KNAPHILL boss Keith Hills (pictured left) believes his side can still go one better than they did last season, writes Andy Fitzsimons.
Despite being plagued with injuries, Hills has thrown down the gauntlet to his players to turn up the heat over the winter period to push for a top four finish.
And while The Knappers’ start to the season has been less than convincing, Hills believes his side is equipped with the right personalities and league experience to push the top six sides hard.
“I’ve been at the club [Knaphill] for three years now, and the squad are a very close knit group of players.
“The players know how I tick and what I expect, so I see myself more of an organiser than actually having to manage them most of the time.
“There’s a core of about seven to eight players who know each other very well – both in and outside the club – so it’s more of a family than anything else.
“They know how to play at this level of football; they know what it takes to win games. I have always said to them that, if they give me 100% and win their personal battles on the pitch, I can’t expect any more of them,” he added.
Hills admits, however, that playing in the Combined Counties League does present an unusual challenge to most other leagues, and one that requires a certain calibre of player.
“When you look at the status of the league, you’re two steps [divisions] away from intermediate football; which don’t require floodlights or even a barrier around the pitch, and one-step away from regional leagues; some of which house teams with previous Conference League [now National League South] experience.
“As a result, I have to accept that money has an influence, even playing in the Combined Counties League. But for me, I believe you should build a squad on personality, and who wants to play for their shirt. The monetary side of things should not be the deal-breaker. At the end of the day, it’s still grass roots football, so player commitment is key.
“It’s disappointing to lose Jack Mazzone, who has re-joined Godalming Town, but we have a group of players who want to play for Knaphill. They’ve been there for each other through thick and thin, which is what is needed at this level of football.
“The only challenge is when you have to read them riot act; you don’t want to upset your family, but you have to do it at times,” added Hills.
And while The Knappers’ boss acknowledges that, at some point, you have to cut the apron strings to make the step up, he believes the nucleus of the current squad have what it takes to be very competitive in the premier division.
Knaphill’s next test will be at home to Walton & Hersham on Saturday, who are riding high in the division and have only lost one game so far this season.