It was difficult to know what to fairly expect of Ilkeston’s youngsters on Bank Holiday Monday, given what had occurred just a week earlier at Mickleover.
A positive reaction was probably the bare minimum, although what that should entail would perhaps vary depending on who you spoke to.
Some fans feared the worst and expected another hammering, others wanted to see the kind of standards set against teams such as Whitby and Marine to be met once again in the hope that this time they might generate three points, although one would have been acceptable.
In the event, things were much better than on Boxing Day, much to the relief of most, and although it was another defeat it seemed as though the young players hadn’t been too scarred.
That said, it was indeed another defeat, and with Ilkeston now having played half of their league games there remains a great deal of work to be done.
That will hopefully not fall solely on the shoulders of those in the current playing squad, because as I’ve said before and as many fans believe, that will purely result in relegation.
Whether Paul Holland will be allowed to bolster his squad remains to be seen, although so does the standard of player he’ll be able to bring in. Just adding more teenagers into the mix may not help unless they’re of real quality.
Indeed, Matlock’s Marcus Dinanga showed what kind of gems there are available in the loan market. He has been on fire for Matlock this season after signing from Burton Albion and looks set to surpass 20 goals come the end of the season now that he’s been given the all clear by Nigel Clough to remain with the Gladiators for the rest of the season, although it should be said that he’s been supported by some very good players around him too.
So if Holland’s many contacts in the game can produce someone like that, as well as one or two in other areas of the pitch, things may look up, but there simply isn’t the strength in depth there at the moment to suggest anything other than relegation will follow.
I’m impressed by one or two individuals - Luis Rose is very raw and needs lots of work but is showing real signs of promise, and the same can be said of Ben Morris with those two forming a good partnership, albeit one that could do with a few more goals coming from it.
Losing Ross Durrant was a huge blow in goal and the jury remains out on Jamie Hannis at the moment, although that’s not to be unfair on him because he’s very young and has a good career ahead of him.
Matt Baker remains the man that others in the team look up to but even he is starting to look a little more frustrated than usual at leaving the pitch as a losing player each week. Having been a key part of the side that nearly got promotion a couple years ago, he’ll be feeling the effects of all this perhaps more than any of the others.
My attempts to get CEO Nigel Harrop on the record last week failed despite him saying he’d do an interview with me on Tuesday. He acknowledged his unavailability when I saw him on Bank Holiday Monday and an interview remains on the cards - I feel it’s very important because fans need to know what the plan is to get the club out of this mess. There could well be huge anger among fans if it turns out there isn’t a good one.
Make no mistake, relegation would in no way be a positive move for Ilkeston FC so major steps have to be taken to avoid it and then rebuild for next year.
Going down would most likely see a drop in attendances, sponsorship revenue and perhaps more damaging to Harrop, a drop in the quality of player Ilkeston hope to attract to their academy setup, which would go against how he wants the club to progress in future.
Division One South of the Evo-Stik League is not one where quality players will want to play, although that’s meant with due respect to those who ply their trade there at the moment.
Kevin Wilson attracted some gems to that division in Ilkeston’s first season back in the fold and it got them up, but there’s no guarantee that either the resources or desire for players to come will be as forthcoming again.
So, in my eyes, the next 23 games will undoubtedly be the biggest the club has faced in its relatively young life and one hopes things won’t go down to the wire, because the pressure these young players will be expected to perform under could prove too great.
The fans passionately hate how things are now and particularly because of the methods being used which have contributed to it. Nobody says it’s easy to run a successful club at this level, but with a few inspired and shrewd decisions between now and the end of April, this level could be precisely where Ilkeston can aim to build from come the summer.