IAN LONG believes next season will be even tougher for Alvechurch but promised they will be ready for the challenge.
The Church came within 90 minutes of battling for a place in the National League North after a rousing first season at Step Three.
Their bid for a third promotion in a row finally ended on Monday when Long’s side, having beaten Stourbridge 2-1 in Saturday’s semi-final, went down 3-0 at King’s Lynn.
After the chaos of the constantly-changing play-off calendar in the wake of Stratford Town being found guilty of fielding an ineligible player, the Church boss admitted the trip to the Linnets was simply a ‘game too far’ in a momentous campaign.
“I feel if we had played on the Wednesday as had been planned originally and then Monday, then we would have given a better account of ourselves at King’s Lynn,” he said.
“It was a game too far and you have to credit King’s Lynn. I shook all their hands at the final whistle and they are real athletes. They were able to recover quicker than us from playing on the Saturday because of their athleticism.
“We were really leggy, they were the ones winning even the 40-60 tackles.
“We’re always learning and we will learn from this.”
Long is confident the bulk of the squad will remain for another push for honours next term but they will no longer be the ‘surprise package’. They will take plenty of confidence from how they have dealt with the challenges this term, having finished fourth in the table and beat third-placed Stourbridge in the semi-final to follow a draw with the Glassboys over Easter.
“I think for the past few months we’ve proved we are probably the top Step Three club locally,” said Long. “We’ve beaten Stourbridge, took four points off Stratford, finished above Rushall, Tamworth and Redditch.
“How we’ve done this season will put pressure on us for next season. We will be no longer the surprise package but it’s up to the management team to make the right acquisitions, to strengthen the team and to keep the club moving forward.”
He added: “I’m confident we will keep the players we want to keep. The lads have enjoyed their football and the relationship between the management and the players is good.
“The players have been with us all the way over the past four years and beyond. Eight of the 16 who played on Saturday were with us at Step Five. That’s remarkable.
“We’ve given them a platform and they have delivered.”
On Saturday, with Stourbridge having ceded home advantage, both sides had opportunities in the first half at Lye Meadow, with Mitch Botfield heading against the crossbar, but the Glassboys took the lead in controversial fashion just before the interval.
A header from Paul McCone was saved by keeper Dan Crane, who again denied McCone from the follow up, but the referee claimed there had been a handball by Zack Foster and Gregg Mills slotted home the subsequent penalty.
Andre Carvalho-Landell levelled eight minutes into the second half, and seven minutes later James Roberts slotted home the winner from Josh March’s pass.
On Monday, King’s Lynn strike force Adam Marriott and Michael Gash ended Alvechurch’s dream.
Marriott hit the opener on 11 minutes with a sweet finish from the edge of the area and then added a second from the penalty spot on 49 minutes. Gash ended the contest by heading home a third three minutes from time following a Michael Clunan corner.