Whitby Town manager Chris Hardy is still firmly focused on maintaining his sides league presence, despite there shock ascent to the top of the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League.
A point clear of second place Blyth Spartans and unbeaten at home this season, Whitby have been the surprise package so far this campaign, and promotion would be a truly heroic feat when you consider the perils they faced at the end of last season.
Whitby were sat fourth-bottom with relegation looking likely when Hardy was appointed in December 2015. However a run of good results, including a 2-1 win over Barwell, sealed the Blues’ safety and since then have marched forward; accumulating an impressive 37 points in just 18 games.
That being said, the Seasiders boss is reluctant to focus on any talk of promotion and instead will look to “consolidate” his sides league position this season.
“The goals set at the start of the season were based on consolidation, there’s been some tough seasons here and we really just planned to consolidate ourselves in this league” said Hardy.
“We planned to look at the playoffs the season after this, but as I said, consolidation was the main objective and that plan has not changed.
“As you can imagine its a very happy dressing room at the moment and its great being top of the league.
“We’re keeping our feet firmly on the ground and the plans stay firmly as they were; even with our success, keeping ourselves safe is our main priority.
“The same goes for myself, one game at a time.”
Ex Guisborough Town coach Hardy guided the Priorymen to promotion through the Division Two playoffs in 2011 and went on to build a side that is now widely recognised as one of the best footballing teams in the league.
And Hardy credits a large part of this terms success to working with a number of Whitby’s current players at his time at the King George V ground.
“Familiarity of the players is a big part of our success” said Hardy.
“I’ve worked with a couple of the lads in the past and it does make it easier when your trying to create something.
“They understand what we do in training, the way we work and its definitely something thats helped me along.”
Players such as Adam Gell and striker Micky Roberts have been invaluable to Hardy’s adaption to the team and he acknowledges that the lower leagues are a resourceful market when looking to strength his current squad.
However the Whitby boss accepts that some of the aspects of playing at a higher level may well deter potential signings.
“The players here seem to adapt more to the travel… players in lower leagues sometimes have too much of a commitment to work or family and find it difficult to have to travel all over” said Hardy.
“It’s the travel – a lot of players are used to playing a match and being home by half 9 – thats unfortunately not the case with this league and it does sometimes get to people.
“Its a luxury in the lower leagues but just sometimes isn’t possible the higher up you progress.”
Although currently flying high, the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League is an unpredictable competition and Hardy understands the professionalism that comes with a higher league often brings with it a tougher kind of opposition.
“The standard of competition here is effectively the top 4 of the northern league, if you imagine playing the top teams from that league week in, week out, then thats how tough it is.
“Your coming up against more ex-professionals, players from the football league and they bring with them more of a professional attitude.
“It’s a strong, physical league where you need to be at your best to get any kind of result.”
The Whitby boss isn’t the kind of manger to turn away from a challenge however, as his previous accomplishments have shown. Amongst his success at neighbouring Guisborough was his ability to develop young individuals into great players.
The likes of Danny Johnson and current Blues marksman Mickey Roberts have both progressed to higher levels after previously being part of Hardy’s set up and this is something the Seasiders boss hopes to replicate throughout his time at the Turnbull Ground.
“There are a lot of younger players in the team that can develop and theres potential for one or two to really push and progress” said Hardy.
“The hope is that they will evolve at Whitby … It would be great for everyone to move forward as a team.”
Whitby Town have so far defied many a preseason expectation and Hardy, despite his reluctance, must see his team as genuine promotion candidates. Whatever the outcome, this season has all the makings of a memorable one for the North Yorkshire side.
Interview: James Bell (@jamescb90)
Images: Brian Murfield