Shrimps' boss Jim Bentley gives his views on the season for last Saturday's programme.
How relieved were you last week when it was clear that we were mathematically safe?
I felt a huge relief to be honest but after that I felt a real sense of pride. We never really flirted with relegation but we have had a massive dip in form in recent weeks and that has made things a bit nervous. We put ourselves in a fantastic position at the end of February but we brick wall in March and then suddenly you start to look over your shoulder.
I always said I fancied Newport to get out of trouble and they have done just that so to have the points on the board when we did was always a bonus.
At the end of the day for a club like this to have got through a season like this one and be safe has been an unbelievable achievement and I am proud of everyone.
Everyone deserves a massive amount of credit. Other people, other players, other management teams and other supporters would have folded if they had had out problems I am sure of that. When you consider the non payment of wages, the smallest squad in the league, the lack of training facilities, ownership problems, pitch problems and the loss of our three top scorers from the first half of season we have performed remarkably well.
When you go back to January we had 16 first team players but we all stuck together ans got through everything. There have been so many negatives thrown at us this season that it has been by far my hardest year yet because it has been very, very stressful but at the same time I am proud of everyone at the football club for what we have achieved.
What we need is stability and real focus on getting a brighter future for this club. I have said it all along that we can’t have another season like this one because we have pulled a rabbit out of a hat this season and we can’t be expected to keep doing that. We are all praying for positive news over the coming weeks because there is a lot of work to be done.
A lot of the players are out of contract and they have to look after themselves, we all know and appreciate that because they have families and bills to pay. It is my job now to look to start to build a squad that can compete in League 2 next year. We always want to improve but sometimes circumstances mean that is very difficult but we will go about our jobs over the summer in a determined manner like we always do.
Going right back to the start of the season how worried were you after the heavy defeat at Halifax in pre season?
I was worried I must admit, especially after the defeat at Grimsby on the opening day of the season. I knew we had the smallest league in the budget again and I did worry about the size of the squad but then everything sort of clicked. We got some great results with wins over Portsmouth and Blackpool and the Rotherham game was massive for everyone. We went top of the league and it just went to show everyone again just what can happen in football in a short space of time and that spell gave us an excellent platform.
What were the highlights for you this season?
I think there have been a few to be honest. The Portsmouth and Blackpool wins and the Plymouth and Notts County home wins were great. The latter was a fantastic day and probably my highlight. It didn’t start too well as I was forced to watch the game from the directors box as I was banned but to see us play so well, even when we went down to 10 men and hear the crowd sing my name was special. That was also the day where I heard that the fans paid my FA fine and that was a moment I will never, ever forget. I have been at this club a long time but that was something else and will live with me forever.
More recently Stevenage away was a big one and we have had some great spells.
The biggest achievement though was probably the month of February where we performed so well against all odds after missing out on so many players in the January transfer window.
What about the biggest disappointments?
The off field issues have obviously been disappointing and put everyone involved with the club under pressure and under the microscope for the wrong reasons but if I was to pick out games I would say the two Cheltenham matches in particular were low points as we didn’t really perform in either game. I know it will sound strange but I was also disappointed to lose to Bournemouth in the League Cup because I really fancied us to beat them at the time.
Exeter at home wasn’t a nice day and although we lost heavily to Doncaster I sort of accepted that because they were miles better than us and the proof of that is that they have gone on to get promoted but we didn’t really turn up against Exeter and that was a day to forget.
Away from the matches the loss of Tom Barkhuizen and Cole Stockton were real blows for me. The sale of Tom was massive for us and I’ve let it be known already that I wasn’t entirely happy about the way it was all done but it was a case of needs must at the time to get the wages paid. It was a bit of a fire sale and I feel we could have got a better deal than we did. We really wanted to keep Cole too because he had done so well for us but Tranmere wanted him back and he has done well for them.
On a personal level it was amazingly difficult to stand in front of the players and staff a couple of times to tell them they were not getting paid on time. It was horrible to be the one to give them the news and then have no real answers to the questions everyone had. When you are the manager people look up to you and look to you to put things right but I hadn’t been paid either and it was hard to tell people that I had no answers.
What’s the plan of action once the season ends?
Well first and foremost I’m looking forward to a bit of a break. It has been a very difficult, testing season for one reason or another but there is a lot to do. There are a lot of players out of contract and a lot of things we need to sort out for next season both on and off the field. We have players we want to keep and players we have in mind already that we would like to get but we don’t really know what our budget is yet and that is something we need to sort sooner rather than later.
It will be a busy summer I am sure and really hope there is some good news for us so we can get stable and build again.
What we have achieved this year has been unbelievable and we could not have done it without the help of all the staff and all the supporters. I am really grateful to everyone for their support and despite the difficulties we have faced we have shown great togetherness and that will be massive for us going forward.