Kevin Wilson looked back at two contrasting draws for Ilkeston FC this week and challenged his side to step up their pursuit of promotion.
Saturday’s disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Grantham Town was followed up with a far more impressive point at league leaders FC United of Manchester on Tuesday to leave Ilkeston third in the table and hot on the heels of a promotion spot.
And with two more away games coming up against sides lower down the table, Wilson believes the coming weeks could be pivotal in deciding the Robins’ destiny.
He said: “It’s still remarkable to think we are where we are despite having seen so many key players depart, the latest being Akil Wright to Fleetwood Town last week.
“When you look at our line-up against FC United earlier in the season when we won 3-1 and compare it to our side on Tuesday, there are so many big players who have now gone on to higher levels and yet we’ve still managed to stop them beating us.
“That says a great deal about how talented the players we have are and the challenge now is to maintain the momentum we’ve built up from one defeat in 18 games.”
The departure of Wright to Fleetwood last week, for what the club described as an ‘undisclosed but sizeable up front fee plus future clauses’, means Ilkeston have seen eight of their squad move to a higher level since July, many of them into the Football League.
Wilson added: “It’s testament to how we’re operating that so many are moving on and we’re thrilled for Akil as he’s done really well.”
Following Wright’s exit, Wilson brought Joe Burgess back from Fleetwood on loan to help cover the loss of suspended Joe Maguire. Burgess turned out for Ilkeston in the FA Trophy at St Neots Town earlier this season before immediately being snapped up by the Seasiders, who also have another former Robin in Ashley Hunter in their ranks.
Burgess made his second debut for Ilkeston at FC United on Tuesday night, a game that Wilson was delighted to take something from, particularly given some strange refereeing decisions.
He said: “Their penalty was bizarre as not one person appealed. Apparently he saw a handball but the closest player, Mike Williams, said he never touched the ball.
“How he could give that and not award us a penalty when Jake Wright was hauled down late on is beyond me.
“I think in the end we probably needed that third goal as United were always going to pressure us and in the end, despite defending really well, we just couldn’t stop Greaves who has a habit of scoring against us.
“It was a game we went out there to win but didn’t want to lose and I think in the grand scheme of things a draw is a great result.
“Some of our football late in the first-half was superb, particularly the goal which was one of the best team goals we’ve scored this season.”
Next up for Ilkeston is a trip to Merseyside to face Marine on Saturday.
The Mariners sit in the relegation places but have seen their form improve since previous boss Carl Macauley left the club a fortnight ago.
They’ve won their last two league games and could still mount a reasonable survival bid despite being seven points from safety going into the weekend.
Then the Robins head to Stourbridge next Tuesday night for the third of five successive midweek away games - Warrington Town in the Doodson Sport Cup semi-final and Workington in the league being the next two.
Stourbridge suffered a surprise defeat to struggling Ramsbottom United on Tuesday but sit fairly comfortable in mid-table.
Wilson said: “Our home form has let us down a bit at times and Grantham on Saturday was a prime example of that.
“But we’ve been far better away from home and these upcoming games are great opportunities to pick up more points in the promotion race.”
Skipper Joe Maguire will serve the final game of his two-match suspension at Marine on Saturday having also missed Tuesday’s game at FC United.