CHIPPENHAM Town manager Mike Cook says his side is heading into the new National League South season with just seven players in peak condition.

The Bluebirds have seen their pre-season ravaged by a Covid outbreak that has wiped out over half their squad and, according to Cook, has left several squad members struggling during games when they have returned to the fold.

Chippenham are set to begin the new campaign on Saturday away at Dulwich Hamlet but have yet to find any kind of rhythm in the weeks prior, losing several of their friendlies as youth team and trialists have made up the numbers.

While the early weeks of August are often a time of positivity and optimism, the Chippenham boss admitted he had to be both honest and realistic surrounding where his team was at.

Cook said: “We’ve not had a great pre-season because we’ve been struck by Covid.

“We’ve probably got seven out of the 18 who are really fit and great, and then we’ve got around eight or nine who are slightly behind, so that’s a little bit of a worry.

“We want to try and get in the top 10 – that’s what we’ve been talking about over the last two broken seasons.

“If we’ve got everybody fit and ready to go, it means we start on an equal playing field.

“But if you’ve got people who are down on fitness because of Covid, we either have to go out and get some more loans – which we don’t really want to do because that affects the budget – or we just crack on with what we’ve got.”

Chippenham have brought in several new faces over the summer – including the return of defender Will Richards – and Cook says he is relatively happy about where his squad is at quality-wise, but the Bluebirds boss is concerned about the lack of training time he has had with his players.

Cook revealed the club is talking to Premier League club Aston Villa and League One outfit Oxford United about the possibility of bringing in another loan, but would prefer to have time with his current crop ahead of the new season.

“He said: “We are happy with what we’ve done signings-wise, but we haven’t been able to work on what we want in training due to the lack of numbers.

“We’ve had games and then a training session and then a game again.

“If you’ve got a full squad then that’s not a problem because you can work on whatever you need to and it doesn’t affect the game.

“But we haven’t been able to do that, and we’re struggling. It’s all a little bit concerning to be honest.”