PAUL SMITH has challenged his Redditch United players to prove their places in his plans for next term – by ensuring they remain unbeaten for the rest of the season.
The Reds’ last-gasp but deserved 3-3 draw at home to play-off chasers Biggleswade Town on Saturday means they have lost just once in the last eight matches in Southern Premier Central.
A win on Saturday at St Ives Town will end any mathematical risk of being sucked into the drop zone, but boss Smith is already assessing options for next season.
The former Bromsgrove Sporting title-winner says preserving the Reds’ status, having taken over in September with the freefalling club second-bottom, will be his greatest managerial achievement, but he wants to kick on.
He revealed front-runner Shaquille Leachman-Whittingham and midfielder Robbie Bunn are already on contract and he hopes to get more of the squad secured before the campaign ends.
“Shaq is on contract with an option in the club’s favour, the same for Robbie Bunn and there’s a number of other lads I’m speaking to about next season,” said Smith.
“I’m hoping to tie up a couple more before the end of the season.
“We’re already planning ahead. It will be our (management team) first full year here and pre-season is critical.”
He added: “I’ve told the boys they need to get into my head to stake their claim for next season. There are four games still to play and they’ve got four games to show what they can do and give themselves the best chance of being here next season. There’s plenty to play for.”
Smith says the strength in depth in the current 21-man group is evidenced by the fact skipper Andy Parsons, midfielder Michael McGrath and striker Danico Johnson were all rested for the Biggleswade game. There will be changes on Saturday away to 13th-placed St Ives, who sit only four points ahead of the Reds.
Despite lying 18th in the table, Redditch are ten points clear of St Neots Town, who sit in the final relegation place, with four games to go.
“The run we’ve put together has been crucial,” said Smith. “When we came in late September, we were playing catch-up.
“Mathematically we’re not quite safe yet but fingers crossed we can get across the line this weekend.
“It will probably be my greatest achievement to keep them up, considering the state they were in when we came through the door.
“The boys are working hard. Training is intense and they are flying at the moment. As long as we keep up the workrate there’s enough quality in the squad to go out and get more wins in the final few games.”
The Reds twice led against Biggleswade but then trailed 3-2 before substitute Harry Franklin powered home a headed equaliser in stoppage time at the Trico Stadium.
An own goal from Jordan Gent, diverting a Michael Nelson cross into his own net, gave the Reds the lead on 26 minutes but Liam Brooks rifled home an equaliser from the edge of the area two minutes before the break.
Josh Hawker restored Redditch’s advantage when his free kick squirmed through the grasp of keeper Sam Donkin eight minutes into the second period but Biggleswade struck twice through Brooks’ smart finish and Sean Lucien to grab the lead with five minutes left.
However, two minutes into injury time, Bunn drove in a corner from the right and Franklin soared above everybody to send an unstoppable header past Donkin.