NEIL Sorvel struck a defiant note as he reflected on the toughest of starts for Altrincham in their quest to go one better than last season's promotion near-miss in the National League North.

Alty, pipped on penalties by Chorley in the play-offs semi-final, open up with an attractive but distinctly difficult test at home to big-spending, full-time former Football League outfit York City on Saturday, August 3 and follow up with a trip to Chester three days later.

Both opponents are strongly tipped to be at the forefront of this coming season's promotion race, but Sorvel turned any sense of apprehension on its head and said: "It's a tough one, but they will be saying exactly the same about having to face us."

Alty's assistant manager took charge of the team for their opening pre-season friendly at Whitchurch Alport, in the absence of boss Phil Parkinson, and was impressed with what he saw in 1-0 win secured by recent signing Conor Branson's second goal in as many games.

As he assessed the performance and cast an eye over the prospects for the coming campaign, he said: "It was a good workout, and it showed there is going to be real competition for places in all areas, which is what we want.

"If you look at the league fixtures, it's a tough start – York and Chester are the bookies favourites, aren't they?

"But I'm sure they will be looking at us and thinking they've got a tough game in store as well, so it's really exciting times, and we're all looking forward to it.

"York have made some good signings and have doubtless retained the players they wanted to, so they will be expecting to be pushing for a promotion place.

"On the face of it, the full-time teams in this division were below-par last season, so you've got to expect more from them this time."

Parkinson is back in the dugout as Alty continue their preparations against Crewe at The J.Davidson Stadium on Saturday (3pm).