By Matthew Burgess
Scott Ruscoe will lead The New Saints side into their latest European campaign in three weeks’ time, quietly encouraged by his summer transfer activity.
With last season’s disappointment and off-field wrangling behind them, Ruscoe has been able to focus entirely on preparing his team for what will be his fourth season in charge.
His recruitment has seen three senior players come into the fold: in defence, midfield and attack.
With midfielder Leo Smith and forward Louis Robles signed up earlier in the summer and training in their new surroundings, the latest player to arrive at Park Hall is the former Rhyl centre-back Ryan Astles.
Having spent the last five seasons playing in the National League and National League North with Chester and Southport respectively, Astles returns to the Welsh game for the first time since finishing eighth with Rhyl in 2014/15.
During that time away, the 26-year-old’s name has remained on Ruscoe’s radar.
“Ryan is a player that I’ve been aware of for a few years now. He’s consistently played well at a very good level,” said Ruscoe.
“We have been looking to add to our squad defensively and I think he will be an excellent addition for us. He’s composed on the ball and will fit in to our way of playing, perfectly.”
You sense that it might not just be Astles’ composure and ball retention ability that fitted the bill as Ruscoe looked to bolster the Saints’ defence.
At 6′ 4″, Astles will also add an additional aerial presence to the Saints and with Keston Davies and Blaine Hudson already on the books, his arrival provides The New Saints with strength in depth at central defence and could even afford Ruscoe the luxury of switching to a back three.
Inherently, Astles seems to be the perfect fit to match up against Cymru Premier champions Connah’s Quay, who have mastered the ability to wear and grind teams down with attacks built around aerial delivery.
With regaining the league title at the top of The New Saints’ list of priorities next season, it will likely be those four crucial fixtures between the two clubs that will determine the championship.
Astles has a clearly defined role in Ruscoe’s plans to recapture the Cymru Premier title.