ROB Hopkins says his New College squad have had the ‘challenge’ they fully expected this season in Division One West.

The students have struggled so far in 2012/13 and have clocked up just seven points from 16 games.

But with gifted players departing for pastures new in the summer, Hopkins believes a tough campaign is hardly a surprise.

“It’s a lot more of a challenge this year because we lost a few of the stronger older players who are now playing at a higher level,” he said.

“That’s meant we now have a squad with an average age of 18 rather than 20 which is what we had last year.

“The one thing we try and instil in them is that it’s about the development and getting used to the jump from under 18s to men’s football.

“If they aren’t doing so well we have to make sure their heads are still up, but the players know they are a young side and that it’s going to be challenging.”

New College travel to promotion-chasing Wootton Bassett tomorrow and Hopkins reckons their opponents will be a division above sooner rather than later.

“Bassett are a good side and are pushing Brimscombe for winning the title,” he said.

“It’s a good setup there and they are a Hellenic Premier team in all but status.

“We know it’s going to be a challenge, we’ll just play how we normally play and see how we get on.”

New College will have a full squad provided they did not pick up any injuries in last night’s game at Fairford, while Bassett welcome back Ethan Delaney and goal machine Mark Barnes.

“The big problem for me now is who to leave out and who to keep in,” said Bassett boss Dave Turner, whose side have won three on the spin.

“We’ve played six derbies and won six so I’ll be disappointed if we don’t get three points on Saturday.”

Elsewhere in the division, Malmesbury will hope to play only their second game since November 17 at Cricklade.

Fairford are at high-flyers Tytherington while Lambourn journey to Clanfield.

In the Hellenic Premier, Highworth will face an uphill task to repeat their Boxing Day demolition of Shrivenham when they travel to title-chasing Marlow.

Shrivvy, meanwhile, await the visit of Newbury and will hope to bring some Christmas cheer to a so far miserable campaign, which saw manager Les Gill depart yesterday after only 11 games in charge.

  • FAIRFORD climbed to fourth in Division One West last night courtesy of a 3-1 derby victory over New College at Cinder Lane.

Ashley Taylor’s header gave the hosts a 1-0 half-time lead, which was doubled by Dan Baily’s low 20-yarder.

Taylor then headed in his second before the visitors notched a late consolation.