BULLISH boss Adie Arnold insisted Christchurch’s core of veterans would provide the platform for his younger players to develop having retained four of the club’s elder statesmen.

Midfield talisman Mark Smith and burly frontman Gareth Barnes, both 36, have agreed to revert to playing roles having briefly taken on coaching duties towards the end of last season.

Experienced defensive duo Dan Steer and James Baker are also staying put, giving Arnold’s squad much-needed stability as he seeks to establish a youthful side round an accomplished nucleus.

Two further players from last season’s squad – former Brockenhurst winger Lee Clark and up-and-coming full-back Connor Doe – have committed their futures to the Hurn Bridge outfit, while Arnold confirmed he has snapped up midfield protégé Nathan Saxby from former club Verwood.

And with “four or five” fresh faces set to sign in the coming days, the newly-installed manager is delighted with how Christchurch are shaping up ahead of Friday’s opening friendly at Bashley (7.45pm).

Arnold told the Daily Echo: “Everything is fitting into place nicely. We have looked at around 35 lads and most of the players we wanted have verbally agreed to sign.

“The under-18s have really impressed and some of them will be invited into the first-team but we always knew that had to be complemented with knowhow so securing the experienced lads was crucial.

“Smudger (Smith) came back and was bang up for it as you would expect. He looks razor sharp and, like Barnsey and the other senior players, will have a massive influence when the chips are down.

“They have all been there and done it. There is only so much you can do from the touchline when it gets hairy at places like Portchester, Moneyfields and Horndean on a rainy Tuesday night, so they will be there to offer the right guidance on the pitch.

“We don’t expect them to play every game but each of them will be very important as we shape the kind of team we want.”

Other than Saxby, Arnold remained tight-lipped on the identities of Priory’s prospective new recruits but admitted that some had played under him at Verwood, the club he quit in March having spent more than eight years in the hot seat.

Striker Mike Haskell, Verwood’s joint-top scorer during their maiden Wessex League Premier Division campaign, has been training with Christchurch having taken a break from Saturday football for the majority of last season.