Hastings United manager Darren Hare believes the football club can still win the league, but admits it faces a massive challenge.
United are currently 11th in Ryman Football League Division One South, but have between four and six games in hand on all of the teams above them.
They trail leaders Tooting & Mitcham United by 23 points having played six fewer matches. Tooting are the only side who have scored more goals than United and possess a better goal difference.
Hare said: “We can still win it. If we beat Tooting twice, we’ll gain six points on them and if we win our other games in hand, we’re in line with them. I’ve no qualms whatsoever we can be as good as anybody in the division on our day.
“We’re a fair distance away from the leaders now and it’s a concern. To stand a chance of catching them up, we’ve got to do well against the teams above us. There’s some huge games coming up and luckily for us, there’s still 28 of them.
“But we’ve got to start putting some points on the board. If we win the next two games, we still don’t gain a place. We’ve got a fair bit to do even before we start chinking away at positions 10, nine and eight, and that’s concerning.”
While some clubs in the division are now halfway through their league programmes, United aren’t far past the one-third mark and the fixture pile-up means they are due to play twice per week every week until February.
“The biggest problem for me is (striking) a balance between doing well in the cup matches and the league,” continued Hare. “We’ve just had bad luck, it’s not fallen for us. We’ve got a massive challenge on, but there’s an argument that says don’t enter cup competitions if you want to go up.
“We’ve got a decent budget for the division, but we’ve still got a fairly small squad, and we can’t rotate it and leave players out.
“Playing two games a week isn’t conducive to non-league football; that would be a struggle for pro players. What happens then is you get injuries. It’s a vicious circle really. You can go on a run, but you need a squad of 18 players.”
Although he brought in Mitchell Dickenson on loan prior to last weekend’s defeat at home to second-placed Dorking Wanderers, Hare says he would still like to sign another centre-half on a permanent basis and possibly another left-back.
Steve Watt won’t be playing in the next fortnight, but the injury situation is slowly improving with Stephen Butcher and Barry Cogan hoping to return to the squad for the visit of Corinthian-Casuals today (Saturday). Kick-off at The Pilot Field is 3pm.
Casuals occupy the final play-off spot of fifth and are 13 points better off than United having played four additional matches.
“They’re a decent side,” added Hare. “They’ve got some good players so it’s going to be another tough game, a similar game to Dorking to be honest. If we defend better, I’m really confident we’re going to win.”
Hare has been thinking long and hard this week about the make up of his defence and the need to tighten up at the back without sacrificing any of the attacking threat which has made United so good to watch this season.
TODAY'S FOOTBALL FIXTURES
RYMAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Division 1 South
Hastings United v Corinthian-Casuals (3pm)
MACRON STORE SOUTHERN COMBINATION FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Division 1 (3pm)
Bexhill United v Midhurst & Easebourne
Little Common v Saltdean United
SUSSEX INTERMEDIATE CHALLENGE CUP
Bosham v Westfield (1.30pm)
MACRON EAST SUSSEX FOOTBALL LEAGUE (2pm)
Hollington United v Hawkhurst United
Old Hastonians v Battle Baptists
Ore Athletic v Westfield II
Robertsbridge United v St Leonards Social
Sidley United v Sedlescombe Rangers
Bexhill Town v Little Common II
Herstmonceux v The JC Tackleway
Northiam 75 v Crowhurst
Wadhurst United v Icklesham Casuals
Bexhill AAC v Peche Hill Select
Hastings Rangers v Eastbourne Athletic
Mayfield v Burwash
Ticehurst v St Leonards Social II
Westfield III v Hastings Athletic
Battle Baptists II v Bexhill United II
Bexhill Rovers v Pebsham Sibex
Hailsham Athletico v Orington
Punnetts Town v Hollington United II
Sedlescombe Rangers II v Catsfield
Hawkhurst United II v Mayfield II
Parkfield v Victoria Baptists
Sovereign Saints v Bexhill AAC II
The JC Tackleway II v Magham Down
West Hill United v Sandhurst
Bexhill Spartans v Bexhill Broncos
Hampden Park v Battle Baptists III
Icklesham Casuals II v Northiam 75 II
Sedlescombe Rangers III v Cranbrook Town
Wittersham II v Robertsbridge United II
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