Ards boss Colin Nixon has challenged his players to retain Danske Bank Premiership senior status.
The County Down side – who finished eighth in the Irish League last season – will face Cliftonville at Solitude, before welcoming Linfield to the Bangor Fuels Arena across the opening two fixtures.
Boss Nixon believes the fixtures couldn’t be “any tougher” as they also travel to Warrenpoint Town and face Dungannon Swifts at home in August.
“The first two league games couldn’t be any tougher,” said Nixon. “Not many teams would have chosen that start but we will have a good pre-season and we will be ready for the challenges ahead.
“Having the two games against Carrick Rangers and Glenavon at home over the festive period is pleasing as we will attract a good crowd and increase revenue.
“We are a small club here, but we work hard to get fans through the gate.”
The opening fixture will see Ards take on Cliftonville in what will be Barry Gray’s first competitive match in charge of the Reds.
Nixon has praised Gray for his work with Warrenpoint Town and admits it will add spice to the game at Solitude.
“It’s fair to say Barry will want to get a good start to his career as Cliftonville manager,” Nixon added. “But we will go there to give a good account of ourselves and get a positive result.
“I have huge respect for Barry and he has landed a top job at Solitude.”
Glentoran legend Nixon has been busy in the transfer window by landing Michael McLellan, Scott Davidson, Scott Johnston, Johnny Frazer and David Elebert.
“It has been a good window for us and we went about our jobs professionally,” Nixon revealed. “I thought long and hard over the season and I identified those five players as potential signings.
“We outlined our goals and objectives to the players we wanted to sign and we are delighted to have secured all of our signings.
“There was a lot of interest in Johnny Frazer but he saw his future with us and, like all the players we have signed, I’m excited to see them in action.”
Nixon believes Ards’ sole objective should be to remain in the Danske Bank Premiership despite a terrific end to the previous campaign.
“We had a good finish to the league and only lost one game in 10 matches,” Nixon said. “A lot was made about Linfield winning the league, but I feel we had a great season by finishing eighth.
“All I want to do is to preserve our position in the Premiership.”