Wilkin wise to Nuneaton task
Nuneaton’s goal is survival by any means after winning promotion via the Blue Square Bet North play-offs last term…
Much has changed in the nine years since Nuneaton last held an interest at this level. Then, with the club competing in its previous guise as Nuneaton Borough (they are now Town after Borough’s liquidation in 2008) the division was comprised of familiar non-league outfits, the likes of Farnborough, Northwich, Leigh, Margate. Former Football League giants were few and far between and professional status was not the norm.
Ten of the 24 sides making up the Blue Square Bet Premier in 2012/13 have appeared in the League in the last ten years while the majority of clubs are full-time. Town appreciate the size of the task facing them; new assistant manager Micky Moore spelled it out in revealing detail, speaking to the Nuneaton News last month.
The former Mansfield coach admitted: “For the last four years Nuneaton have been on a level playing field and winning games. It’s not a level playing field now.”
He added: “We are looking at the bottom six or eight to start with. The fans need to be patient. They’ve seen the team win 60 or 70 per cent of the games in the last four years. They’ll see them lose more next season.”
But the Warwickshire club have been content to subtly amend their squad, choosing to keep faith with many of the number who saw them to play-off success in the Blue Square Bet North last term. Experienced defender Gavin Cowan has returned for a fourth spell at Liberty Way while former Tamworth and Mansfield striker Kyle Perry will be expected to provide the foil for Andy Brown in attack.
Their measure of stability ought to give them a fighting chance but a meagre budget and part-time status means they’ll be fighting with their hands tied together.
A significant portion of credit for the club’s rise from financial ruin back to non-league’s top tier can be placed at the door of boss Kevin Wilkin. The 44-year-old led Borough prior to their liquidation and subsequently took charge of Town, who had been demoted two divisions.
This has been his project for six topsy-turvy years and his achievements in dragging the club up by its bootlaces won’t be forgotten in a hurry. For much of that time he has worked with the pressure off, first as he was forced to pick up the pieces against a background of financial ruin, then as they efficiently negotiated a rise back up the pyramid.
This is the case once more, with the bookmakers, their divisional rivals and the club’s hierarchy expecting a season of struggle. It is difficult to imagine a situation in which Wilkin might be left fearing for his job, whether or not Town survive this term.
Town finished last season 18 points behind champions Hyde, albeit after a six-point deduction for fielding an ineligible player, but their supporters have reason to believe that no such chasm will exist a level above. Their settled summer has been in marked contrast to their rivals’ chaotic off-season.
The overriding feeling is one of determination, not expectation. Moore's bluntness has helped to keep ambitions in check. “My favourite style of football is any which means you win,” he said. “Whatever it takes, it doesn’t matter…I would rather hear people say Nuneaton play crap football but they’ve stayed up.”
And while those aren’t the sort of comments which have supporters queuing up for season tickets, the majority appear to have bought into his way of thinking. That may be put to the test as the season progresses but for the time being pragmatism is the name of the game: heads are ruling hearts, which may just be a first for the Conference…
While the management have admitted this season is simply about survival, the experience gleaned - whatever the outcome - will have a significant impact on the club’s future. As unpalatable as it would inevitably be, there will be no shame in relegation if Town can come back stronger as a result.
The move to professionalism in the Blue Square Bet Premier has forced part-time clubs into a corner. But pretenders must take heed of the multitude of recent failures – the likes of Grays, Histon, Weymouth and Kettering – who lived beyond their means in a bid to compete and fell by the wayside as a result. If full-time status is eventually Town’s goal, any time spent playing alongside non-league’s big-hitters can be put down as a useful introduction.
Town face an uphill task with a manager and a squad short of experience at this level but Moore was on the Mansfield coaching staff last term as the Stags secured third spot and his knowledge of the league will be vital. However, that may not quite be enough.
For more on the Blue Square Bet Premier, read our profiles of the other 23 sides during the coming days: Alfreton, Barrow, Braintree, Cambridge, Dartford, Ebbsfleet, Forest Green, Gateshead, Grimsby, Hereford, Hyde, Kidderminster, Lincoln, Luton, Macclesfield, Mansfield, Newport, Southport, Stockport, Tamworth, Telford, Woking, Wrexham
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