Ilkeston FC captain Matt Baker says the 2015/16 was a strange one to be involved in as a player but that he is looking forward to what the future holds at the New Manor Ground.
Central defender Baker, 22, was one of the most consistent performers in the Robins ranks throughout the season, as emphasised by being named as fans’ player of the year.
And reflecting on a campaign that ended with Ilkeston in 14th place in the Evo-Stik Premier Division, Baker says it has been something of a rollercoaster ride.
He said: “It’s been a strange season really. We initially thought we could be up at the top end like we were the previous year but lots happened on and off the pitch and it’s been a real learning curve.
“We didn’t know what to expect when we came in for pre-season after Kevin Wilson had left but Gavin Strachan and Andy Watson were great coaches to have around.
“It was always fun and enjoyable and you could tell they were really experienced at the top levels of the game given the differences in the training drills and so on that we were doing.
“So there was lots of optimism early on and we were excited by the ideas put forward in a playing sense and behind the scenes.”
Strachan soon departed to become assistant manager to Darren Ferguson at Doncaster Rovers with Watson taking sole charge.
Baker added: “Andy did a great job and really got behind every one of the players, even when the results weren’t going our way.
“He tried really hard to change things around and I was quite shocked when he left.”
Despite being only 22-years-old, Baker is one of the most senior players at the New Manor Ground, with the starting eleven’s average age rarely getting out of the teens in the latter part of the season.
The departure of eight senior players in February left a gaping hole in the Ilkeston team that was mostly filled by academy products for the remainder of the season, and with captain Liam Marshall being one of those to leave, Baker was handed the armband.
He said: “It was quite weird being older than most of the others despite being quite young myself. Of the team that finished the season, Mike Williams, Danny Gordon and I were of a similar age and yet we were the oldest.
“But I enjoyed the responsibility of being looked up to by the younger players and being able to give advice.
“It was a bit of a body blow when the eight players left because the objectives changed to just trying to get as many points as we could over the rest of the season, and although we had some tough times including the long run of defeats, some of the performances towards the end showed the younger lads have learnt a lot and that many are capable of playing at this level.”
As for the future, Baker and his teammates are now awaiting news of who will take over from Watson following the Scotsman’s departure, with Robins chief executive Nigel Harrop having gone on record as saying that he wants to bring some experience to the squad, potentially doubling up in a coaching capacity too.
And having been heartened by what he’s heard about future plans for the Robins, Baker agrees that more experience will benefit the team.
He said: “The season we got to the play-off final we were still described as a very young team but there was enough experience in the team to make a big difference, which I think is where we’re likely to see things change next season.
“The younger players have done really well and deserve a chance but some older players with the necessary quality will help us too.
“I’m very positive about some of the plans being put forward in conversations I’ve had and if things work out then next season could be really interesting.
“If we can carry on from the positive finish to this season then things will hopefully be much brighter.”