Sleaford Town manager Jamie Shaw believes his side will be playing Premier Division football again next season despite ending the year in the bottom three.
Town began 2018 second-bottom in the United Counties League top flight despite a battling derby win over Boston Town on Boxing Day.
Yet the form and results of the closing months of 2017 have given Shaw and Town supporters enough encouragement that the team’s gradual improvement will continue to climb.
Since winning just two points from their opening 15 matches, Sleaford have picked up 13 from their next 13 and lie just three points behind fourth-bottom St Andrew’s.
“We will keep going and I’m confident that the ability we have in the squad will see us pull away from the relegation zone,” Shaw said.
“We are in a relegation battle and it won’t be easy because every team in the bottom third of the table will be looking to strengthen.
“But we will work damn hard to get a side together that can get us out of the relegation battle.”
Shaw was left to pick up the pieces after newly-appointed manager Paul Walden resigned just weeks before the start of the season.
He was left to begin his first stint in full-time senior management with a decimated squad.
“We started in a no-win situation without a squad and knew we would be having our pre-season for the first few months of the season,” he added.
“It wasn’t a lot of fun at the start, but I didn’t go into it for myself; I wanted to help the club.
“I knew the constraints and I expected it to be tough, but there has also been a lot of enjoyment as well.”
Last month Town brought in left-sided midfielder Charlie Hart from Lincoln City’s academy, and Shaw is working on several further targets during January to bolster Sleaford’s survival bid.
“There is more consistency in selection now, but we’re still not quite where we want it to be.
“We have attracted some players and lost some along the way, and some are not available every week which is frustrating because it’s a tough league.
“We have to look at a few players in the top six or seven sides who are not getting in their team and see if we can give them game time.”
Shaw also believes the fixture list has not looked favourably on his side with Town having played many of the top sides twice already this season.
But the flip side of that is it should lead to a kinder run in the last four months of the campaign, with Town having just three games left against sides in the current top eight.
Town’s record goalscorer is also relieved to see the back of a relentless run of midweek fixtures, giving him more time to spend working with his players on the training ground.
“It was all about staying in touch with the teams above us which we have just about managed to do,” he explained.
“When we play to our strengths we are more than capable of matching most sides in the division; the downside is that when we don’t the drop-off is quite significant.
“It was a test to keep the players’ confidence levels up, but a lot of work has gone into man-management and keeping the morale right, and credit to the players.
“I would never say to anyone ‘don’t do it (management)’ because it’s an experience. If you go into it thinking it will be easy, you’ll be disappointed.”