As the season comes to an end for the men’s first team, we got the thoughts from manager Kieran Ridley on how the season has gone.

“There’s no denying this season has been tough. We started way back in June with a group of players who seemed keen to take advantage of either an opportunity at this level or a second chance. Ultimately though, it proved to be the wrong decision by myself in the way I’d built the squad and it would take a mid-season rebuild around December time that would ultimately swing the season in our favour.

“From the group that started the season, just eight remained at the end. This is something I want to avoid next season but in all honesty, I think we’ll be fine. This group we have now are the group who have worked tirelessly through the dark, cold months to come out the other side and secure Premier Division football for another season.

“The overriding feeling is we need to bridge the small gaps – we have lost by one goal thirteen times this season, with a further four matches being one goal in it at the 90thminute. That’s 17 occasions where a goal the other way swings a result and if we can find a way to edge a third of those, that could be huge.

“However – focusing on what did happen… from the end of October to the end of January, we were rock bottom. But throughout that time, there remained a real closeness and togetherness between the players and staff and it felt like we were improving – little by little – and could get ourselves out of trouble.

“When we beat Loxwood away in February, and then went to Newhaven and gave them a real scare, it set the Uckfield game up as a potentially season defining day. Win and we’d be 6 points clear with six to play which would be hugely significant. But we didn’t. We lost. Badly. And on reflection, it was the best thing that ever happened to us because the reaction after that game was do or die, and this group stepped up.

“We made a few changes to how we were doing things, and it all paid off. The run of form that we hit was brilliant and just what we needed. People will see losing to Town 3-0 after Uckfield as quite negative but the result doesn’t show the events. We were great that night and only 93rd and 96th minute Town goals killed us off.

“That gave us real confidence going into a run of games we knew we had no choice but to perform in and boy, did we do just that. Victories away at Bexhill, at home to Lingfield and a draw with AFC Varndeanians gave us a big cushion of a gap from Uckfield. 7 out of 9 points as a response to our lowest point of the season was perfect.

“Defeat at Steyning was, in all honesty, neither here nor there. They were too good and battered a lot of sides. But then we had that game against Hassocks. What a day! A 7-goal thriller including a 94th minute winner to mathematically secure survival. I was desperate to do it at home, in front of a good crowd and we did just that. We’d said before the game we hadn’t created a “that day” moment, beating a big side. And we made up for it against Hassocks.

“So football wise – job done. Off the pitch – crowds are up 35% on last season, and are higher than the previous six seasons. The bar is packed regularly post match, we’ve got a real connection at the club between everyone so the overall feeling is one of pride this season.

“I want to take this opportunity to say a few thank yous. Firstly to the committee and volunteers at the football club – firstly for how you welcomed me into the club at the start of the season and secondly how you backed me during the tough months. One of my main objectives this season was to “give you your club back” from a mens perspective, and when I hear how connected the committee are to the team, I think we’ve done that. So, to Kate, Andy, Helen, Shaun, Alison, Bob, Charlie, Lisa, Steve, Martin, Tiff, Darren… thank you for everything you do for the club. I’m sure I’ve missed someone!

“Secondly, to the people who come to watch us every week. It hasn’t gone unnoticed how well supported we are – that roar at full time in Bexhill… that was brilliant. We’ve managed to grow the crowd and whilst we may not have had the results we perhaps hoped for, I hope you’ve been able to see this is a team who give everything they have, and they appreciate the backing.

“To my backroom staff – to Issi, Matt, Sam, Dan, James & Aduen – your support and backing through some low points this season has been amazing.  I couldn’t wish for a better group of men to work with. And to Sam, Jammo, Alick & Aaron, congratulations on a brilliant season with the U23s too. We’ve established a real relationship between the teams and that foundation is going to be vital in the future.

“And finally, to the players. This season has not been easy, and yet there we were at the end, still there, still fighting together. You’ll have learnt more this season than in any other and I truly believe each and everyone of you has big futures in this level and above. This group we have now may not have all been here since the start (around half), but they’ve stuck together through dark times and have come out the other side stronger, fitter, better and most importantly, together.

“Thanks for reading, see you at a much changed Hill Park next season!”