the most competitive that Braintree Town have ever experienced.

The Iron are preparing to embark on their fourth season in the fifth tier and travel to play Macclesfield Town in their curtain-raiser, on Saturday.

Braintree took the division by storm last year and only just missed out on a play-off place, after clinching a highest-ever finish of sixth.

But although the Iron have made new signings they are preparing for life without two of last season’s key players, Dean Wells and Dan Holman.

And with only a small budget to work from, boss Devonshire has warned that Braintree supporters have to have realistic expectations.

Devonshire said: “I think that will be tougher this year.

“We’ve lost players and I believe that we have the lowest budget in the league.

“It’ll be tough and I expect it to be a competitive league, probably the most competitive that we’ve experienced.

“We’ve shown before that we can compete at this level but the past doesn’t mean anything.

“You only have to look at Southport when they narrowly missed out on the play-offs and then the following season, finished a place above the relegation zone.

“I think it’s a case of us managing expectations.

“What happened last year was unexpected – we didn’t have any injuries and we had the same squad.

“It’ll be a case of getting to 50-51 points as quickly as possible and then taking it from there.”

For the full story, see this week's Times.