WINCHESTER City are hot favourites to lift the Sydenhams Premier crown this season – according to rival managers.

A poll carried out by our sister publication The Pink reveals that 14 out of the 21 top-flight bosses are tipping Winchester to succeed Vase winners Sholing as Wessex top dogs.

Winchester were none too shabby last season, finishing fifth after dropping down from the Southern League.

Now, with ex-Alresford Town duo Tim Cole and Danny Robinson at the helm – along with 11 former Mapgies players – the consensus of opinion around the league is that there will be no stopping them.

Cole and Robinson are no strangers to the title race, having led Alresford to runners-up spot for the last two seasons, picking up six pieces of silverware along the way.

The new managerial team have been with City before and former under-18 boss Cole is well accustomed to working with director of football Dave Malone.

Cole revealed: “Dave hasn’t put any pressure on us, but he’d like us to get up to the next league and that’s what we’re aiming for.

“We’ve been runners-up twice and we’d like to have a good go.”

Having effectively combined two teams, City have a sizeable squad, but not everyone is available for tomorrow’s SWL curtain-raiser at home to Ken Vaughan’s Bournemouth Poppies.

Right-back Danny Thompson has missed pre-season with an ankle injury and been advised to rest until the end of the month.

Skipper Leigh Mills – one of three teachers in the side - and summer capture Geoff Dunn from Lymington are on holiday and new defensive signing Mark James is currently injured after captaining Wantage to the Hellenic Premier title.

Another teacher, midfielder Chris Manning, is off on holiday next week, but the good news for City is that star summer signing Warren Bentley returned from his summer break this week.

Bentley, who has just secured his first full-time teaching post in Southampton, was last term’s SWL top gun with 51 goals.

With Bentley’s Alresford sidekick Zach Glasspool and ex-Eastleigh youngster Sam Wilson also competing for frontline places, there was no room for Darryl Phillips who has moved to league rivals Brockenhurst.

Malone said: “Darryl feels (probably correctly) that his first team opportunities would be limited at City and, quite naturally, he wants to play regular first team football.

“Darryl has a great attitude, is a good trainer and, above all, he’s a nice bloke. We wish him well.”

Don’t miss tomorrow’s Pink for all the news, views and predictions about the new Sydenhams season – plus all the latest from the regional non-League scene.