Storks boss Steve Wilkes can finally relax after enduring the ‘toughest’ period of his 17-year managerial career.
Wilkes stood a relieved man after the club secured its Evo-Stik First Division North status at the weekend but refused to celebrate following a frustratingly arduous term plagued by injury and suspension.
The 3-0 loss to promotion hopefuls Darlington 1883 at the weekend epitomised the struggles that the Padiham FC boss faced with Luke Greave, Dean and Jack Overson, Chris Turner, Kieron Pickup, Ben Allen, Elliot Dunn, Lewis Jordan, Tom Bradley, Sam Morris, Kieron Britton and Michael Morrison all absent for the fixture at Heritage Park.
But Ossett Albion’s 2-1 loss at home to Radcliffe Borough and Wakefield’s resignation from England’s eighth tier - due to not fulfilling the appropriate ground-grading criteria - meant the Storks survived.
“I’m relieved now that we are safe,” Wilkes said. “We’ve got three games left and survival is sealed so it’s been a fantastic effort from the players. It’s been a tough season but we’ll be here again next year. However, we’re not celebrating because it’s been a poor season for us. We shouldn’t be finishing so low in the table.
“On Saturday I had 12 players missing and the majority would’ve started the game if they were fit. I’ve never known anything like it. The last two months have been the toughest I’ve endured as a manager since I started in 1997. I’m not even dramatising the situation either.”
Wilkes added: “The pressure is off so we can enjoy the rest of the season now. We haven’t won at home this year though which is a poor record and we’ve only won once on a Saturday so we’ve still got little targets we need to reach. We don’t want to end the season third or fourth from bottom either.”
However, Wilkes insists that the club will benefit from the labours of this term and the lessons learnt will stand the Storks in good stead for the 2014/15 campaign. Ahead of tomorrow’s clash with play-off chasing Lancaster City at the Giant Axe Stadium, Wilkes admitted that plans were already being put in place for the new season.
“We can throw a spanner in the works at Lancaster,” Wilkes said. “They were beaten 2-1 by New Mills midweek which was a poor result for us because they went above us in the table. They’ll be down from that defeat so we need to take advantage and take three points. It’s another big occasion and a good opportunity and experience for the lads.”
He added: “Planning towards next season has already begun.
“I’ve already identified and spoken to four or five players. This year has been a massive learning curve for myself, my assistant, the physio, fans, players and Alan Smith. We’ve done things wrong but we’ve learned from the experience. We are already benefiting from it.”