Manager Scott Rickards has moved to scotch any perceptions of a lack of ambition at Evo-Stik League Division One South club Rainworth MW.
Speaking after his threadbare squad had roared into the semi-final of the Notts Senior Cup with a 5-1 demolition of Midland Alliance hosts Dunkirk in a potential banana skin of a tie on Tuesday night, Rickards underlined his and the club’s aspirations for the remainder of the season and beyond.
The Wrens’ boss views the number of seven-day approaches for his players as something of a back-handed compliment, with Grant Ryan, Jordan Ball and Sam Purcicoe having moved on in recent weeks, and now James Cullingworth looks set to follow them through the exit door with Belper Town having come knocking.
Rickards insisted: “There is no question of any lack of ambition at this club. I am ambitious, we have players who are ambitious, and the behind the scenes staff are also ambitious.
“We are in a cup semi-final of a competition which we have as good a chance as anyone of winning, we are on course to finish in the club’s highest ever final position in the Non-League Pyramid, we are not too far off the play-off places, and we are looking to build on the progress we have made this season.
“So we need our players to understand and take on board the sensible aims and aspirations of this club, stick by us, and resist the lures of what they perceive to be bigger clubs.”
Cullingworth lined up for the Wrens at Dunkirk for the quarter-final tie on an evening when everything else seemed to go wrong squad-wise.
With skipper Callum Lloyd serving a one-match ban, the Wrens then lost three players on the day of the match. Matt Bowles and then Mark Dudley both reported sick, and then Ashley Longstaff broke down in the pre-match warm-up when he was to have returned from injury.
And, with Rickards having elected to go with only three substitutes, it left him with only a starting 11, some players having to play out of position, leaving three on the bench who could only have entered the fray in a dire emergency.
Scott Rogers came in for his starting debut and did really well in what Rickards described as ‘a fantastic midfield on a tough pitch’, adding: “We did what we had to do and we did it professionally.”
Dunkirk had already knocked the Wrens out of the FA Cup earlier in the season, but Rickards was delighted by the players’ response in adversity.
As well as Rogers, Jamie Clarke, returning after a couple of weeks’ leave of absence, marked his comeback with a hat-trick, central defender Sam Saunders in an unfamiliar left midfield role weighed in with one and Rickards himself also scored.
Meanwhile 17-year-old Regan Edridge, from Chesterfield, made an impressive debut at left back and, with another youngster Jack Hawkins continuing his recent revelationary form, Rickards’ policy of blooding youth looks to be paying ample dividends.
That policy will be put to the test on Saturday, when Rainworth travel to league leaders Halesowen Town, who have already won at Kirklington Road this season but who will be hoping to bounce back from Tuesday’s 3-0 home defeat by Coalville Town.
Lloyd, Bowles and Dudley should all return to the squad, while leading scorer Longstaff is likely to face a fitness test.
Rickards added: “Ash is a big player for us, but we don’t want to rush him back before he is ready and risk compounding his injury, and with Jamie coming back with a hat-trick we will still be capable of scoring goals.
“Halesowen may have suffered a blip but they have been consistent over 25 games. However, we know where their threats are likely to come from and we trust that we will be able to deal with them.
“We have shown this season that we are capable of picking up points from the leading clubs in the division if our mindset is right and we continue to play as we have been doing in recent weeks when we haven’t always got the reward we have deserved.”
Rainworth won 3-1 at The Grove last season, and Rickards ended: “That’s the beauty of this league, when you can go to places like this and pick up points.”