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Simons targets first-team spot

Off the mark: Simons scored his first goal for Chesterfield last week

Rai Simons has declared his intention of forcing his way into Dean Saunders’s first-team plans at Sky Bet League One side Chesterfield this season.

Simons, who signed a two-year deal with Chesterfield in April, featured in three pre-season matches and scored his first goal for the club against his former side Ilkeston last week.

The 19-year-old admits he is unlikely to be fast-tracked into the squad for Saturday’s season opener against Barnsley at the Proact Stadium, but he is confident it will not be too long before he is knocking on the door of the first-team squad.

“I definitely want to be involved [in the first-team] this season,” Simons said. “But I don’t want to set myself too many immediate goals because it could affect my confidence if I don’t reach them.

“It’s probably too early for me to make the squad right now, but that won’t stop me from trying to convince the manager that I’m worth an opportunity.

“It’s been a big step up for me and I’m still trying to adjust to the different style and tempo of professional football.

“I’m coping really well with it so far and I’m looking forward to getting a chance this season.”

Simons was signed by Chesterfield’s previous manager Paul Cook, who quit the club at the end of the season after losing 4-0 on aggregate to Preston North End in the play-off semi-finals.

Cook, who has taken the reins at ambitious League Two side Portsmouth, was replaced by Dean Saunders, the former Liverpool and Aston Villa striker, who Simons believes he can learn plenty from.

“It always helps when you’ve got a manager who knows what it takes to get to where you need to be in the game,” said Simons, who returned to the Island this summer for Bermuda’s World Cup qualifying tie against Guatemala. “I listen to his advice and ask him questions. Hopefully I can show him that I have what it takes to make it.

“I think he is willing to give everyone a shot if they deserve it and hopefully I get a chance to impress.”

Simons marked his return to the New Manor Ground with a well-taken strike in the 21st minute in his side’s 3-1 victory over non-League side Ilkeston last Tuesday.

He described his first goal for Chesterfield as a special moment and hoped it would be the first of many for the Derbyshire side.

“[Scoring] was something I’d been dreaming about and it was amazing to score my first goal at a professional club,” he said.

“I got a good reception from both sets of fans and that was a nice touch.”

Saunders will be hoping to succeed where Cook failed last season by leading Chesterfield to promotion.

It is a task that has been made all the more difficult having lost several key players including midfielder Sam Clucas to Hull City for £1.3 million, defender Tendayi Darikwa to Burnley and winger Gary Roberts to Portsmouth, both for undisclosed fees.

Recruiting experienced striker Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, who had three seasons in the Barclays Premier League with Wolverhampton Wanderers, should at least boost Chesterfield’s firepower.

“We have lost a few players and hopefully the players that replace them can get us back to where we were at the end of last season,” Simons said. “Hopefully we can be pushing for promotion.”