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Mildenhall Fen Tigers manager Jason Gardner has full belief in squad's ability to battle for National Development League honours

Jason Gardner believes the Mildenhall Fen Tigers can show that they mean business in this year’s National Development League (NDL) by hitting the ground running against Kent Royals in his first meeting as outright team manager of the club on Sunday (4pm).

Having shared the position last season with Malcolm Vasey, the 47-year-old will go it alone as team boss in 2023 after the former Stoke Potters and Boston Barracudas manager announced his retirement from the role at the end of last year.

Despite his limited experience in such a position, Gardner, who is also the manager of the Bury St Edmunds branch of Mr Shoes, insists he is ready for the challenge ahead.

The 2023 Mildenhall Fen Tigers squad. Picture: Mecha Morton
The 2023 Mildenhall Fen Tigers squad. Picture: Mecha Morton

Gardner said: “It felt frustrating to end last season the way we did but when you look back and take everything into consideration. It was a great achievement getting into both the League and Knock-Out Cup Final but at the end of the day Leicester (Lion Cubs) were the better team in both finals.

“I’ve got no qualms or hang-ups going into this season as manager on my own and I can’t wait to get going. I’ve touched up on the rule book and I’m confident in my ability and the team’s ability.

“I had quite a few opportunities to manage the team on my own last year when Malcolm wasn’t around, while I’ve always got other members of the management team around if I need to pick their brains.

Jason Gardner is preparing for his first full season in charge of the club. Picture: Mecha Morton
Jason Gardner is preparing for his first full season in charge of the club. Picture: Mecha Morton

“I will be telling the lads on Sunday that Kent are there for the taking and that we really have to hit the ground running against them.

“Hopefully we can score plenty of points and send out a message to the rest of the league.”

With the Fen Tigers management only announcing their decision to run this season back in January, it left them playing catch up on the signature of riders. However, Gardner admits he is pleased with the septet the club have assembled.

He added: “I’m really happy with the team considering where the club was on New Year’s Day and I would not change any of them. Apart from Alfie (Bowtell), who is already on a big average, all the team are capable of improving their averages.

“The whole league is stronger this year so it should make for more entertaining racing. It certainly won’t be easy but I’m confident we can get in the top two and get in the play-offs.”

Following a change in the rules, this season will see two points on offer for home and away victories, with an additional bonus point awarded to the side which accrues the biggest aggregate score – something Gardner intends to make clear to his team.

He added: “With there being no more four-point away wins it means aggregate bonus points will make a bit of a difference. I can see there being a few surprise results, especially away from home this year.

“Our away record for the last couple of years has been good and I’m confident we can pick up those aggregate bonus points.

“We’ve probably not been as strong at home the last couple of years but that is something I will keep an eye on and keep reminding them that every point really does matter.”

Although Gardner expects the Fen Tigers to be in the running for a top two spot he has identified those teams he expects to be challenging for main honours.

He added: “I think Leicester will be up there again and I think they look even stronger than last year. Oxford on paper look really strong and I’m looking forward to seeing how Workington progress as they are a little bit of an unknown quantity.

“The whole team is determined to reward the fans and thank them for having an opportunity to have the club running this year. The club is in its strongest position it has been for several years and hopefully we can bring home some silverware.”