Chris Agutter believes his Hastings United Football Club team is two or three players from having league-winning potential.
Hastings saw their 10-match unbeaten run in Bostik League Division One South ended by a 2-0 defeat at leaders Lewes on Boxing Day, but could take encouragement from how they performed.
“We’re only two, maybe three players away from being a potential league winner,” said Agutter, Hastings’ manager. “It’s a bold statement, but I believe it.
“I look at Lewes and that’s a group of players which has largely been together for the best part of nine months really - they’re a lot further down the line.
“Think of the progress we’ve made in three months. We’re a young, eye-catching team that’s playing attractive football. It bodes well.”
Lewes became the first side to do the ‘double’ over Hastings this season thanks to a first half penalty and a second half free kick.
Agutter said: “I actually thought against Lewes the first half was one of our better performances. I thought we played miles better against Lewes in the first half than we did against Ramsgate (who Hastings beat 4-2 at home on Saturday).
“First half we arrived in the final third far better than we did against Ramsgate. We moved up the pitch quicker and with good control, and got the ball to the front three regularly. I lost count of the amount of times the ball flashed across the face of goal.
“It was a real missed opportunity I think first half. They had that one breakaway for the penalty, but other than that I felt we completely controlled the game. On Lewes’s own patch, we reduced them to a counter-attacking team really.
“I thought we really imposed ourselves on a passionate atmosphere. They (the players) embraced the challenge and certainly didn’t deserve to go in 1-0 down.
“Second half I thought we lacked a bit of patience and tried forcing things a bit early. It was a bit more end-to-end second half and we turned over the ball cheaply.”
Hastings recovered from 2-0 down in the first seven minutes against Ramsgate to complete their first ‘double’ of the campaign.
Agutter said: “It was carnage for the first 15 minutes, but full credit to the players - they didn’t panic and they didn’t come away from how we want to play.
“We could’ve easily started smashing it forward and come away from what got us 10 games unbeaten. But we stuck to our guns, didn’t panic and got our just rewards.
“There was an element of luck at times on Saturday, but I think we more than earned it with our commitment to how we want to play.”
Hastings, who sit 12th in the table, will end 2017 with a trip to Herne Bay today (Saturday) before kicking-off 2018 at home to East Grinstead Town on Monday, kick-off 3pm.
“I’ll be challenging them (the players) to go on the same run we’ve been on, if not better it,” added Agutter. “We’ll definitely look to shuffle the pack. I’m always keen to keep it as fresh as possible and treat each game in its own right.”
Agutter says picking the squad at the moment is a real dilemma. There’s a chance that one or two people, such as Tom Vickers, who Agutter regards ‘as a massive player for us’, may dual register or go out on loan to get the game time they require.