Peter Buckland believes a second-place finish would represent a good season for Horsham YMCA after an injury-blighted Christmas seriously curtailed their bid for the Premier Division title.
One win in six games, from December 8 to January 12, saw YM’s ravaged squad drop down to third and strike a blow to any chances of promotion to the Bostik League.
Since then the Gorings Mead-outfit have gone on a 12 game unbeaten run and now occupy the runners-up spot.
But any hopes of catching table-topping Chichester City were extinguished a fortnight ago, as Chi secured the title after a 2-0 home win over Langney Wanderers.
Buckland said: “If I had been offered second at Christmas time I would’ve taken it. We were going like a train up until Christmas and then we hit a brick wall with injuries.
“From the chairman down, we didn’t truly realise the trees that we’ve pulled up to be where we are.
“We’ve had Callum Donaghey, Luke Donaldson, Dave Brown, Ash Dugdale, Dan Mobsby, Tom Gilbert, Adam Hunt, Ollie Gill, Jack Frankland and Jack Hartley all out. I know it’s not unique to me but I’m not sure many teams can say they’ve got ten out, and of that ten, seven would start.
“I know my starting XI and I know my good bench of five and I know my formation and pattern of play. Have I been able to use it? Not since October.
“Unless you’ve got a big budget and you can phone a Lewes or a Worthing and ask if they have a couple of players available for a month you can get through it. We can’t do that. You just have to muddle your way through.
“People thought ‘YM have lost their bottle again at Christmas’ but it’s nothing to do with them not wanting it. It was simply injuries.
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“I was confident of being right in the mix at the start of the season and I’m somewhat surprised, after everything that has gone on, that we’re as high up as we are.
“It’s been frustrating but somewhat pleasing that we are where we are.”
Buckland has already begun planning for the 2019/20 campaign and revealed that YMCA would have to strengthen if they are to claim the Premier Division crown.
But the YM boss will continue to give his under-23 players game time next term, after they impressed during Horsham YMCA’s torrid run.
He added: “We will be recruiting and we’ve already earmarked players. I’m already focussing on next season. We definitely will need to strengthen the squad because I can’t have this situation again.
“If I knew this squad of 18 were all going to be available all through the season, I’d happily stick with them.
“Maybe we’ve got an aging squad. Some of them may have to accept that they may take a bit longer to heal.
“The good thing to come out of this is we’ve blooded the youngsters from the under-23s. Leon Eales, Jack Ryder, and Brad Ross have stepped up into the breach and done really well.
“In an ideal world I would’ve phased them in with experienced players, maybe two at a time. They’ve been thrown in at the deep end, not in there natural position, but they’ve taken to it like a duck to water.”
YM make the short trip to near-neighbours Broadbridge Heath on Saturday, before they host Crawley Down Gatwick on Tuesday.