DEAN SAUNDERS has appealed to supporters not to turn their backs on the club after a disastrous run of results wrecked any hopes of promotion.
A meagre haul of just 11 points from their last 16 matches has seen the Dragons plummet from the edge of the play-offs race to mid-table mediocrity and three successive defeats ahead of tonight’s visit to Ebbsfleet United have led some fans to question some of the decisions made by the rookie boss.
But Saunders, whose side collected 24 points from 27 during his first nine league games to raise expectations, wants to be judged on what happens next season.
“Believe me, it’s getting to the point now where we need a win, even though that means little in terms of the league,” he said.
“The fans don’t want to hear that nothing is at stake any more and the longer it takes before we pick up three points is just heaping unnecessary pressure on ourselves.
“We can’t do anything about what has gone, but we can try and finish the season in a positive frame of mind so that people will want to come back again next season.
“We gave the fans a huge amount of optimism with the great run we had and expectations were raised, so the last thing we want now is for them to think we are back where we started.
“I don’t think that is the case and I firmly believe we are going in the right direction.”
The Dragons boss admitted that his decision in recent matches to look at players who had previously been left out in the cold was disruptive in terms of continuity.
But he claimed it was necessary and would continue this evening.
“I’m trying different things and looking a different players in a lot of positions,” he added. “And while we need three points at Ebbsfleet the bigger picture demands that I do that.
“I’ve got people here who are trying to win new contracts next season, those who feel they probably won’t be here, others who maybe think they are not wanted and quite a few loan players who are expecting to go back to their clubs after next Sunday’s final game against Weymouth.
“Much of that is down to the circumstances that applied when I first came to the club.
“But during the summer I will be looking to put together my own team and all of those players who are brought into the club will come in knowing that I want them here and that I want them to play for me.”
Saunders will have more scope to shuffle his pack at Stonebridge Road after defender Darran Kempson and midfielder Wes Baynes resumed training yesterday after recovering from minor knocks.
Midfielder Andrew Crofts, who sustained a slight groin strain during the 1-0 defeat at Kettering Town on Saturday, faces a fitness check later today, but the Racecourse boss confirmed only that young goalkeeper Chris Maxwell would continue between the posts for a third successive outing.
The Wales under-21 international spent the first half of the season on loan at GAP Connah’s Quay in the Welsh Premier League and the Racecourse boss said the youngster had gained a lot from playing regularly.
“His performances for us have been an unexpected bonus,” said the Dragons boss. “I know he has yet to be on the winning side, but that is not down to him and he has not let either himself or the team down.
“The Ebbsfleet game will be another very big test for him because they are a tough side to beat on their own ground.
“That means I’m going to put out a team that is tough to play against.”
Meanwhile Ebbsfleet captain Paul McCarthy believes the fans-owned club must do everything they can to keep head coach Liam Daish at Stonebridge Road.
Daish's four-year contract is drawing to a close and 37-year-old McCarthy claimed no-one could have done a better job.
“It is important that Liam stays,” said the club captain. “He knows the club and, next year, with a few more additions to the squad, we'll push up the other end of the table.
“You look at where we are now compared to when he took over.
“I know this season hasn't gone well league-wise, but we've had injuries and the cup runs haven't helped the league form.
“I'm sure he might have had opportunities to leave, but he hasn't taken them because he is loyal to the club. However, if the budget is really low, he may think ‘what can we achieve in this division?'”